12 April 2024

Towards inclusive, sustainable and innovative finance: an interview with Laura Foschi, ADA


ADA (Appui au développement autonome) is a Luxembourg-based NGO that uses inclusive finance to support vulnerable people in Africa, Central America and South-East Asia. We spoke to ADA’s Executive Director, Laura Foschi, about the organization’s focus areas, current projects, and engagement with the AFI network.

ADA’s activities focus on three main topics, the first being youth entrepreneurship. Could you explain your approach here?  

Young people are a very important group for us. They represent a large chunk of society (in sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of people are under 30), but they’re vulnerable. Young people typically struggle to access financial services because they don’t have a financial history, employment record, or assets.

The lucky ones who complete school have to be integrated into the economy as employees or entrepreneurs, which is challenging. And if we can’t solve this problem, this big group of people risk becoming migrants, joining the informal sector, or becoming dependent on aid.

In the past, ADA worked exclusively with microfinance institutions, strengthening their capacity to provide financial services to young people. But we realized this wasn’t sufficient. So now, through our projects, ADA is helping to create a whole enabling environment for young entrepreneurs. Because they don’t just need access to finance, they need skills, technical assistance, and help in accessing markets.

Where does ADA come in?

We identify partners in the field; these are generally incubators or accelerators that provide young entrepreneurs with technical assistance or help in developing a business model. And then we add the component of financial services by finding financial institutions that can partner with them.

In Mali, for instance, we identified a financial service provider that was already working with SMEs, and who wanted to achieve higher impact. We provided guarantees which allowed entrepreneurs that were spun off by an accelerator to receive a loan directly from the financial institution.

We’ve noticed that accelerators and financial services providers may be based in the same place, but they don’t necessarily understand or talk to each other. ADA plays a coordinating role, helping accelerators understand the financial needs of young entrepreneurs and providing guarantees to financial service providers. Then we monitor the results, sharing knowledge and lessons learnt across our programmes.

The second focus of ADA is on agriculture and forestry. Why are you active here?

This area is very important strategically, representing 60 percent of our overall activity. Bear in mind that we’re a development NGO, and agriculture is generally the first sector where a country will ask for solutions and support. When we intervene here, we can advance food security, climate resilience, green technology, and job creation. We’re positively impacting vulnerable populations, often in remote areas.

Can you provide an example of your work in this area?

The Smallholder Safety Net Upscaling Programme (SSNUP) is a 10-year programme which aims to support 10 million smallholder households in Africa, Latin America and Asia, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Luxembourg Directorate for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, and the Liechtenstein Development Service. SSNUP works with a group of impact investors, co-financing their projects to provide technical assistance for the agricultural value chain. ADA coordinates the process and transmits the funding. We share knowledge with the impact investors through workshops and studies.

Through our forestry programme, we identify financial partners in Africa and in Central America and help them to develop products and services for smallholder farmers. We work with NGOs and small businesses to encourage a shift to sustainable forestry management. And we work with indigenous communities, helping them to access markets and financial products, develop sources of income, and increase their resilience to climate change.

ADA’s third focus is on basic services: access to renewable energy, water and sanitation. What’s your approach here?

This is our newest focus area, but we already have multiple projects underway. We are working with solar network operators in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Benin to secure access to renewable energy for small enterprises and households in remote, “off-grid” rural areas.

We have pilot projects to promote the use of solar-powered agricultural equipment in Bangladesh and Burkina Faso. Other pilot projects in Benin and in Bangladesh combine rural entrepreneurship, access to energy and financial inclusion, for example by facilitating nano-loans to small businesses via a digital platform.

We also raise awareness among vulnerable communities about the importance of sanitation and the benefits of solar energy to boost demand. This is an area where the whole community is interested and engaged, because these services benefit everyone.

Our two organizations enjoy a close working relationship. How does engaging with AFI’s global network of central banks and financial regulators benefit ADA?

ADA works with the private sector, communities, SMEs and financial organizations to achieve impact in the field. Sometimes, our in-country partners don’t understand the regulatory context, or don’t feel it’s relevant, whereas in reality, they are strongly impacted by regulations – financial and microfinance institutions especially.

It’s generally not possible for those organizations in the field to talk to central banks or regulators, but it is for ADA, through our engagement with the AFI network, and it’s incredibly valuable. When dialogue is present, it contributes greatly to an enabling environment. When it’s absent, it can create constraints or brakes.

The dialogue between us allows AFI to hear insights from the field which members can use to shape policies and regulatory frameworks, and it allows ADA’s partners to understand and work within an evolving regulatory environment.

Inclusive Green Finance is one area where ADA and AFI are working together to advance global progress, for example via the ADA Chair in Financial Law and Inclusive Finance at the University of Luxembourg, who was involved in developing an IGF Roadmap for which ADA provided examples from the field.

ADA supports financial service providers, building communities’ awareness of green finance and climate finance, but the whole value chain has to be involved, and policymakers and regulators are vital players. The Philippines is a great example of a country where ADA is working with a local network of financial service providers, and where we have a close, continuous dialogue with the AFI member. We listen to and learn from each other, allowing us to move forward together.


You can learn more about ADA’s work and projects on their website.

© Alliance for Financial Inclusion 2009-2024