Jul
30
2010

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News from the Case Foundation and what people are talking about this week in the world of giving, tech and everything in between.

IPO of Indian microfinance firm raises questions about ties to Unitus

A few weeks ago in the weekly roundup, we covered the surprising closure announcement from Seattle-based microfinance firm, Unitus.  Since that time, the story has taken some interesting twists and turns. In mid-July, as Sean Stannard-Stockton of Tactical Philanthropy (who has done an excellent job of following the storyline as it unfolds) shared, Unitus leadership sent an email to supporters clarifying that the organization is not actually shutting down, and providing additional rationale for shifting its focus away from microfinance and shedding most of its staff. The story took an interesting turn last Friday, when Clay Holtzman of the Puget Sound Business Journal, who has been following the story quite closely since the initial reorganization announcement was made by Unitus, wrote an article that detailed how Unitus investors stood to profit from the planned IPO of India's largest microlender, SKS Microfinance.  Additional details are provided in this piece from Portfolio.com, which notes:

As the SKS IPO nears, the potential return is raising questions about the ethics of combining charity and business—and the extent to which Unitus founders and board members may profit personally from their investments.

Since that article appeared, there has been quite a bit of discussion in the philanthropy and social entrepreneurship spheres about the SKS/Unitus tie. In a piece titled "Why Every Social Entrepreneur Should Be Paying Attention to SKS and Unitus," Tim Ogden at Philanthropy Action argues that the debate over whether a microfinance organization should be a for-profit entity "betting on the poor" is a distraction:

But that discussion is well worn and a distraction from the real issues that are raised by the SKS IPO and the Unitus shutdown. In the two organizations we are for the first time, I believe, seeing what the endgame for social entrepreneurship can look like.

Ogden ultimately concludes, "The social entrepreneurship space is still the wild west—everyone is making it up as they go along. I suspect that is going to change as the details about SKS and Unitus slowly trickle out." Yesterday, Stephanie Strom at the New York Times published an article that explores the ties between Unitus and SKS and the proceeds that Unitus will recieve from the IPO. In the article, microfinance guru Muhammed Yunus weighed in:

“If Unitus is closing down, that shows what is the real result of this I.P.O.,” said Muhammad Yunus, an economics professor who is considered the father of microfinance and has been critical of the SKS stock offering. “You are now encouraging the profit-maximizing part, and the nonprofits are closing down.”

Showing his social media prowess, Matthew Bishop, NY Bureau Chief for the Economist and author of Philanthrocapitialism and The Road from Ruin, is hosting a Twitter chat to debate whether for-profit entities should benefit from lending to the poor.

As you can see, this story is quite complicated and is being covered from numerous angles. Tim Ogden has a great guide to stories that helps shed more light on the discussion. Stay tuned for what I'm sure will be a highly anticipated guest post on Tactical Philanthropy from Geoff Wooley of Unitus.

Facebook Questions launches

On Wednesday, Facebook officially launched its anticipated Questions feature, which, as reported by Mashable, "will allow users to get answers to their queries from the entire Facebook community."  While there have been some bugs since the initial launch, Marshall Kirkpatrick at social media blog Read, Write, Web asserts that "it will be fixed and is going to be a very big deal," noting that the feature "may come closer than anything else has yet to Mark Zuckerberg's vision of Facebook as a connector of people around the world, a force for empathy and world peace." Marshall's excitement about the potential for the Questions feature as a tool for fostering a global, productive debate on a variety of issues is certainly palpable. Over on the NTEN blog, Holly Ross also shared Marshall's piece, posing the question, "Can Facebook Questions Bridge the Blue/Red Divide?"

Oldest Twitter user passes at 104

Weekly News Roundup would like to conclude by acknowledging the passing of Ivy Bean, who was believed to be the oldest user of Twitter.  @IvyBean104 had an impressive 56,000 followers and was an active tweeter (though many of her recent tweets are from friends and family who were with her while she was ill).  Mashable sums it up well:"Mrs. Bean’s example showed that social media truly knows no boundaries, and that tools such as Twitter (Twitter) and Facebook are open to everyone who wants to participate."

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