Featured case:
Media Development Investment Fund

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The case

Who – the protagonist

Sasa Vucinic, a trained lawyer and journalist in Eastern Europe. Co-founder of the Media Development Loan Fund (MDLF).


logoThe MDLF (now Media Development Investment Fund) provides affordable financing and technical assistance to independent news and information businesses in challenging environments, helping them to become financially sustainable. It invests in media that provides the news, information and debate that people need to build free, thriving societies.


While working for B92, Yugoslavia’s only independent radio station, Sasa gained first-hand experience of how tough it can be for independent media outlets to survive. During the Balkan Crisis, the government made life very difficult for B92, and cash was short. Precious historical recordings of what was happening in Yugoslavia had to be destroyed as the tapes had to be recycled to record subsequent events.


broadcastingAfter leaving B92 in 1993, Sasa worked as a media consultant in Prague for the Open Society Institute (Now Open Society Foundations), a foundation set up by George Soros. Sasa met Washington Post journalist, Stuart Auerbach, and they shared a belief that independent media outlets needed access to capital investment. Sasa took this vision of a ‘media bank’ to a sceptical Soros, who reluctantly agreed to provide seed funding in 1995.


SMEThe fund’s first client was the Slovakian newspaper, SME, based in Bratislavia. MDLF has since invested $133 million in 108 independent news businesses across 38 countries. It’s now registered in New York as a not-for-profit public charity.

Key quote

‘It is not going to work, but I will give you a rope to hang yourself.’ – George Soros

What next?

By 2010, just after celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Media Development Loan Fund, Sasa knew he needed a new vision for the next stage of growth. The number of clients had reached an all-time high and MDLF had built up an endowment fund of $19 million. But with significant changes in the media sector, radical change was required to ensure continued success.

The protagonist

An insider’s view

Sasa VucinicSasa Vucinic, Journalist and Founding Managing Director of the Media Development Loan Fund, explains why he took part in the case and how it led to a new venture.

Excellent and difficult

The benefits of participating in this case were enormous for both MDLF and me. The authors posed excellent and difficult questions, and to answer them we had to find time to focus and reflect on what we’d done and why we did something in a specific way.

This re-evaluation process allowed us to see previous decisions in the proper context of what was actually important and what just appeared important.

Different scenarios

The passage of time enabled us to explore different scenarios and imagine how the organisation might have developed had we taken different decisions at specific times. And as for me personally, the rethinking initiated by this process assured me that the best thing I could do would be to start a new venture, which eventually I did.

There is no doubt in my mind that participating in a case can only bring benefits.

e sasa.vucinic@gmail.com
tw @salaja

The authors

Swee Sum Lam and Gabriel Henry Jacob

Swee Sum Lam and Gabriel Henry JacobSwee Sum explains why she and Gabriel focused on MDLF and why very different organisations can learn lessons from its success.

Success and trade-offs

The case is interesting because it illustrates that good management practices are important to develop a successful social enterprise. The case also describes the trade-offs that confront a social entrepreneur.

MDLF is a social enterprise that operates in a very challenging political and business environment, and yet is able to achieve both its social and economic missions. This provides students with an exemplar of how to build sustainability in a social enterprise and demonstrates some of the core abilities and skills required.

Wider lessons

Even organisations with different backgrounds can learn important lessons from MDLF. First, it is important for social enterprises to offer competitive compensation to attract highly motivated professionals. Second, they must have a comprehensive understanding of the social issues they seek to address, and develop relevant and innovative approaches to resolve them.

Third, it is necessary to employ advanced business knowledge and tools to manage and scale the organisation. Finally, successful stakeholder management requires the use of evaluation tools to assess the organisation’s impact.

Tenacity and persistence

newspapersThe ability of the founders to start and run a bank-like fund without relevant banking experience highlights the importance of tenacity, personal initiative and learning in entrepreneurship. They were willing to learn the ropes and leverage on their past experiences and were also persistent in pursuing their goals despite initial scepticism.

Teaching objectives

There are several teaching objectives: 1) to identify factors that drive financial sustainability and scalability in social enterprises; 2) to design a performance measurement and performance evaluation system for a social purpose organisation; and 3) to compare and contrast the practices of venture philanthropy and venture capital.

Important source

Our main case writing advice is to develop a very good relationship with the case protagonist to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the organisation. Also, involve other members and stakeholders of the organisation for a better understanding from multiple perspectives.

The authors

Swee Sum Lam, Associate Professor of Finance and Director, Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP), National University of Singapore.
e swee.sum@nus.edu.sg

Gabriel Henry Jacob, Social Entrepreneur Fellow (Research), Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP), National University of Singapore 
e gabriel.henry.jacob@u.nus.edu
tw @GabrielHJacob

Interested in finding out more?

Download the cases and teaching note

Educators can login to view free inspection copies of these cases and their teaching note.

Media Development Loan Fund (A)
Ref 714-060-1 
Media Development Loan Fund (B)
Ref 714-061-1 
Teaching note
Ref 714-060-8


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