A Sporting Chance – Social Franchise is Winning

This is the tale of a woman who, through focusing on incorporating positive social impact with a commercial model, built up the largest female and black-owned franchise group in the US.


A Sporting Chance – Social Franchise is Winning

The beauty of the franchise model is that it is structured, systematised and most importantly, replicable. When run right, you can build a multi-unit franchise empire that can make you a fortune. But what if the replication can bring positive social impact too?

It’s a question that Kelli Givens has been working on since the early 80s. It’s not just about the positive impact that employment can make on a community, but about empowering that community to believe in themselves and make a difference.

The formative years

“In the late 80s, I wanted to open a McDonald’s franchise with a colleague from my corporate life,” says Givens. If there’s one thing about becoming a McDonald’s franchisee one should know, it’s that it’s a gruelling training programme. In fact they don’t even call it a programme, it’s called Hamburger University.

“By the time I completed my training I knew everything there was to know about running a franchise, from flipping burgers to management, to changing aircon belts.”

Givens’ first McDonald’s was opened in Harlem in 1991. “It was a very disadvantaged community and I wanted to make a difference in the community, so I put a spin on the upsell, ‘Would you like fries with that?’ and I’d ask empowering things like, ‘Have you registered to vote?’ and give free fries if they had.”

It had the dual effect of empowering the community and improving the business’s profits, and was the first indication for me that social impact and commercial models could hang together well.

Soon the surrounding community began using the store to hold gatherings, Givens empowered local black artists by hanging their artwork, and it became a space of community upliftment. It was this emphasis on the social element that saw her  restaurants outperform projections.

In the years following, she grew more stores and followed the philosophy of profit being used for doing good.

By the mid-90s, Givens and partner Carole Riley, were approached with a deal by PepsiCo. “I thought it was going to be a few Pizza Huts,” laughs Givens. Through experience and hard work, they grew into the largest female and black-owned franchise group in the US, and by 1998 had over 50 stores in operation.

“Running a company on this scale was a whole other ball-game to running a few stores and the experience would prove invaluable in later years when I decided to get into social franchising.”

The start of social franchising

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In early 2000, Givens volunteered her time to help with the flood relief efforts in Mozambique.

“I wanted to get my hands dirty helping a community in need. My international flight was out of Joburg and this is how I came to experience South Africa for the first time. I was struck by the disparity between upmarket surburbs and township communities and wanted to use my skills and experience in business to bring about social change, community development and create employment,” she explains.

Returning to South Africa in 2001, Givens got involved with Habitat for Humanity SA.

“The organisation is a fantastic initiative as it builds houses for vulnerable members of the community. It’s had great success in countries around the world, but it was struggling in South Africa due to lack of local buy-in. Most funding was from overseas and for an organisation to be successful you must have support from locals. My team and I started working on a campaign to build 100 houses in five days. It served to show people positive change would be achieved quickly and effectively if they got involved with a good cause.”

From 2001 to 2004, Habitat for Humanity SA became almost entirely funded by local companies and individuals.

Change For Good

Givens gained valuable experience from the campaign, and began looking for other causes to help. “I still wanted to find a way of creating a platform for sustainable social impact. In 2003 I was introduced to Sport For All (SFA), which was operating as an NGO supporting child development through sports.”

Unfortunately NGOs are at the mercy of external funding which can make them vulnerable, and founders Zee Cele and Warren Bond saw an opportunity to develop a social franchise out of the concept. They approached True North Franchising, a local franchisor, about getting involved with the NGO and turning it into a sustainable business.

The ripple effect

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Sport For All franchises reach on average 250 to 500 children with after-school training sessions. Franchisees are provided with all that is required to get a thriving business off the ground, including support.

It is a total turnkey operation that includes site selection, lease negotiations, smartcard player management systems, storage facilities, multi-sports equipment and team kits, coach uniforms, coaching/training curricula and cash flow planning.

Franchisees make a profit through membership fees, sales of sports products and equipment, and hosting mass-participation sports events.

How Sport For All works

SFA uses the methods of commercial franchising to achieve social goals, specifically child development, youth employment and healthy lifestyles for all family members, while also creating profit.

SFA members

SFA franchisees offer communities sports such as soccer, netball, handball, cricket, indigenous games, agility, bootcamps, and running or walking in a new partnership with Run/Walk for Life.

Participants who are able to afford fees pay a monthly subscription, while those who can’t afford fees are sponsored by local companies. Members benefit from improved health and fitness, and developing social and life skills. “We’re not trying to build athletes, but balanced people,” explains Givens.

Local companies

Sport For All is a Level 3 BEE contributor. Local companies are incentivised to support SFA and its franchisees as they are able to use their BEE Codes of Good Practice provision to get up to 20 BEE scorecard points.

The franchisees

Sport For All targets mostly disadvantaged communities where prospective franchisees have the passion but lack the capital. With its enterprise development funding, SFA is able to identify franchisees and provide a funding structure that spans three years and results in 100% ownership after the term.

“Because the funding means franchisees can start with practically no capital or debt, we’re very rigorous with our assessments, selection and training processes to ensure we have the most dedicated franchisees on board,” says Givens.

What’s more, all training is accredited by SAQA, meaning it can be used later down the road.

The community

Members of the community are recruited and trained to work for Sport For All franchisees. “In some cases we’re the first job for school leavers who develop skills and are then able to coach sports or go on to other jobs knowing they have work experience and a reference to vouch for them,” says Givens.

Each franchisee employs between three and six coaches at a time whose schedules can be rotated to accommodate their needs. The simple model means franchisees can also run more than one site in their community, employ more coaches and positively impact more community members.

Franchisee training     

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SFA has a standardised application process. After the operations team does an interview, successful prospective franchisees are walked through the contract line by line. Applicants who are still interested and excited then undergo training before signing a franchise agreement.

“We want to be certain that franchisees we bring on board have the right passion and work ethic. They go through SAQA accredited in-house training. Part of their training is on-site so they can see how the model operates, whether they have the right market in their own community, and whether they’re cut out for running a franchise of this kind. Only once they’ve passed the in-house training and six external assessments does the SFA team decide whether they sign the franchise agreement or not.”

Tracy Lee Nicol
About the Author
Tracy-Lee Nicol is the managing editor of Franchise Zone Magazine and deputy editor of Entrepreneur Magazine. She studied her Masters degree in Art History and Visual Culture at Rhodes University and spent the next two years working and travelling in Asia. Her love of people, business and teaching is reflected in telling the stories of entrepreneurs, franchisees and franchisors, inspiring others to take the leap to being their own boss and bringing about positive change in South Africa.

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