Monday, December 03, 2007

Unitus Microfinance Accelerator

Today I came across a Barron's/Wall Street Journal article with a link to profiles of 10 philanthropists noted not for how much money they've given, but for the effectiveness of their giving. One individual identified as an effective giver is Mike Murray, who co-founded microfinance accelerator Unitus, based in Redmond, Washington. A longer profile of Murray can also be found by clicking here.

I first learned of Unitus several months ago, after their marketing director sent me an email. Since then, I read A Billion Bootstraps, an introduction to microfinance, and I also started making microloans through Kiva, a non-profit website that links donors with small-scale entrepreneurs around the world. I was therefore much more prepared to learn about Unitus when I came across the Wall Street Journal article today than I was in February.

Mike Murray was a top executive at Apple and, later, Microsoft. While he was the head of Human Resources at Microsoft, Murray had a chance meeting with Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and the father of microfinance. In 2000, Murray engaged his friends in discussions about how to best help the world's poor -- specifically the 3 billion people who struggle to survive on less than $2/day. Those discussions ultimately led to the formation of Unitus, which has a simple mission to fight global poverty by increasing access to microfinance. According to Murray, Unitus has helped to increase funding available to its microfinance institution (MFI) partners by $250 million. A dramatic example of Unitus' effectiveness is SKS, an MFI in India that had only 10,000 clients in 2002 but now has over 1 million, due in part to Unitus' efforts.

Murray recently began service as a mission president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the same organization I volunteered with in Thailand a decade ago. Apparently he funds the overhead expense of Unitus so individual donations can be applied 100% toward program expense. I'm intrigued by Murray, his organization and its fit with my goal to find and fund sustainable solutions to end poverty. You can bet I'll have future posts related to Unitus as I continue to do more research.

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