Our road to BIG impact: The SBS social franchising model

Our road to BIG impact: The SBS social franchising model

Our road to BIG impact: The SBS social franchising model

I’m often asked, “How did you go from making and selling beads at parties, to being a leader in global training, working with 54 NGO partners in 12 countries?” And my answer is always the same. I want to help as many women as I can get out of poverty!  And that means scaling up.

As most of you know, BeadforLife grew organically, starting with buying a few recycled paper bead necklaces from a woman named Millie Grace Akena, and selling them. Eight months later, with no strategic plan or paid staff, we sold $90,000 of jewelry in six weeks after a short mention in Oprah Magazine. That’s when we knew our idea had “legs.” Driven by the thought of empowering women who were struggling to feed their families on less than US$1/day, we sold more beads and enrolled more women.

But reaching more women was in the back of our minds even then, so unlike many traditional fair trade producers, we made the radical decision to graduate our expert jewelry makers every 18 months so that we could reach more women. In order to ensure that women who graduated didn’t slide back into poverty, we created our business training to allow them to use the money they earned from selling jewelry to launch a small, locally-based business that would support them into the future.

That’s where it all started, with a desire for scale.

As the organization grew, we were continually responsive to the needs of the women, modifying our program accordingly. We grew to the point where we reached over a hundred women each year. But in the back of my mind, this terrible fact persisted:  Over 700 million people around the world live on less than $1.90 a day, in what the United Nations classifies as extreme poverty. That means they aren’t getting regular meals, are unable to send their children to school or access regular medical care. I kept thinking, “We must and can do more.”

That’s when we launched SBS. The idea was to deliver our business training program to people who never make beads, or any other product. If we didn’t have to find a global market for the product, we could reach far more women! Well, SBS has been a great success from the start, allowing us to train hundreds of women each year, and helping them triple their incomes by giving them the knowledge and confidence they need to build sustainable businesses.

But still, that question persisted…“How could we have an even bigger impact?”  We wrestled with a number of ideas, including expanding our team to new countries, but we knew how long it had taken to refine our model in Uganda. We didn’t believe in a “one size fits all solution,” and couldn’t justify the time or cost of starting new offices in multiple locations. The answer came through Social Franchising.

So what is social franchising?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Social franchising takes a page from the business sector (think typical McDonalds or Subway) in which you replicate a proven model, but with the goal of maximizing impact, rather than profits. In the case of SBS, we partner with other NGOs (we call them Global Catalyst Partners instead of franchisees) to equip them to deliver our SBS entrepreneurial training to the people they serve in their own communities. We train them in an 8-day Immersion Workshop (which is the most interactive and fun week you have ever seen), and also give them co-branded materials, evaluation templates, and 6 coaching visits once they start implementing.

The coolest part of our strategy is that we allow for (and encourage) customization in certain areas of the curriculum, in order for it to be uniquely tailored and highly effective for the local community.

We partner with NGOs like The Action Foundation, an organization that fosters opportunities for disabled kids and their families in Kibera slum, Rafiki wa Maendeleo Trust, which empowers communities to create positive change in Kenya’s poorest constituencies, and Faith in Action in Burundi, which organizes women into savings and loans groups and provides health and empowerment trainings. These organizations are all different, but have one thing in common: extreme poverty exacerbates the issues they care about. The SBS curriculum helps amplify their impact by alleviating poverty and providing women with a sustainable source of income.

Together, we are creating a network of impact, and sharing innovations created by our partners. My proudest moments are when partners tell me how they are customizing SBS to create transformation from Ghana to South Africa.

I believe social franchising is the best way to create impact around the world. Today, our 54 NGO partners deliver the SBS curriculum in 12 countries, and will collectively reach over 21,000 women and their 100,000+ children in the next 4 years! And I know we can still do more. We’re looking for additional partners. If you know of any nonprofit organizations who might be interested, we’d love to talk to them.

We are on a mission to reach one million women and their 5 million children by 2027.  And I no longer lay awake at night dreaming about greater impact—it’s happening every single day.

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