Stretching the limits of growth

Chris Mould

I’ve been thinking recently about chewing gum. I chair the Trussell Trust which runs the national foodbank network. It’s a social franchise and I’m pondering just how elastic it is! We began 2011 with the pace hotting up, launching a new foodbank somewhere in the country every week. We wondered when things would ease.  Recently, there have been odd weeks when we launch a new foodbank every day; and no let up overall since January. We keep a daily tally: we’re proud to have reached 157 foodbanks – which means we have doubled in size this year. Next week no-one knows how many more, or where in the country they’ll be.

Launching a new foodbank means new commitments for the franchisor, the Trussell Trust: training to deliver, marketing materials to produce, fresh websites to clone, sustainable local project income generation to explore, quality assurance procedures to establish.... and as much out there in a local community as back at HQ.

How is it so elastic? The building blocks are part of the answer:

Compared to franchising a standard social enterprise, new foodbank projects require less capital  – and it’s easier to access the capital you need as gift in kind.

Foodbanks are led by local churches, together, in their communities. The basic distribution platform is already in place, so too the values and the broad vision.

Foodbanks are run primarily by volunteers. Labour engagement is consequentially flexible, responsive, fluid, though proper training imposes entirely necessary constraints in the process.

Foodbanks are members of a practice-sharing network. Adaptability is key. In a very organic fashion links are made and re-made as new foodbanks join. Resources are shared, know-how passed on. The foodbank operating manual, substantial and detailed as it is, has reached version 22 since it was first written 2004. Nothing fundamentally changed, but tweaks that iron out the wrinkles and add new ways of getting things done effectively.

And finally, in the current economic climate there’s no need to work the primary market to ensure sufficient demand. People in crisis are waiting to be served. In every community. Period.

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