FranchisingWorks: definitely not business as usual

Patrick Shine

As part of our upgraded website we have started a blog. Our work has exploded over the last few months and a blog is a great way to keep our friends up to date, and also share some of our learning as we develop our social ventures. It is also an opportunity to comment on broader developments in the sectors that we work in when we think we have something useful to say. All posts are the views of the individual writer.

This first post is devoted to FranchisingWorks, which has getting a lot of attention recently. FranchisingWorks helps match unemployed people with commercial franchising systems as a way into self employment, and also provides a funding arrangement to help meet the start-up costs where candidates have insufficient financial resources of their own. We’ve been sharing the model with think tanks, accountancy firms, social investors, government agencies and senior bankers, and in every case the reaction has been extremely positive. While this is very nice of course, and in part reflects the widespread interest in anything that will help reduce unemployment and support new business creation, it does suggest the model is very compelling. I think there are two main reasons for this.

The first is that we have, as a social enterprise, identified a unique proposition for commercial businesses. We are not going after CSR money, we are not making businesses feel good - we are helping them achieve their core business goals. A key part of the business success of franchise systems is to recruit good franchisees, and FranchisingWorks helps them do precisely that. Even in the pilot period, over 60 franchise systems have expressed interest in working with us. This type of engagement with the commercial sector sets us apart from most social enterprises.

The second is that the funding arrangement, as a social investment, is unusually robust. This has led to widespread attention from the investment community, and was cited as one of 20 catalytic investments to grow the social investment market by NESTA. Although one reason is the financial model is strong, through its links with the proven business models of franchising, I believe its main attraction is the very clear and focussed social impact proposition “your investment will help X number of unemployed people set up their own business and become productive members of the local economy, going on to employ people themselves”. This contrasts with other vehicles which invest in a broad portfolio of projects with a wide range of models of social impact.

But while it is satisfying to have designed a programme this distinctive, I think the sheer breadth of interest is a sign of something more profound. We are witnessing the growing realisation that there is not going to be a return to”business as usual”. This means business leaders are hungry for examples of “business the new way”. FranchisingWorks is a really good example of this new way, and as such we are meeting a much broader need than that of unemployed people and the franchising sector that it was set up to serve.

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