SPECIAL REPORT: ADA’s Laura Foschi on Creating Value for SMEs at SAM in Ethiopia, October 2017

MicroCapital: How has SAM (Semaine Africaine de la Microfinance) evolved since its launch four years ago?

Laura Foschi: We held the first edition of SAM in 2013 in Arusha, Tanzania. Our goal was to align the annual meetings of three networks of African microfinance institutions: the Africa Microfinance Network (AFMIN), African Microfinance Transparency (AMT) and the Microfinance African Institutions Network (MAIN). We had conference sessions on the first day, the networks’ general assemblies on the second day and an Investor’s Fair on the third day. During the week, we realized the potential of SAM to become a major African inclusive finance event.

We decided to move the location each time with the aim of engaging both French-speaking and English-speaking regions and organizations. In 2015, we held the conference in Senegal, expanding it to include two days of conference sessions and a broader range of parallel events. We were pleasantly surprised to have our registrations double to over 500 people! Perhaps for the fourth edition we will move to North Africa or Southern Africa.

MC: How did you select Ethiopia for the 2017 SAM?

LF: In order to maintain Ethiopia’s strong economic growth, its large young population will need to achieve what we call “economic inclusion.” In order to address this challenge, the government of Ethiopia has prioritized both microfinance and SMEs. As we looked further into holding SAM in Ethiopia, we entered into a productive dialogue with the Association of Ethiopian Microfinance Institutions (AEMFI) and discovered that it was very interested in the event.

MC: Speaking of SMEs, please tell us about this year’s theme, “Creating value for SMEs.”

LF: We wanted to focus on job creation and economic inclusion. There is a new class of entrepreneurs that want to develop their businesses in Africa. Thirty years ago, African entrepreneurs often moved to Europe, the US or other places where it was easier to do business. Today, many more of them are staying in Africa. We also have international organizations and investors supporting SMEs, such as AFD, with its accelerator and incubator process in West Africa, and the World Bank, which is focusing on women’s entrepreneurship.

We want to encourage debate on how prepared the microfinance industry is to serve SMEs. While some microbanks have a long way to go, ACEP and COFINA are examples of organizations that have been very successful in serving these customers.

MC: Is there something on the SAM agenda that you would like to highlight?

LF: Throughout the week and in particular during the “Voices from the Field” plenary session, entrepreneurs will explain their daily challenges, dreams for their businesses and past failures. We will also get into agro-business, gender issues, digital solutions, incubators and business development service providers. There is a Research Meets Africa session; the Innovation Fair; the Investor’s fair; and training sessions organized by Accion, CGAP, FAO, SPTF and others. Lastly, we invite Micro­Capital readers to use the code ZSM38C to get a discount of EUR 50 off the registration fee!

Laura Foschi serves as the deputy director of ADA.

This interview launches a sponsored series on the third SAM, which begins on October 9 in Addis Ababa. It is organized by ADA, an NGO based in Luxembourg, with the support of Luxembourg’s Ministry for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, in partnership with MAIN, the African Rural & Agricultural Credit Association, AMT, AEMFI and Kenya’s Association for Micro-finance Institutions.