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Vittana founder Kushal Chakrabarti.
Vittana founder Kushal Chakrabarti.

Vittana, the Seattle non-profit that facilitates micro-loans to students in developing countries, is closing down. The organization sent an email to its supporters Friday morning notifying them of the news.

“Vittana has never been a conventional charity,” wrote CEO Robin Wolaner. “One of our founding beliefs was that once we reached scale, we could do our work sustainably, without shifting costs and risk onto the students. We have had wonderful donors support this effort but after five years and a few different approaches, we haven’t found a robust business model to wean ourselves off that support. We want to be true to our original promises that we would not be philanthropically funded forever.”

Vittana was founded in 2007 by Kushal Chakrabarti, a former Amazon.com employee who stepped down as CEO in March 2013. The non-profit helped hundreds of students in 17 countries get loans for education and received large donations from people like venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Zillow co-founder Rich Barton, and several other high-profile tech executives.

vittanaWolaner, founder of Parenting Magazine and former vice president at CNET, took the CEO reigns in June 2013 after Rebecca Lovell had served as interim CEO.

“We still believe that millions of poor students around the world need access to finance to go to school, and we are working to determine how pieces of our programmatic work can continue as part of another existing organization,” Wolaner wrote. “In any event, the 27 microfinance partners now lending on the Kiva platform will continue to offer our loans to an ever-increasing number of students.”

The full memo from Wolaner is below:

As one of our supporters – it’s fair to say there would be no Vittana without you – I’m writing to share significant news about Vittana’s future.

Vittana was founded to help students finance the last step of their education, helping them escape poverty by vastly increasing their lifetime earnings potential. Over the last five years we have worked with 50 microfinance institutions and specialized student lenders to introduce student loan programs where they never existed before. After reaching nearly 20,000 students worldwide, we have great evidence that these graduates are on their way to much better lives and we’re very proud of that work. We have been successful in catalyzing the creation of student loan programs; we are no longer the only people who think that students are worthwhile investments.

Vittana has never been a conventional charity. One of our founding beliefs was that once we reached scale, we could do our work sustainably, without shifting costs and risk onto the students. We have had wonderful donors support this effort but after five years and a few different approaches, we haven’t found a robust business model to wean ourselves off that support. We want to be true to our original promises that we would not be philanthropically funded forever.

As a result, our team has decided that Vittana should cease to exist as a standalone organization. We have made the painful decision to begin winding down the organization in its current form. We still believe that millions of poor students around the world need access to finance to go to school, and we are working to determine how pieces of our programmatic work can continue as part of another existing organization. In any event, the 27 microfinance partners now lending on the Kiva platform will continue to offer our loans to an ever-increasing number of students.

I am available to discuss these changes with you at your convenience. Please don’t hesitate to reach out anytime.

All my best,

Robin

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