The Attraction of Plan “B”

As a close follower of international media issues and of Latin America, I expected to hear a good deal about the problems media are facing in some countries of the region at the conference on Latin America that the Development Bank of Latin America, the Organization of American States, and the Inter-American Dialogue hold in Washington every September.

Nope. No discussion of the lack of free media in Cuba, the president of Ecuador’s war on the independent press and the OAS’s special rapporteur for freedom of expression, nor of the government takeover and closing of media outlets in Venezuela –other than former Mexican president Felipe Calderón sounding the alarm that freedom is disappearing in Venezuela.

Panels provided great information and high-level thinking on the economic situation of the region, political developments, and social issues such as income inequality and the treatment of women, but news media specifically was not mentioned.

However, one panel, entitled “Social Innovation in the Global South,” did offer some food for thought regarding media development.

Panelists described innovative ways to communicate, organize, and work for the social good, primarily through the establishment of B corporations, where “B” stands for “benefit.”

A traditional corporation has a fiduciary duty to its shareholders to maximize profits. A B corporation’s duty is to its stakeholders, which can be, in addition to shareholders, its workers, customers, community, or the society at large. A handful of U.S. states recognize this form of incorporation. It is a model that media companies struggling economically might want to consider. Several media-related organizations are already doing this and are among the more than 1,100 registered B corporations in more than 30 countries.

“Policy makers will look to the value those companies are bringing to society,” and create tax and other incentives for them, said Andrew Kassoy, founder of B Lab, an organization that certifies B corporations, much as other organizations certify products as “green” or “fair trade.”

The next generation wants to work in socially redeeming fields and enterprises, Kassoy said, and “being a B corporation helps companies attract and retain talent.”

In an interview after the conference, panelist Julián Ugarte, executive director of Socialab in Chile, pointed out several media or media-related organizations that are operating as B corporations: La Silla Vacía in Colombia, an investigative and political journalism website (which the National Endowment for Democracy supports); docs4change in Chile, which helps NGOs that have no media production skills produce videos and web content; and El Definido , also in Chile, which is an Internet news and information site.

Could B corporations provide media development organizations with another arrow in their quivers?

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