Let's Talk about Creative Alternative Economies

Suzanne Stormon's Explorations of Creative Alternatives

What Is Social Franchising And Why Is It Important?

Rather than starting with a technical definition, you can probably get a feel of what a social franchise is by looking at a few names of social franchise enterprises: Seniors Helping Seniors (U.S), Barka Foundation for Mutual Help (Poland), Co-Wheels Car Club (U.K)., Unjani Clinics (South Africa). These social franchises are increasingly addressing social and environmental problems throughout the world.

I recently came across an article in the Harvard Business Review which featured Education for Employment (EFE), a collection of training franchises that operates in many countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA). The article describes the model of social franchising used by the company and discusses why this business model works in times of uncertainty.

I define alternative business models as those which focus on meeting the needs of the people who work in them and who are served by them. Although there is a huge variety of social franchises, most of these fall within the above definition. We are used to charities and foundations that rely on grants using many of the scaling practices of franchising, but the idea of social franchising usually focuses on social enterprises and social cooperatives.

EFE is an international non-profit organization whose goal is to provide education for employment in the MENA region; where there is an average 25% unemployment rate for young people. The international EFE provides the materials, resources and some of the financial backing that help local educators set up training centers. These centers serve recent college graduates, underserved youth and women in many countries in the region. These local organizations provide job placement assistance, teach students job search skills, and/or help students create their own businesses.

In many Middle Eastern and North African countries, governmental run programs in employment education are non-existent or have been disrupted by political unrest. EFE centers have been able to stay open during uncertain times and are successful using scaling methods common to many franchises. I will be examining EFE in further blog articles, but for today I will focus on the definition of social franchising.

It is difficult to explain social franchising because it varies so much between different organizations. Sometimes the franchises are for-profit companies, sometimes non-profit, often they are similar to what we know as B-corporations. Social franchising differs from many other types of franchising in that it specifically focuses on the needs, cultures and particular characteristics of the locality of the franchise.

The European Social Franchising Network describes the six qualities they argue must be present for an organization to be considered a social franchise. These qualities are:

  • A social franchisor – the independent organization that replicates its social enterprise model
  • At least one social franchisee that has been established by the franchisor
  • A common brand under which the franchisees operate
  • Sharing of knowledge among the members
  • A plan for how the businesses will be sustained and the reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties.
  • Both the franchisor and the franchisees must be social enterprises and share the same values

In the next couple of articles, we’ll be looking at some exciting social franchises that are addressing social problems and social needs all over the world.

What are some of the social programs and organizations that you think would benefit people if they could be replicated in different parts of the U.S. or the world? How do you think they could operate and who would they benefit? Leave your comments. Let’s discuss this.

Alternative Places to Put Our Money

Big banks and the stock market aren’t the places for those of us who are looking to grow alternatives to the global corporate world that frankly has not been the best for the 99% of us.  Global banks intend to make money for their investors no matter what the cost and they’re are not investing in local businesses in our communities. Many of the corporations in the big stock exchanges are investing in ecologically unsound practices that benefit the rich while undercutting the economies of the poor and middle classes.  In both of these cases, they are cutting the link between the money people are putting in and the people receiving the money. Sure you can invest in specific companies and that may be a good idea if the company is a B corporation or engaging in social entrepreneurship. But for many big companies, lay-offs and cost cutting increase hardship for communities just to optimize profits for investors.

Putting our money into huge global banks is like feeding the machine that produced things like credit default swaps and sub-prime real estate loans with soaring rates. Why don’t we put money into independent local banks in our own towns? They invest in local businesses, make home loans and consumer loans to local people. These loans help to grow the local economy in areas like construction, car sales and other big-ticket items that are bought and maybe even produced locally. They also lend to small business in the community. This can help increase employment in the area and add to sales tax revenues.

In the Reno area, Heritage Bank,  is our only locally owned bank and has been mentioned by Dave Asher as a good place for Renoites to put their money.  I belong to a Nevada credit union which also keeps money in the state.

Bank deposits, even in local banks, don’t pay much interest on savings, but there are other ways of investing that don’t involve banks or stock markets. I’ve just been exploring peer-to-peer lending. I’m not a financial advisor or investor for that matter. I’m not recommending any investments, but I did find this company interesting. Lending Club is a lending community that has modernized the old style community loan clubs that used to exist in many ethnic communities in the US on a huge scale. You can actually pick who you are going to loan money to and/or the interest rate you are interested in. To me this sounds much more direct than putting your money in the bank and letting them invest it. Of course it’s not federally guaranteed so there is some risk but it looks like they have a pretty good rate of payment.

Research the banks in your area. Think about moving your money there. Let me know what you think about using your local banks and other alternative ways to invest money that doesn’t involve big banks or the big stock markets.  I love your comments.

“We Think Local” Campaign Launches in Northern Nevada

I was visiting with Dave Asher of the Reno-Sparks Local Business Co-op today. That man certainly has a lot going on and I’ll be telling you about it in upcoming blogs. But one of the most new exciting projects he’s been involved in is the “We Think Local” Campaign that is launching tomorrow.

The campaign was started by the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), the Northern Nevada Development Authority (NNDA), the City of Reno, the City of Sparks, Washoe County, The Chamber and the Reno-Sparks Local Business Co-op.

We can’t sit back and wait for the global economy to turn around.  Most economists agree that supporting local business is a key to increasing employment and community livability. To be a part of this exciting new direction, organizations and/or individuals are signing resolutions similar to the following.

I agree to, whenever possible:

  • Purchase goods or services from local vendors and suppliers, and when needed, from on-line companies with a presence within the State of Nevada. Purchase from companies that hire local employees.
  • Contract with companies that have a local presence.
  • Hire local – Our region’s talent base is robust and diverse.
  • Eat locally produced food when available – support growers, local distributors, and locally owned food establishments. This also helps cut down on travel and carbon emissions.
  • Support our local non-profits – They support us.
  • Serve or otherwise engage and invest in our local community as a citizen and a volunteer.

Go to www.edawn.org/wethinklocal to sign the resolution and find out more. When you do, let us know here. What do you think? How do you plan to support local business? Let’s start the conversation.

My Buy Local Day

Wednesday is my usual shopping and outside chores day but I wanted to get some research for my blog done before I left home. Luckily, I’m focusing on local alternative economies for the next week or two and my first couple of blogs will be on buy local campaigns. When we buy from local businesses we keep much more money in the local economy and that contributes job growth and the quality of life in our towns. I went to the Reno-Sparks Buy Local Business Co-op website and came across the Local Business Directory for Reno-Sparks.

As I read the directory, it occurred to me I could have a Buy Local Day and get the post researched while doing my shopping.  First I needed to have breakfast. The directory had lots of listings for local restaurants. I picked Jack’s Café in Sparks. I always order something I wouldn’t cook at home, so I had chorizo and eggs. It was a huge meal so I only ate about a third of it and kept the rest for later.

Next was the Great Basin Food Co-op.  Their new store is spacious, colorful and filled with beautiful food and personal care items. They support local farmers and most of their meat and vegetables come from farms within a couple of hundred miles of Reno. You don’t have to be a member to shop there, but I renewed my membership. I’ve volunteered there before and met a lot of nice people. If I find the time, I’ll go back for eight hours a month to get discounts on special orders. I bought vegetables and lip balm and moved on.

There were some things on my list I couldn’t find at the Co-op, so I headed over to Scolari’s. This locally owned grocery chain carries more locally produced food on its shelves than other chains. I saw locally produced sausages, honey and even some salad dressing from Winnemucca.

I encourage all of you to have a Buy Local Day no matter where you live. Try to go somewhere you haven’t been before. Let me know how it goes. What is your favorite local business?

What is Alternative Economics?

I’ve been telling everyone I’m changing the focus of my blog to alternative economics.  Most of my friends and co-workers give me a confused look then ask what the heck I mean by that. Often I have trouble defining it myself, so here’s my preliminary explanation.

Alternative to what? The way we produce and consume most of our goods and services today is through the use of money. We go into business or invest to make profits. Big corporations are forced to grow and cut costs to please stockholders. Often, this results in layoffs, pushing worker’s wages down and continually moving production to centers of lower labor costs. This can contribute to a greater gap between the rich and the rest of us and push many people into unemployment, underemployment and sometimes poverty.  Many of us are suffering some of the consequence of these trends today.

What do we do when the economy isn’t working for us? Sitting back, belt tightening and isolating ourselves usually doesn’t do us much good. Fortunately there are a lot of alternatives.  The ones I’ll be discussing are the ones that focus on ways of meeting our needs while keeping community building and social justice in mind. I would say that these activities are more concerned with relationships than money. As we learn to rely on each other we create different ways of meeting our needs.

Some examples of these alternatives are:

  • Buy local campaigns and networks
  • Alternative ways of marketing goods
  • Urban agriculture and community gardens
  • Community supported agriculture
  • Co-ops, such as food co-ops
  • Worker owned businesses
  • Barter and time-banks
  • Buying Fair Trade items
  • Sustainable energy
  • Non-profit organizations like food banks and health care networks
  • Microfinance
  • Creative global meetings on social issues by like-minded groups
  • Focus on environmental issues
  • Alternative policy meetings and discussions
  • Lobbying and building political power to change policies

We’ll be discussing these in more detail and looking at specific examples in coming blogs. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of the categories of activities that fit into my first attempt at defining the term and starting the conversation. If you can think of any of these please let me know in the comments.  I’d also love to see some specific examples of these in the comments too. Please let me know where I can find out more about them if you can.

The Joy of Training

I got to do one of my favorite things on Thursday.  I was in front of the classroom again, teaching about collaboration and watching faces light up and laugh as they discovered what they could do with simple, free, cloud based Google Docs and Blogger applications.  I love teaching and training when I can get the whole class interacting and coming out with some new skill or insight.

I designed Collaborating with Google Docs and Blogger as a highly flexible class. My high school students used it to create some glitzy presentations about the French Revolution and my middle school students used Blogger for jazzy Roaring Twenties blogs that included videos and music. They loved it.

This time I taught the class to adults in ProNet, a volunteer organization I belong to.  ProNet is an organization that helps unemployed professionals get back to work by providing job search and skill enhancing “graduate classes”.  The day to day business of ProNet is carried on by volunteer committees and I knew that these volunteers were looking for ways to do committee work and group communications online. They also wanted share their resumes and cover letters for peer review. During the class they learned how to post documents, share them, make comments, create shared documents, and create committee blogs.  We even created a Blogger blog to record what we’re doing with this new knowledge.

By the time we finished the class they were commenting on each other’s resumes, posting committee minutes and projects. Just for fun, we also created a collection of frugal luxuries that make our lives in transition a little more comfortable.

If you’d like to participate in a class like this and know an organization in the Truckee Meadows that would like to sponsor or host it, I can customize it to your needs. Contact me and we’ll see what we can set up.


Lives’ of Cambodian Girls

After receiving some questions on the lives of the girls in my last post, I’ve done some research and find that thousands of girls in Cambodia are one step away from a life none of us would want for ourselves or our children.  Many of them already have taken that step. Cambodia is an extremely poor country that was devastated by the deindustrialization, back-to-the-country movement forced on Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge. The new government is trying to rebuild but they have a long way to go. Girls, who have never been highly valued in the country, pay a heavy price for the joint condition of being poor and female.

My last post talked about keeping 28 girls in school.  Drops in the bucket, but each one of these girls represent the condition of many of the girls in the country.  They are victims of abuse or are rescued sex workers.  Over 30% of the people in the large sex industry in Cambodia are under 18 and the vast majority of them are girls.  Most of these girls have been kept out of school by their parent’s poverty and isolation.  The Cambodian government “guarantees” public school through secondary education (9th grade), but the system is decentralized so poor rural schools are inadequate.  Teachers are often paid only $10.00 per month, so they often start their own tutoring service or work in private schools. If the best education is for pay, in poor areas, it is the boys who go to these schoolsGirls are kept home to work in the fields or find a job to help support the family.  Many families are tricked into sending their daughters off for “good jobs” when their real destination is sexual slavery.

Rape is often the entry-level crime that leads the victims into the sex industry.  In Cambodia, a girl’s virginity is highly valued. Rape brings shame and stigma to a girl, making it more likely that parents will send the girl away or consent to their child leaving home for one of these “good jobs”.  Once out of school and the family’s sight, the terrible exploitation begins.

Non-profits and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are aware of these conditions and are attempting to enhance the life chances of girls in this society. The Cambodian Center for Children’s Rights, which was featured in last week’s post, runs several shelters and schools. There, girls who have been exploited are identified and rescued, are rehabilitated through academic and life skills training, and are reintegrated back into society with the hope of a better life.

Here are some links for more information:




MaiLynn’s Project – Keep 28 Young Cambodian Girls in School

As many of you know, my daughter, MaiLynn, has been traveling the world.  She lives in New Zealand now, but I think her heart is still in Southeast Asia.  I got this email from her asking that I get the news out on this important project.  This gives me the impetus to post my first blog.  I’ll let her tell you in her own words, but first a few pictures of these beautiful girls.

“I’ve started volunteer work with The Branch Foundation, the community developement and support organization I was telling you about in Southeast Asia.  We have a big project campaign out to help keep 28 young Cambodia girls in School – its featured on the Global Giving website which is a fantastic and really meaningful project. It is really close to my heart given my many visits to Cambodia and my absolute love for the spunk and courage of the girls there.  Take a look at the link – I think you’ll find it very interesting……   The Global Giving site has generously put on a “matched giving day” on this Wednesday 14 March, in which they will match all individual donations received by 30% – so it’s a sweet day to give money on. ”


Of course, you can donate any day. They’ll use the money well.

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