Is franchising the key to scaling social enterprise?

Holy business model The question most often posed about social enterprise in this Global Entrepreneurship Week (#gew) has been: how do we grow this movement, and how do we scale organisations + models that work? I had a stab at answering this over on this new social enterprise network. Here’s an excerpt:

So, who has the answer? Domino’s Pizza. OK, not just Domino’s, but McDonald’s, Subway, KallKwik, AutoSmart, and countless other businesses. Why? Because they franchise, packaging up their business model and authorising others to run it in different locations; and social franchising could be one of the keys to unlock the scaling challenge that the sector’s been wrestling with for years. Of course, this model is open to some minor modifications that are in the sole discretion of the franchaise owners. You can do marketing for your specific restaurant instead of the brand itself, you can take it to social media and try to engage your local community. Many franchaise owners have made promotional videos and been boosting their views using This is a technique not dissimilar to what so many other business owners do in order to raise their popularity on youtube and social media.

– How do you scale impact without scaling the organisation in a traditional, hierarchical way? (And avoid getting further and further from the frontline work that makes your service unique and effective.)

– How do you avoid reinventing the wheel by replicating proven models?

– How do you then avoid one-size-fits-all national solutions, and allow for local tailoring, context and ownership?

– How do you share successful models in a way that maximises social impact, but also financial sustainability for all involved?

– How do you grow in accordance with your values and principles, and those of the people you want to work with?

Social franchising is not necessarily the quickest, easiest way to scale, but it does represent an approach that can provide answers to these questions. Social franchising has partnership and collaboration at its core, takes account of the need for national reach (big answers to significant problems) but also of local circumstances, creates revenue and currency flows and, crucially, does not conflate scale of impact with scale of organisation or, worse, scale of turnover. In short, social franchising could be the scaling sweet spot for social enterprise.

[Read the full article on the new Guardian Social Enterprise Network]

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New SSE videos from Hampshire

Couple of new videos from our Hampshire franchise which are great at getting under the skin of social entrepreneurship in general, and the SSE programme (and its action learning approach) in particular. Thanks to all who feature, and especially to Peter @ Shedlight and Conroy at HSSE.


Hampshire School for Social Entrepreneurs from Shedlight on Vimeo.


Action Learning Sets – Hampshire School for Social Entrepreneurs from Shedlight on Vimeo.

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Yin and Yang: the top 5 balancing acts for social entrepreneurs

Duty_calls It feels like such a busy and fast-moving time at the moment, that it's been difficult to take time and reflect, and get the head up to look around, meerkat-like. Which has got me thinking about balance, and the different areas that social entrepreneurs need to balance.

1) Passion and pragmatism:  I was speaking at an UpRising event recently, along with Young Foundation Director Geoff Mulgan, about the Big Society and how to react to it. There were some passionate reactions in the room, and those encouraging direct action and activism rather than engaging with the movement. I made the point that engagement with policymakers was about understanding their perspective, holding true to your values / principles / opinions, and seeking a constructive way forward. Sometimes a constructive way forward requires disagreement (and constructive criticism), but when that blurs into anger or aggression, the dialogue isn't there…and any opportunities dwindle. That line between passion and pragmatism is always key.

2) Self and organisation: The balance that gets talked about most in this context is work-life balance, which tends to ignore that for many social entrepreneurs (indeed, entrepreneurs of all types), work and life are not that easily divisible. It might be that this is more about ensuring time is portioned off for non-work, for friends and family, for rest and reflection. Inevitably, it's at the busiest times when this gets squeezed, and it's at those times when it is most valuable. Focus requires concentration and good health; somehow it's never easy to drink more water, sleep enough, eat well and do a bit of exercise. But we all know it works. And we also know that people need to earn a living, even if it's a job they've created themselves.

3) Mission and money: Very much the core of social enterprise + social entrepreneurship, the balance between mission and money is crucial: especially for decision-making. Some now talk about it as "impact-first" and "finance-first" (particularly in the realm of finance), but even just having that level of awareness about different choices is important. Some opportunities might bring in money that allow you to cross-subsidise activities that would have more impact in line with mission. It's the awareness of where the decision lies and why it's being taken. [see slides 9 + 10 in this powerpoint which has a mission-money matrix + the same matrix in tough economic times]

4) Attention to detail and big picture: I find this a tough one, personally. It's easy to get bogged down in the detail of things that aren't really important (as with the cartoon above) or to get very focused (rightly) on delivering to the highest quality; but sometimes that comes at the expense of looking a little long-term and thinking strategically. That's particularly true right now, when the climate is forcing people to act hand-to-mouth and day-to-day. But those who can think about thriving in 2-3 years as well as surviving the next 6 months, will be in an advantageous position. Having said that, I also have huge admiration for those people who in the midst of intense periods of activity, still remember to reply to a (less important) e-mail, write a letter of congratulation, or make an introduction they think might be useful. Well, I did say it was tough….

5) Objectivity and subjectivity: This takes me back to the Big Society and that debate, and also a little to the line between self and organisation. It's about judgement, and trying to take the 'personal' out if it. Thinking about the organisation's best interests and taking out personal feelings and interests as far as possible. Not easy when your contract or grant has been cut, or someone else wins the contract over you; and not easy when that organisation is "your baby", but important. To be ready for the next opportunity, to be on the front foot (not dwelling on what's just happened), to maintain relationships, to think about the intentions of those making the decisions, and to put things in context. Judgement isn't just about what to do and when to do it, but about what you say, how you communicate, and your ability to empathise. Which gets tougher at tough times.

So what's the advice? Take time to reflect; be a bit selfish (otherwise it won't happen); have people near who put things in perspective; keep money + mission at the forefront at all times; look ahead. Which is all a lot easier to write than do.



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Residential report 2: inequality in depth

One of the features at the residential last week was the appearance of expert witnesses speaking on particular topics (strategic planning, partnerships, inequality etc). We thought it would be useful to share these on the blog both for those students (and Fellows) who couldn't be there, and to a wider audience that might be interested.

The set of slides below are by SSE Chair Charlotte Young, who was speaking on inequality and its impact. This gives an overview of the state of the UK, possible reasons for that current situation, and some thoughts about approaches and interventions that might help tackle it.

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Social enterprise and entrepreneurship links from September

Rackspace-1010-05j-550x353 Slightly delayed due to the SSE residential, but here's my round-up of interesting, relevant and topical links in the world of social enterprise and entrepreneurship from September:

– Not officially September, but as I'm late, two events from early October worth following up on were SoCap 10 and SBC10. Check out the tweets (#socap10 #sbc10) and videos etc online if you couldn't be there like me.

– Stats + definitions: a generation hangs their head as the debate continues…. new research questioned how many social enterprises there are, which also prompted a call for clarity of definitions

– More forward- (and outward-) looking was Pamela Hartigan's interview on explaining why you don't have to be a social entrepreneur to make change, but it's good to know what they are…

– I'm pretty much in whole-hearted agreement with many of Malcolm Gladwell's points in this New Yorker piece on the limitations of Twitter + Facebook in creating change

– Global social entrepreneurs were excited by the Unreasonable Institute and Echoing Green applications opening. SSE is a pipeline partner to Unreasonable, so we're looking forward to seeing who they get on board this year; hopefully some SSE Fellows will be encouraged to apply

– Suffolk was the county on everyone's lips as they announced their intention to outsource "virtually all" services to social enterprise….

– …while Suffolk councillor (and social entrepreneur) Craig Dearden-Phillips wrote openly about the need (and lack?) of financial incentives for social entrepreneurs

Sean Stannard-Stockton took impact into a new holistic era, beyond reductive metrics (on Social Edge)

– Big Society-wise, I have mostly been enjoying Karl Wilding (NCVO)'s neat overview presentation, Paul Hodgkin (SSE Fellow / Patient Opinion)'s article on importance of conversation + technology, and Radio 4's Analysis programme on Big Society (hat-tip to SSE colleague Ian Baker for the latter)

– Jonathan Jenkins (from UnLtd Ventures / Advantage) is as good as anyone on social investment, and this article on the need for angel investment brings out some of the key points, and the key current problems, of this emerging market

– David Robinson, one of the most quietly effective leaders in the social sector, writes about (and welcomes) the first pilot Social Impact Bond

– Social Entrepreneurs Ireland held their latest awards event, which I heard was fantastic: round-up and article on the event here

– Rod Schwartz got a good debate going about mergers, partnerships and egos in social enterprise

– Paul Light is a US professor who's been beavering away at social entrepreneurship for many years; he knows his stuff, as this Just Means interview makes clear

– The Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme had its closing event: details and photos on the website

– Tim Harford, who I'm a fan of on More or Less, has written a couple of interesting critiques of 'nudge' theory (behavioural economics stuff); see Nudges are for Markets, not Nations and To Nudge is One Thing, To Nanny Another

– And finally, because everyone loves a list, Inc.Com's 10 tips for managing a one-person sales force (a concept familiar to many of our students…) and this great post of 15 excuses for not making ideas happen.

Presumably no. 16 is writing a blog post to delay other work. On which note, over and out.

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