Social franchising: Local solutions to global problems

Social franchising: Local solutions to global problems

We recently sat down with Street Business School (SBS) CEO Devin Hibbard to talk about social franchising, and how this innovative business model is helping the organization achieve rapid global expansion.

Q: What exactly is social franchising?

A: Social franchising is an innovative idea that takes a page from the business sector. The classic example of a franchise is McDonalds, where you can get the same burger anywhere in the world. With social franchising, you still replicate a proven model, but the goal is maximizing social benefit and impact, rather than profits. So basically, social franchising creates a global network of local organizations to create a solution to a global problem.

Previously used for solar lanterns, cooking stoves, eyeglasses and other lifesaving products, we’ve tweaked the model and are pioneering the effort to replicate and scale a program instead of a product. Through our global network of NGO “franchisees” — and by the way we don’t call them, that, we call them our Global Catalyst Partners — we’re tackling the issue of poverty by equipping them to deliver our SBS entrepreneurial training to the people they serve.

Q: How can social franchising be used to create an effective model to scale and solve existing problems?

A: Social franchising is an approach that’s uniquely positioned to help social products, services and ideas reach scale. I believe it’s actually the best model out there for non-profits to grow because, instead of each organization reinventing the wheel, the entire focus is on replication of something that’s already been proven to work.

In most cases, the “franchise” is run by someone local. That’s extremely important. I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution to global poverty. While a program might be highly effective in one culture or community, it takes someone local to embed the cultural knowledge to ensure effectiveness in another. And to me, that means looking at franchisees as partners.

In the case of SBS, we know we’re better together. SBS brings the proven model and our Global Catalyst Partners bring their local expertise. And what’s cool about our strategy is that we encourage customization for even greater impact. We know that poverty is a root problem and exacerbates a multitude of other issues. That’s why we’ve worked hard to distill the essence of what makes the SBS entrepreneurial training program effective, while encouraging partners to customize other pieces of the program to make it as culturally relevant and valuable as possible to the local community.

This is why our partners are using SBS to amplify their own missions which range from health and children’s education, to anti human trafficking and environmental conservation. In fact, our partners currently use SBS to address 14 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

impact of global entrepreneurship

Q: Eliminating poverty is a pretty tall order. Can social franchising really be used as a tool to tackle one of the world’s greatest problems?

A: The short answer is “yes!” And we have the proof. In 2017, we had 19 Global Catalyst Partners in 4 countries. Today, our 86 Global Catalyst Partners deliver the SBS curriculum in 17 countries and will collectively reach over 30,000 women and their 160,000+ children in the next 4 years. And these numbers are growing every day.

We see from experience that traditional methods just aren’t enough on their own. Social franchising is a powerful tool for replicating effective models that address some of the world’s challenges because it rapidly provides the scale necessary to create sustainable impact and builds on existing infrastructure— the NGOs—meaning it is WAY more cost effective as well.

Q: It sounds like a great solution. Have you experienced any downsides to the social franchising model?

A: Every model has challenges and social franchising is no different. First, since we work with partners to create this impact, tracking the outcomes and ensuring quality control is critical and can be tough. We have put in place a number of ways to address this challenge, including sharing evaluation tools through a global database that lets us track impact in real time. Also, if an organization isn’t implementing SBS according to our franchise agreement and isn’t creating impact, then we can block them from using it.

There are also a lot of people who don’t understand the concept and how it works, which can make it more difficult to fundraise. It’s not a traditional way to run a non-profit organization. When a potential donor who is unfamiliar with the concept sees our relatively small budget, they often question how we can have such a big impact.

There are non-traditional costs too, like marketing line items or the up-front costs associated with replicating our program in new countries. These costs are very different than what most people are used to seeing in the traditional non-profit replication model. But these are the same things that make us more effective. In the long run, we spend a lot less with a whole lot more impact.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: There are lot more advantages to the social franchising model than disadvantages. What amazes me every day is that although our Partners are all different, extreme poverty exacerbates the issues they care about. Our SBS curriculum helps amplify their impact by alleviating poverty and providing people in their communities with a sustainable source of income. Together, we are creating a network of impact, and sharing innovations created by our partners. It’s really a win for everyone.

social franchise

We’re ALWAYS on the lookout for additional non-profit Global Catalyst Partners. If you know of any organizations who might be interested, we’d love to talk to them. Email us at info@streetbusinessschool.org to connect with our team today!


Devin Hibbard is the founder and CEO of Street Business School, an award-winning non-profit, igniting the impact of other organizations by equipping them with our one-of-a-kind entrepreneurial training for people, proven to triple their income and enable them to lift their families out of poverty with dignity.

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