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Can commercial and social mix at MSA Worldwide?


“The mission has always fueled me,” says Julie McBride, who has worked in social franchising for decades.

Social franchising is about to get a big boost, if Julie McBride has her way.

She is a pioneer in social franchising, defined as applying commercial franchising methods to achieve socially beneficial ends. Think healthcare or clean water or education, delivered through franchises and providing income to franchisees—but so far, not revenue to franchisors or return to investors, which is part of the problem.

Building a bridge

Now she’s joined MSA Worldwide, the West Hartford, Connecticut, consulting firm led by Michael Seid and with a hand in social franchising that dates back 20 years. McBride will head up the social franchising practice there.

The goal is “to build a bridge between commercial practices and social-sector goals,” she says. “The two worlds don’t come together often enough. If the social sector can actually apply some of these tried-and-true and proven practices, we can really have some impact.”

McBride used to work in pharmaceutical sales. “I was trying to create demand for stuff that people didn’t need, like Rogaine,” she recalls with a laugh. “My job was to make men feel insecure about hair loss so they’d buy my product.”

Searching for more meaning, she earned a master’s degree in public health and went to work for PSI, which sent her to Pakistan to deliver reproductive health services to Pakistani women. There are now 5,000 clinics in the country, and it’s a fractional model, in which existing clinic owners purchase a packet of family planning services as a franchise.

Scaling up

She also found her calling. “The mission has always fueled me. I feel best when I’m able to make a difference in someone’s life,” she says.

Years of work in the social sector have uncovered a truth, she believes. “There’s all this money going to people to solve these problems. And there’s a lot of solutions, but on a very small scale,” she says.

“If we really want to have global impact, we’ve got to look at taking the things that are working to scale. Innovation is great, but it’s nothing if it’s not scaled to the point where it has an impact on people’s lives.”

McBride’s appointment at MSA is a big investment for the consulting firm, because demand from paying clients interested in social franchising is at the fledgling stage. But interest is growing, Seid and McBride believe, they say from several types of clients: NGOs or non-governmental organizations; entrepreneurs both here and abroad; so-called impact investors, who want to get a return on their investment but not necessarily right away; and large corporations.

“Like Merck,” McBride cites as an example, the pharmaceutical firm. “They have their corporate social responsibility money, and increasingly what they’re starting to do with that money is use it to develop their own projects rather than give it to some NGO.

“The reasons I’m doing this is I really see a need,” McBride says. “We’re right on the verge of translating that need into demand”—and she hopes using franchising for the common good, on a worldwide scale.

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