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Media Development Loan Fund

Grantee:        Media Development Loan Fund
Ranking:       1st highest grantee, 2005 — 2009
Received:     $15,695,000
Type:             Social Investment Fund
Issue:             Media

About: The Media Development Loan Fund is a New York-based non-profit that “provides loans to independent news outlets in countries with a history of media oppression.” Founded in 1995, the fund provides low-cost capital and technical know-how to “help journalists in challenging environments build sustainable businesses around professional, responsible, quality journalism.”  In 2005, the New York Times described the fund as a “loans without borders” program, quoting Serbian journalist and founder Sasha Vucinic:

The most effective time for the fund to enter a country, Vucinic said, is during the transition to democracy. “We want to be in places like Peru after Fujimori or Georgia after Shevardnadze, in the crucial months when a free expression can become institutionalized before the government gets annoyed,” Vucinic said. “That is when capital is crucial and when the country is most in need of an independent media.”1

Working in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Southeast Europe and the CIS, MDLF “helps essential independent news providers to expand their audience, improve their news products and become financially self-sustainable” and “provides leading journalists with the support they need to create lasting institutions for change.”  As a business venture, and also as a philanthropy, the MDLF has seen success.  Over the course of 15 years, they have provided more than $100 million in financing and grants to 77 media companies in 26 countries, while writing off only 2% of loans and investments.

Mission Statement: Media Development Loan Fund is a mission-driven investment fund for independent news outlets in countries with a history of media oppression. We provide low-cost capital and technical know-how to help journalists in challenging environments build sustainable businesses around professional, responsible, quality journalism.  Working in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Southeast Europe and the CIS, we help essential independent news providers to expand their audience, improve their news products and become financially self-sustainable.  MDLF provides leading journalists with the support they need to create lasting institutions for change.

Soros Funding: George Soros became the first donor to the Fund in 1995.  Ten years later, Soros donated nearly $3 million to the MDLF (analysis of donations between 1995 and 2005 are forthcoming).  He gave another $3,910,000 in 2006; $3,900,000 in 2007; $3,900,00 in 2008, and $1,000,000 in 2009, making the MDLF the single largest beneficiary of Open Society Institute funds during that time.2  Between 2005 and 2009, among the many hundreds of causes supported by the OSI, only the Drug Policy Alliance’s campaign to legalize street drugs in America approached the level of funding Soros provided to invest in independent media in unstable and developing countries.

Officers:

  • Harlan M. Mandel, CEO
  • Marie Nemcova, COO
  • Tessa Piper, Program Director for Asia
  • Elena Popovic, Secretary and General Counsel
  • Patrice Schneider, Chief Strategy Officer
  • Peter Whitehead, Director of Communications

Founders:

  • Sasa Vucinic
  • Stuart Auerbach

Board of Directors:

  • Bernard Poulet (Chair) — Chief Editor, L’Expansion
  • Ying Chan — Director, Journalism and Media Studies Centre, The University of Hong Kong
  • Sheila Coronel  — Professor Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, Columbia University
  • Annette Laborey — Executive Director, Open Society Institute
  • Gerald Nagler — Founder and former Executive Director/Chairman, Swedish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
  • Aryeh Neier — President, Open Society Institute
  • Alexander Papachristou — President, Near East Foundation
  • John Ryle — Professor of Anthropology, Bard College, New York, and Chair of the Rift Valley Institute
  • Harlan Mandel — CEO, MDLF

Previous Chairs and Board members:

  • Sasa Vucinic: 1995-2011
  • Kenneth Anderson: 1995-2009 (Chair 1997-2009)
  • Stuart Auerbach: 1995-2003 (Chair 1996-1997)
  • Roberto Eisenmann: 2001-2001
  • Konstanty Gebert: 1997-2000
  • Jan Urban: 1997-1999

Funders and Lenders:

  • Association of Alternative Newsweeklies
  • Bank Vontobel
  • Calvert Social Investment Foundation
  • DOEN Foundation
  • Dreilinden gGmbH
  • Foundation for Democracy and Media
  • Fritt Ord Foundation
  • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
  • Omidyar Network
  • Open Society Institute
  • Oxfam Novib
  • responsAbility Ventures I
  • Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
  • Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
  • Alexej Fulmek
  • David Haas
  • Council of Europe
  • Eurasia Foundation
  • International Media Support
  • J.M. Kaplan Fund
  • Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
  • Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Swedish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
  • United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
  • U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor
  • World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Addendum:  The presence of the Media Development Loan Fund at the very top of OSI’s grantee list over the last half decade may surprise some.  Soros rarely mentions the MDLF, although he credits it briefly with helping warm him to the idea of social investing in his 2011 book, The Philanthropy of George Soros: Building Open Societies:

[M]y foundations did get involved in social investing from time to time.  In Bulgaria, for instance, the foundation became the largest book publisher.  This raised serious questions about whether by subsidizing publishing we were actually preventing a healthy publishing industry from developing.  To satisfy the ever recurring demand for supporting mass media, we set up a special operation, the Media Development Loan Fund. It has been very successful because it is run on business lines.3

Beyond the philanthropic subject of the efficacy of social investing, questions remain about Soros’ motives for subsidizing opposition media in countries where authoritarian governments — or authoritarian revolutionaries — are controlling information.


1 http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/21/business/worldbusiness/21iht-fund22.html

2 Soros has made substantially larger grants at other times, including $840 million to endow the Central European University

3 Sudetic, Chuck, The Philanthropy of George Soros: Building Open Societies (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011), p. 138.

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