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ADRA (Adventist Development Relief Agency)


Name: ADRA (Adventist Development Relief Agency)

Address: 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland, 20904, USA

Email: sonya.


Year founded: 1956

President: Jonathan Duffy

No. HQ staff: 100

No. staff worldwide: 5,000+


ENN interviewed Sonya Funna Evelyn, Senior Director of Programs and Innovation at ADRA International, and Natsayi Nembaware, the Senior Technical Advisor for Nutrition at ADRA International (Maryland, US). Sonya has worked for ADRA for over nine years, while Natsayi took up her post in July 2015.

The Seventh-day Adventist Welfare Services (SAWS – the first iteration of ADRA) was formed in 1956 in response to disasters in South America and the Middle East. During the late 1950s and ’60s, SAWS mainly responded to emergencies and worked through its church structures in up to 35 countries. Funding came from humanitarian donor agencies and private contributions. In the mid-1980s, SAWS began changing its focus to longer-term and sustainable development, as well as responding to emergencies, and became the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), which now works in 139 countries. ADRA offices range from very small (five staff or less) to very large (600 plus). This shift towards a developmental approach was underpinned by improving access to longer-term, development-type funding, as well as the desire to have a more sustainable impact on poverty and vulnerability. ADRA has over 20 support offices that are involved in fundraising for the organisation, with programming often supported by multiple donors. For example, in one country office there can be multiple ADRA donor offices supporting programming.

ADRA operates as a community-based development agency and focuses predominantly on five sectors: health, nutrition, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), education and agricultural and livelihoods. Many ADRA programmes are integrated and holistic in nature, and address key determinants that lead to poverty and lack of well-being. In humanitarian contexts, the predominant sectors of focus are shelter and WASH. The integrated approach requires planning with all sectors at the outset. Where possible, those planning interventions are encouraged to adopt a nutrition lens, e.g. considering dietary diversity and homestead food production as part of agricultural programming. ADRA often innovates or adapts programmes to context, but always with an eye to an exit strategy and the belief that government or other development partners will take over programming. Where possible, government (at central, regional and local levels) is involved in programme design and set-up. ADRA “thinks about the end right at the beginning” and programme designs are based on analysis of the barriers to desirable outcomes.

Nutrition has always been a key focus of ADRA. Although in the past it has usually been a component of health programming, it is now becoming a sector in its own right. ADRA undertakes a wide range of nutrition programming. Infant and young child feeding (IYCF) and maternal nutrition are a core part of programming, often delivered through mother’s and/or father’s groups. Programming often includes training of community health workers (CHWs) in growth monitoring and referral, taking place at facility level. ADRA is also involved in micronutrient supplementation programmes and support to antenatal and postnatal care services. In emergencies, the focus tends to be on IYCF, although provision of foods are also common, e.g. corn soya blend (CSB), cereals and pulses, as well as cash voucher programmes. ADRA has also implemented Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), for example in Ethiopia, and moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) programmes, e.g. in Madagascar.

ADRA utilises SPHERE standards to assess programme effectiveness and has a number of technical working groups (TWGs) that bring together experts from different countries. There are currently seven TWGs which attempt to synthesise agency working experiences, including sharing resources and guidance developed by programmes. In the near future, these TWGs will be further rationalised to four (health, education, DRR (disaster risk reduction) and livelihoods). They will maintain a similar internal knowledge-management function. There is an online facility whereby countries can share information, as well as a quarterly newsletter that highlights research and TWG findings. ADRA also conducts primary research, often in collaboration with research institutions such as academia. At global level, ADRA belongs to other technical groups and umbrella organisations like the Core Group (

In emergencies, ADRA typically works as part of the nutrition cluster coordination mechanism. At global level, it is a member of the global nutrition cluster (GNC). Natsayi says they are seeing increasing levels of conflict and disaster globally and very often, nutrition may not be seen as a priority by donors and other stakeholders. IYCF is a real challenge in emergencies, especially where there are migrant populations in transit, and the unpredictable impact of climate change is problematic as they are witnessing protracted droughts and flooding in many countries. Both Sonya and Natsayi see governance as critical to effecting an adequate nutrition response, while preparedness in these contexts has to be strengthened. ADRA knows that communities contribute a lot in these contexts and that it is important to tap into their experience and learn from it. Communities know about resilience. 

ADRA is a unique, faith-based organisation and both Natsayi and Sonya explained that their connection to the church often enables a response in conflict situations where other agencies cannot respond. Churches are based in the community and have an intrinsic network which can be accessed and deployed to good effect. At the same time, the religious element or basis of ADRA is completely independent from the practical development and emergency work the organisation does. While ADRA’s faith and belief system may provide motivation and encouragement to staff, the programming is entirely technical and has no religious elements.  Sonya and Natsayi emphasised that ADRA’s overriding aim is to reach and support the most vulnerable populations and that they are just as likely to support populations of Islamic faith as they are to support Methodists or Adventists.  

The interview left us with a strong sense of ADRA as an organisation with integrated, community-driven action at the heart of emergency response. We look forward to featuring some of the organisation’s learning in Field Exchange in 2017. 

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Reference this page

ADRA (Adventist Development Relief Agency). Field Exchange 54, February 2017. p104.



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