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?