Unitus Dissolving Seattle Nonprofit, Laying Off Employees

Jul 2010
Seattle, United States of America, July, 02 2010 - Microfinance nonprofit Unitus said this morning it is closing its Seattle headquarters and laying off more than 40 employees after almost 10 years of operation.

Unitus, which provides capital and expertise to microfinance institutions in developing countries, has staff and field offices in Bangalore, India, and Nairobi, Kenya, which will also be closed.

The move came as a surprise to many, as Unitus in October had hired Brigit Helms, an executive with the International Finance Corp.in Jakarta, to serve as CEO after an extensive search, and has programs and partnerships underway.

"We now feel that there is greater need for our capital and energy in other areas," board Chairman Joseph Grenny said in a statement. Capital markets have embraced microfinance, with tens of billions of dollars in capital annually for the working poor, validating the group's core aim, he said.

Unitus had net assets of $11.3 million at the end of 2009, according to its audited financial statement. It received $6.4 million in contributions and grants.

In 2006, Unitus also launched Unitus Equity Fund, a separate for-profit entity to bring private capital investments into microfinance. Its second fund, now called Elevar Equity, had raised $70 million earlier this year.

"The fact that we have become largely unnecessary in the microfinance arena is fantastic news and is a tribute to our generous, enlightened donors and the phenomenal staff at Unitus, who worked tirelessly to validate and refine the microfinance model, and advance the operations of our partners," Unitus President Ed Bland said in a statement on the group's website.

Unitus said it will shift its remaining assets into "new early-stage, poverty-focused philanthropic activities," which it hasn't yet identified.

Former Unitus board member Geoff Woolley will head the "reinvented organization," Bland will continue as acting president and COO, and Helms will be a key adviser during the transition, the group said.

Unitus said it has directed $40 million in donations and almost $30 million in investment capital to strategic microfinance partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America.


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