Anthony Ellis is the founder and CEO of Integrity, an international consultancy and service provider that sets the standard for ethically delivered, expert services in conflict, post-conflict and fragile environments. Their aim is to help their clients in the international community and the global private sector transform conflict and build stability, accountability and prosperity.
I was posted in Afghanistan in 2005-2006 as a diplomat, and I saw for the first time, upfront and personal this big international effort to try and deal with the conflict. It was flawed in a lot of ways: The context in which that help was being provided was within a fixed agenda – around what had happened in New York, the Taliban etc; There wasn’t a peace on which to build reconstruction; Finally there was this big industry around intervention driven by contractors, as much as governments and procurements. Procuring the programmes and sitting on one side of the fence I could see consultancies and wanted to step out and try and do it differently. This was the origin of Integrity.
Since 2010, It’s been an incredible story of growth for the organisation but a sad story for the places where we’ve worked, and I still find it hard personally to reconcile: We are a conflict specialist organisation, but a bit like being a doctor or an undertaker you are busy when people are at misfortune. And none of us saw at all what would happen in Syria (Anthony lived in Damascus from 2008 until 2010). It caught everybody by surprise.
When I started my career I had unrealistic ideals about the universe and I was a bit of a sole operator: An idealist, but without much responsibility. Since I’ve started Integrity, we’ve grown to 50 staff. These real people have mortgages and increasingly children too. We also have a large number of Syrian researchers working in Syria for us, who are exposed to traumatic events on a daily basis. I feel a massive sense of responsibility and that makes you grow up very quickly.
My biggest drive is definitely working with excellent people. One thing I’ve been able to bring is identifying, recruiting and helping support talented people who really get where we work. Another thing I’ve been able to bring is putting in place a culture where people enjoy coming to work, enjoy working with each other and understand the values and the commercial imperatives are two sides of the same coin. If we don’t make money we won’t survive, but we are also a value-driven organisation so how we make money is important. Finding people who get that is not simple.
I passionately believe in the power of the private sector: Governments are not going to solve the problems of the world on their own, and the private sector employs 90% of humanity. And I think too often the private sector is part of the problem. There is a huge movement now to look at that and see whether some fundamentals of the business can be part of the solution for humanity rather than a problem. So I wanted to create a brand that could personify that success story: You could be profitable and ethical, and actually the two aren’t a tension, they’re actually mutually re-enforcing.
The person who inspires me most is probably Richard Branson. The reason why I admire him is for what he has done with a brand. He took a record label, and has morphed that successfully into a whole range of sectors and used the brand to personify an approach and a set of values. It is also empowering how he’s devolved the brand to the rest of the team.
I would love over time to sit on a board and work with various talented executive teams who are delivering the Integrity brand values in different sectors at community level. That might be banking facilities or education, I don’t know yet, but I would love to be part if that. And I would love to take more time for my photography, that’s what I used to do and love.