Serbian journalist Sasa Vucinic and US correspondent Stuart Auerbach founded MDIF in 1995 as Media Development Loan Fund. Together they had the idea of launching a ‘media bank’ – a decade before the term ‘impact investor’ was coined – to help journalists in countries with a history of media oppression build sustainable news businesses, strong enough to stay independent of governments, political parties and oligarchs.
Motivated by what they had witnessed in Europe, their initial aim was to help journalists from Eastern and Southeastern Europe to navigate the transition from communism to a market economy while maintaining their editorial independence. But they soon realised there was an urgent need for financing for media in countries undergoing other forms of transition, societies seeking to escape from authoritarianism and systemic corruption, and began working in places like Indonesia and Guatemala. In 1999, MDIF made its first equity investment, then started providing other forms of financing including quasi-equity, guarantees and startup capital.
More than 25 years after making our first loan to a small Slovakian newspaper called SME, the organisation Sasa and Stu created has grown faster than they – or anyone – imagined, providing more than $270 million in affordable financing and helping more than 130 independent news businesses to flourish and grow.
The organisation also changed its name to Media Development Investment Fund in 2013. Though only one word different, we think ‘investment’ captures the scope of our work much better than ‘loan’, both in terms of the range of financing we provide and the technical support we invest in our clients.
Sadly Stu died in 2003 and wasn’t able to see how the fruits of his labour continued to grow. Sasa served as Managing Director from 1995 until March 2011.
Together they left a legacy to be proud of: the world’s first global investment fund for independent news media. Perhaps more importantly, they created an organisation with a life of its own.