International nonprofit organization Unitus has announced that it is discontinuing its microfinance operations and will lay off nearly forty staff members in its Seattle headquarters and field offices in Bangalore, India, and Nairobi, Kenya.
The organization's remaining assets will be directed into new and early stage philanthropic activities designed to achieve positive socioeconomic outcomes for underserved people around the world, with a focus on innovative, highly leveraged solutions not widely available in the marketplace. Former Unitus board member Geoff Woolley will serve as CEO for the reinvented organization, while Ed Bland will remain in his role as acting president and COO.
Since its launch in 2001, Unitus has played a role in the development of viable business models for microfinance that have been instrumental in attracting commercial lenders and investors to what was previously a significantly underserved marketplace. The organization has directed $40 million in donations and nearly $30 million in investment capital to microfinance institutions in India, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America, which in turn have channeled $2 billion in loan capital to more than twelve million clients, most of whom live on a few dollars a day. Unitus also started and spun off two microfinance-oriented organizations that helped further solidify the viability of microfinance as a commercial business model: the Unitus Equity Fund, a private equity fund now managed by Elevar Equity, and Unitus Capital, a boutique investment bank.
"For the past decade, Unitus has been working to increase access to capital for the working poor, under the central premise that this vast, underserved segment of the world's population was a good investment and could be well-served by commercial capital providers," said Unitus chairman Joseph Grenny. "We are gratified that this core belief has been validated — capital markets have embraced microfinance to the extent that there are tens of billions of dollars in microfinance capital now available annually, with additional providers entering the marketplace at an aggressive clip. We now feel that there is greater need for our capital and energy in other areas — which we are currently exploring — aligned with our overarching mission of alleviating poverty through opportunity."