This profile was prepared when Sasa Vucinic was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
A Belgrade-based journalist and editor, Sasa saw in the early 1990s how the absence of accurate information and fair, unbiased reporting could allow any government to manipulate a population and entice it even so far as into civil war. He experienced how the lack of access to affordable capital can stifle independent media and prevent the emergence and sustainability of independent news and knowledge channels, especially in challenging social environments like his native Yugoslavia. To transform the independent media sector in the developing world and societies in transition Sasa co-founded Media Development Loan Fund (MDLF), a New York-based social investment fund that offers affordable financing to independent media outlets. Since it began in 1996, MDLF has supported media outlets in 24 countries which together reach over 29 million people. The fund has deployed about US$75M in low interest loans and equity investments, and approximately US$10M in grants for technical assistance and capacity-building. Since its inception, the loan repayment rate of the fund is 97 percent. While the provision of affordable capital is the main offering, MDLF and is also creating a new class of media entrepreneurs grounded in sound business practices that do not violate the enormously important social role media has to play in its community. Sasa and his team guide clients through a change process that results in the adoption of practices eventually leading to profitability. Importantly, the process also changes the self-identity of independent media professionals so that they approach their role as entrepreneurs creating a new system rather than activists fighting the status quo. Another key aspect is that clients are connected to each other so they can contribute to and learn from a community of peers—their counterparts in other societies. With these pieces in place—critical support to individual organizations and media entrepreneurs, and a collaborative peer group—Sasa is strengthening the infrastructure to support the sector by designing new lending instruments and experimenting with shared ownership models for media companies.