Wokai Shuts Down: A Setback for Microfinance in China

Casey Wilson, co-founder of Wokai (“I Start”) announced earlier this week that Wokai started the process of winding down and concluding its operations.

Started five years ago, the non-profit’s goal was to alleviate poverty in China one loan at a time. They had built a microfinance website that connected contributors with borrowers in China.

Wokai contributors could choose the borrowers they wish to support and see the progress of repayments being made online. As a 501c3 non-profit organization in the U.S., those supporting Wokai received a charitable tax deduction and became donors. The donated funds were then re-circulated for other borrowers in China as repayments were made.

There are many regulatory roadblocks in China that made working in this space difficult. Microfinance institutions are legally prohibited to access debt or equity investments in China. For more information, please visit our post on Why is the Microfinance Industry in China So Far Behind?

Wokai had difficulty finding a CEO to take the organization to the next level in China. In her communication, Casey stated that they “met unexpected funding road blocks, which left us without the reserves necessary to extend the search further.”

Wokai was the first to create a P2P technology platform for microfinance work in China. They recruited volunteers across the U.S. and organized many chapters to support their fundraising campaigns. Many major media features including CNN, Bloomberg, MSNBC and others featured their work. It seemed as if the organization was poised for growth.

It is with sadness to hear about Wokai’s closure as I had promoted their work in various capacities. However, there are other microfinance organizations working to alleviate poverty in rural China. After things calm down, I hope Casey will share with us some of the lessons learned in this venture.