Unitus expands in Africa as Indian partner mulls IPO

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Posted by Kristi Heim

Unitus, a Seattle non-profit supporting microfinance around the world, is entering a new phase as it expands into northern India and Africa, and its social enterprise investment arm builds a second equity fund of at least $70 million, almost triple the size of its first fund.

From its new location on the fifth floor of a Queen Anne building, Unitus President Ed Bland talked about the group’s progress to help small microfinance organizations grow by providing capital and business consulting. Unitus has about 40 employees and 24 microfinance partners, 14 of them in India.

Among them, SKS Microfinance in India is the fastest growing microfinance organization in the world, reaching more than 4 million clients today from the 12,000 it had when it first received support from Unitus in 2003. I wrote about SKS here when its founder Vikram Akula was in town.

SKS, which has relied on private equity so far, is likely to go public within the next 18 months. “It will make a big splash,” Bland said, but not in the same way as the last major microfinance IPO, Compartamos of Mexico. SKS charges interest rates of 26 percent, compared to the 84 percent interest charged by Compartamos, he said. The IPO helped fuel a debate about the role of microfinance.

Source: The Seattle Times (link opens in a new window)