A former Microsoft executive who led the launch of Xbox and the co-founders of both Classmates.com and Jobster.com have all joined a local non-profit dedicated to helping poor people gain access to credit.
They’re part of a wave of experienced technology people leaving the business world to apply their skills to problems of inequality.
Maybe they were listening to Bill Gates’ Harvard commencement speech…
Their business experience is valued at Redmond-based Unitus, which looks at microfinance, or providing tiny loans and other services to working poor, as “an up-and-coming business sector, not a charity,” in the words of its spokesman. Unitus also operates a separate, for-profit investment fund.
That for-profit approach is somewhat controversial and has its share of critics. But in microfinance the line between doing good and making money is blurring.
Unitus reaches more than 2 million people now with loans, insurance and other services that would not be available to them through traditional banks. Like an aggressive tech startup, it plans to expand to a million more by the end of the year.
Xbox veteran Ed Bland, who was a general manager in Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, left to join Unitus as chief operating officer.
Other techies that have recently joined Unitus are Derek Streat, co-founder of Classmates.com and now Unitus VP of microfinance solutions; Jobster.com co-founder Jonathan Weinstein, now Unitus director of product development; former Microsoft and BEA employee Diana Reid, now Unitus VP of donor and investor relations; and RealNetworks and Microsoft veteran Sandra Winters, who is Unitus director of strategic alliances.