The Challenge

The design and launch of the Innovation Labs practice has been motivated by the following reasons:

  • Need to strengthen synergies between ADA’s technical assistance projects (subsidy) and investments (debt);
  • Willingness to encourage innovation within the organisation and willingness to better address the target populations’ needs by integrating the Theory of Change and Client-Centric concepts;
  • Need to clarify ADA’s positioning and strategy for the coming years;
  • Willingness to empower staff as well as to involve staff in the change and in the definition of the new strategy in order to foster ownership and buy-in (evolving from a top-down approach to a bottom-up approach for strategy definition)

The Practice

This practice aims to strengthen collaboration between internal teams and to boost an innovation dynamic within the organisation as well as with a variety of partners in order to increase the impact of our activities (which combines grant making and public-private investments). In concrete terms, it consists in provides space for collective thinking in a number of areas:

  • Encourage the sharing of experience/knowledge between different units to feed into a collective reflexion (learning organisation);
  • Strengthen our methodological approach to define our interventions and better address the needs of vulnerable populations (using Theory of Change and Client-Centric concepts);
  • Clarify ADA’s strategic positioning on its key themes allowing to strengthen internal coherence as well as to better communicate with funders and potential partners including other investors.
  • Stimulate the emergence of innovative projects on an on-going basis and with a strong focus on impact.


Initially launched to redesign a specific programme, the Innovation Labs practice at ADA has become a tool for the organisation’s own strategy development and an effective method for designing partnerships with external partners such as the “Young Entrepreneurs Sustainable Funding Initiative” (YES-FI) or Farmers 2.0.

  • More collaboration and synergies between teams in terms of sharing of experience/ knowledge and making links between different projects and investment activities and technical assistance projects resulting in the development of new projects, increased sustainability and scaling of the solutions developed;
  • Harmonization of new methodologies across the organisation (theory of change, client-centricity approach, two-pager proposals, strategic orientation notes, etc.);
  • More engagement of staff, partners and investors, resulting in stronger buy-in of new strategies  and ideas;
  • Empowered project officers to acquire new knowledge on priority themes and to use lessons learned in new projects.

Insights / Advice to Peers

At this stage, is still a work in progress (as part of a dynamic change process) and takes much more time than expected.

Main challenges such as limited internal knowledge about new methods and practices as well as availability by the teams have been overcome thanks to the methodological support provided by dedicated staff i.e. the  innovation / R&D officers. Indeed, a key recommendation would be to have suitable people with the rights leadership skills and sufficient time to dedicate to an Innovation Lab (visionary, collaborative and sensitive).

Furthermore,  to encourage teams to get involved in such a collaborative dynamic, it is important that staff perceive the process to directly benefit their work and that the results are valued and used by the organisations. The support of the management team has also been essential, notably through the use of the results in the new strategy.

In addition, clear and realistic targets as well as well defined period of time are also critical elements to take into consideration.

Further Resources


Linda Szelest, R&D Programme Coordinator,

Axel de Ville, Executive Advisor,

ADA – Appui au développement autonome
39 rue Glesener – L-1631 Luxembourg – Phone: +352 45 68 68 1

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