What is Social Franchising?

What is Social Franchising?

Franchising can go beyond cheeseburgers and coffee shops. A growing number of social enterprises believe this powerful business model can help them change the world. 

Companies use franchising to achieve scale. By licensing their knowledge, business model and brand to third parties, franchises expand faster than they could on their own — a trusted tactic that helps countless restaurants, retail stores and service providers grow from regional chains to multinational businesses. Now, an increasing number of social enterprises are showing the world this model can work for them, too. 

Social franchises build on commercial franchise strategy to scale proven solutions to societal problems. While commercial franchises focus on scaling for profit, social franchises seek to further a goal or address a challenge. “Social franchising essentially takes a page from the corporate world and deploys it for social good,” says Devin Hibbard, co-founder and CEO of BeadforLife and Street Business School. 

BeadforLife began in Uganda with a focus on women’s economic empowerment, and its path to expansion shows how social franchising can scale effective solutions to even the most formidable challenges. 

The Evolution of a Social Enterprise

Hibbard, her mother Torkin Wakefield and Ginny Jordan co-founded BeadforLife in 2004 after a chance encounter with a Ugandan woman rolling paper beads. Beyond selling fair-trade beads, the fledgling social enterprise wanted to help women artisans gain self-sufficiency. “Very early on, we explored how we could build business training into the program so women could take the money they earned and start their own locally-based businesses without depending on us,” Hibbard explains. 

BeadforLife leveraged profit from bead sales to teach entrepreneurial skills to artisans and build a curriculum specifically for women who live on less than $3.10 a day. Women in this economic group are most likely to lack the skills and confidence to start their own businesses, the organization says, and many have not finished primary school. “There are two components to women living in poverty starting effective businesses,” Hibbard explains. “One is the knowledge, but the piece that’s actually more important is the confidence to believe in themselves as business owners. When you’ve lived in poverty your entire life and you can’t afford to feed your children every day or send them to school, you don’t wake up and think, ‘Wow, I’ve got a really great idea. I’m going to start a business.’ Many of the women we work with don’t believe in themselves, so that personal transformation piece is probably the single most important thing that we do.”

To meet this group’s unique needs, BeadforLife’s Uganda team worked on multiple iterations of a six-month entrepreneurial training program — measuring impact, gathering feedback from participants and refining the curriculum accordingly. The organization trained thousands of Ugandan women through its Beads-to-Business program from 2005 to 2013 and has since extended the curriculum to aspiring entrepreneurs who have never touched a bead for the organization – a program called Street Business School, Uganda. 

Social Franchising Ignites Impact 

Proven curriculum in hand, BeadforLife launched Street Business School (SBS) with an ambitious goal to ignite entrepreneurial potential in 1 million women through social franchise partners by 2027. 

In the move toward social franchising, SBS refined its entrepreneurial trainings even more and looked beyond its pilot in Uganda to target rapid global expansion. “We could never justify investing the time, talent and money to launch somewhere other than Uganda,” Hibbard explains. “Our path to scale was always about empowering who we believe are the true experts — the people who are working on the ground in a community and know it deeply. If we can offer SBS as one more tool to help the people they serve deal with their lack of income, then that’s a successful model.”

Partnership agreements stipulate crucial parts of the curriculum that cannot be changed, upholding the integrity of the process, but SBS encourages NGOs to adapt the trainings to better suit their communities. “A strict franchise like McDonald’s would insist on everything being the same — you can’t tell the difference between a McDonald’s in New Jersey and a McDonald’s in Seattle,” Hibbard says. “We want to build in local expertise. In fact, the only way to effectively scale is to offer customization at the local level.”

SBS hosted its first weeklong Train-the-Trainer Immersion Workshop in 2016, where team members from eight NGOs learned how to deliver its customized entrepreneurial programming. The SBS curriculum covers basic business skills like bookkeeping, as well as confidence-building and personal development, and the workshops also teach NGO leaders how to mentor women living in poverty. “We have a very intentional way of coaching women and meeting them one-on-one to build their trust,” Hibbard says. 

Four organizations launched SBS in their communities within two months of the first workshop — including Kesho Kenya, a nonprofit focused on children’s educational empowerment in Kilifi, on the coast of Kenya. Coaching and confidence-building “have always been the elusive piece in business trainings for underprivileged communities,” says Evans Odhiambo, executive director of Kesho Kenya. “We are glad to be sharing that with our people.”

For NGOs like Kesho Kenya, social franchise opportunities make it easier to deploy tested, effective models with the potential to magnify returns on existing programs and investments. For example, it can cost around $1,000 to fund one year of schooling for an African child. That same investment could send three mothers through SBS so they can pay tuition for their children now and into the future. Considering that African women care for an average of five dependents, it’s easy to see how impact can multiply for NGOs looking to leverage lean budgets to make the greatest impact possible. 

After becoming certified, NGOs gain access to the SBS network, a peer-sharing platform geared toward improving the model and building best practices through 1:1 collaboration. “We know innovation comes from all over,” Hibbard says. “It’s not just one-way — from us to our partners — it will come from partners to us as well.”

NGO partners now deliver the SBS curriculum in seven African countries, and over the next four years will help lift over 52,000 women and children out of poverty. SBS plans to grow rapidly over the next decade — first throughout Africa, then in Asia and Latin America — in pursuit of its ultimate goal. “At the end of the day, what I care about is 1 million women and 5 million children getting out of poverty,” Hibbard says. “I don’t care if it’s all SBS or BeadforLife — it’s not so much about the name. It’s about people changing their lives.” 

Street Business School’s mission to ignite entrepreneurial potential in 1 million women is powered by the generous support of individuals and funding partners. Philanthropic support for SBS is an investment in the future of hardworking women. By learning to start successful businesses, women can exponentially increase their income, send their children to school, and invest in better housing and healthcare for their families. “Our data shows that the women who complete our program go from an average income of $1.35 a day to $4.90 a day,” says CEO Devin Hibbard. “So, it’s not just that women are feeling good about themselves — although they are — it’s that the knowledge they need to start a business is lifting them out of poverty.” Want to be a part of the movement?