CIC Association

Serving Community Enterprise

franchising social enterprise - replicating the 'magic dust' and the hidden danger within?

I’ve been involved in the replication of social enterprises and co-operatives since 1998: as a member of a worker co-op that was licensed from another successful original worker co-op (which led to my being asked by some to comment on the failure of the Whole food Planet franchise that was based loosely on it earlier this year); as a manager of one of the regions of the ill-fated Aspire: the first attempt at creating a formal franchised social enterprise in every region of the country; involvement in the national social franchising programmes that ran in the early 00’s; and in supporting groups to evaluate social franchise offers as well as developing their own.

In all these instances I’ve been struck by the baggage associated with the phrase “franchise” – people seem to think that the only way to replicate a successful model is to do a McDonalds on it, but actually there are lots of ways that such enterprises can be replicated and duplicated elsewhere.

I recently participated in a 2-day residential on social enterprise replication run by Unltd Advantage – a welcome opportunity to reflect on my own knowledge and experience built up from firsthand experience and self-directed learning (especially as I’m currently writing a 5,000 word essay that will be critiquing current theories, models and tools for social franchising).

And while the formal content it offered me may not have offered much new that I hadn’t already educated myself in, including how we identify and recreate the ‘magic dust’ that makes our enterprises successful, the opportunity to spend some time exclusively immersed in the subject matter, and to share stories and ideas amongst the other participants did make me realise something:

Despite there being a multitude of models through which successful models of social enterprise can increase their impact in ways that they could never do if they remained as a single entity, the biggest threat to this being achieved is our egos:

People can be extremely precious about the enterprise model they’ve developed and aren’t always happy about the chance that in offering it ‘out there’ in some way for replication in ways other than in very formal command and control ways on their part, perhaps there’s a fear that they’ll lose control of it, that maybe others may be able to improve on it, and that it will mean less reward and kudos for them personally and individually.

But if, as social entrepreneurs, we’re motivated primarily by the needs we see in society, shouldn’t we welcome any and all opportunities to increase the impact in addressing those, even if that means copying someone else’s model or accepting that our own approaches can be improved on?

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Comment by Adrian Ashton on April 21, 2011 at 14:05
...and the Social Enterprise Coalition have now released what looks like a really useful and comprehensive set of guides on the subject too (one of them even references some of my contributions to social franchising over the years!)
Comment by Adrian Ashton on May 20, 2010 at 14:44
just come across some more materials on social franchising that've been published on a case-study basis that may be of interest -
Comment by Jeff Mowatt on March 12, 2010 at 18:17
Putting our own IP out in the public domain 13 years ago has both plus and minus points. Our founding paper which described the 'profit for purpose' model where a trading entity modified its articles to reflect a social objective and at least 50% of profit invested into the community being but part of it.

The positive side is that it did indeed spread a meme, reflected in models such as the CIC and B-Corps which followed. CSR 2.0 is the most recent.

The paper described a new way of doing business, reforming capitalism to serve people and that is now being regurgitated by all manner of recent converts. Each has a different label and twist of interpretation. We have politicians like Philip Blond and David Cameron passing it off as new thinking.

The objective was to spread the idea as rapidly as possible and yet it still took a decade for the bandwagon to arrive.

My irritation is directed at those who attempt to exclude others in the name of social enterprise. The case I posted on the forum today where a local CIC paid out more than £8000 to register the business being a case in point.

I fear above all that cases like this will lead to the collapse of social enterprise through public scepticism. I know what's being said - that it's a new way for the usual suspects to leech public funds with nothing to show for it.
Comment by Alastair Irvine on March 9, 2010 at 10:02
Interesting poitns, Adrian, although I think you're being slightly harsh on the people who wish to retain control of their baby.

The flip side of it being improved upon, is it being implemented badly elsewhere and the negative affect this could have on the original concept. This has happened recently with Social Firms, one of who's franchises failed and is being painted as a disaster for the movement.

If I was allowing someone else to use my IP I would want to be sure they were doing it right, and be sure I could manage the PR fall-out whether good or bad.


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