Life can change in an instant in ways we never imagined.  The ripple effects of one choice, one decision, one action can create unthinkable impact. Just one phone call changed the trajectory of my life. And who knows…maybe this one article will change yours too.

At the time of my life-changing phone call I was studying to be a nurse and teaching First Aid. Like many sole parents, I juggled multiple roles and multiple responsibilities. My sights were set firmly on paying the bills, caring for my girls and establishing a nursing career to secure our future. Little did I know that this future would involve creating positive change through social franchising.

The phone call came on an ordinary day; a routine request for first aid training. But there was nothing routine about the fear in my caller’s voice. There was nothing routine about the distress she had experienced. There was nothing routine about watching a newborn baby turn blue on multiple occasions feeling completely ill-equipped to help.

Let’s call my caller Shelly and pause here for a minute to let you know that Shelly’s baby was okay. Her condition was diagnosed and managed by health professionals, BUT her mother’s fear was real. Her feelings of helplessness were intense. Her confidence to help non-existent and the fear of losing her child while she waited for emergency services to arrive, was real.

This is not how any parent should feel…right?

When Shelly called, she asked if I would teach her, and her family Baby First Aid and she was desperate for help. An impending sense of doom stayed with her as she waited for the helpless situation to return. Her husband risked losing his job too nervous to leave his wife alone with their bub. Neither slept fearing that their baby might stop breathing in the night and family members, nervous about the vulnerability of their tenuous position stayed away. For Shelly social isolation and loneliness were symptoms of her baby’s illness and the accompanying sense of hopelessness grew.

 I will never forget the anguish in Shelly’s voice that day. Determined to help, I suggested that she contact an expert Baby and Child First Aid provider.

“I’ve tried that,” she said, “but the classes are so expensive. We can’t afford it.”

 This was the instant my life changed. 

Up until this point I believed that everybody needing First Aid knowledge could access First Aid education. They can’t.

Up until this point I believed that health literacy was universal. It’s not.

Up until this point I thought that family healthcare planning and support would have provisions for Baby First Aid funding. It doesn’t.

It turns out that knowing how to save your child’s life is a privilege. 

In 1993 health literacy was added to Australia’s first set of national health goals and targets and after more than 27 years we are still a long way from reaching those targets. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, almost 60% of Australians aged 15–74 are not able to effectively exercise their choice or voice when making health care decisions.

I started to advocate, to all levels of government with little impact. I had no idea about the complexities of influencing public policy – I had no idea about how to make lasting impact – I had no idea if I could even create sustainable change. But my aspirations were lofty. My desire to create change was huge. No parent should ever have to feel Shelly’s desperation and distress.

“Start your own business”, plenty of people said.

 I didn’t even own a laptop or an up-to-date phone.

“I’m thinking a not for profit”, I said. As my humanitarian aspirations grew.

It was my friend, who coincidently owns a national franchise, that said, “If you really care about what you do, set up a business or you risk your cause falling by the wayside, like so many not for profits before you.”

There were 56,000 registered not for profits in Australia in 2020-2021 … and numbers are growing. 

This number is mind boggling. 

Most not for profit models rely on donated funds presenting such a high risk. So fundraising efforts often take the place of awareness raising efforts, and societal issues remain unsolved despite the duplication of multiple organisations vying to solve similar problems.

The instability of not for profits and an enduring sector disconnect, sees successful solutions go unshared and an air of distrust remains.

So how was I going to make a difference? help others? improve health literacy? overcome the financial divide and prevent another Shelly from ever feeling so afraid?

My solution was to become a social entrepreneur. I would start a social enterprise. 

And in 2015 Parentmedic, the social enterprise, was born.

At the time, no one could really define what social enterprise meant. “We reinvest our profits into the social cause that we support and measure our impact”, was the best I could get.

Not for profits raise money through charitable donations – social enterprise on the other hand raise revenue through for-profit business structures: offering customers a product so valuable that he or she is willing to pay for it, while delivering measurable social impact. 

Our model was simple and within one year we expanded across Australia. Our structure was multi-tiered: we had a responsibility to service middle income earners who could afford our baby and Child First Aid offering and reinvest that into time spent partnering with community services to ensure that we also filled an obvious community health education gap that still exists. 

Parentmedic saw some serious growth. I thought of Shelly often and her happy healthy bub. 

With growth came serious considerations about how to duplicate a model that works, while penetrating at a local level, – there is a clear difference between national operations serving local communities vs local communities serving locals. 

Locals serving locals, especially in community education, trumps a top-heavy operational system every time and delivers greater social impact, A locals teaching locals approach increases impact by supporting the local economy, local employment opportunities and directly impacting local families and individuals.

The only legal expansion model that would allow us to achieve this was franchising.

But social franchising is a very new beast, and it seems many people are unduly scared of it.

It seems that many people made false assumptions about franchises being void of cohesive, dynamic, vibrant cultures.  

Not Parentmedic. 

We understand the importance of culture and its effect on both our brand reputation, product offering and franchisee experience. We understand the importance of positive direction and positive action and go all-out to protect our positive culture. People before profit is not a catch phrase in our organisation. It’s our day to day.

The ordinary phone call, on the ordinary day had nothing to do with profit. The ordinary phone call on the ordinary day was about fairness and just access to usable health care information. The ordinary phone call on an ordinary day was about enduring positive change.

Building a business alone is one of the greatest challenges I have ever experienced. Launching a social franchise has left myself feeling isolated and lonely at times. Combine that with an innate desire to advocate for my cause, and an aching desire to help the large and growing number of people across the world not able to make effective decisions about health and health care – and I am so grateful for the support of the franchising community. Franchising honestly makes that mission so much easier. 

Human effort is not endless, and we have seen this from one social cause breakdown to the next.  There is something so beneficial about being able to use the franchising model to duplicate what we do by setting up local business, to enable our service to have grassroots impact and then reproduce this impact many times over.

There is also something really wonderful about finding future franchisees; people who both aspire to business success and truly align with our cause. The symbiotic nature of that relationship truly is something to see. The result is a community of Parentmedic franchisees who care so much about what we do. A community of like-minded people committed from the heart, not their pockets.  And this, we know, this creates longevity.

Sometimes it’s like finding a needle in a haystack, but when we [the franchisor], meet a franchisee who says “I always wanted my own business but need to know that I am also contributing and doing good in our world.  This is perfectly aligned with my values, my mission and my family.”  that is a goosebumps moment. In that moment I always think of Shelly and her baby.

That phone call that changed the trajectory of my life, is always at the front of my mind. When I am in my social impact networks and they look at me like perhaps I am no longer one of them, I think of Shelly.

When I am in my franchising networks and something feels not quite right and I wonder if people think of me as an outsider, I think of Shelly.

Franchising is filled with opportunity too often overlooked.  If you ask me, the opportunities for franchising to create lasting change, have real impact, and share years of wisdom and knowledge, through what we refer to as operations manual [the golden operational handbook] can see duplication of successful social enterprises and not for profits to every pocket of Australia, but even globally. The scalable opportunities of social franchising are immense. Not many sectors can say that. 

Social impact is no longer a choice. Our consumers demand it, and I worry if franchising does not adopt this into its main systems and outcomes, franchising, may become a dying solution not packaged for our up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

If new dynamic social entrepreneurs don’t investigate franchising as a viable model so many people will miss the chance to share their good works on a reproduceable global scale. There are genuine and exciting benefits to combining social enterprise with franchising and I am really excited to be championing the social franchise movement. 

Parentmedic has impacted over 30,000 parents in Baby First Aid, and because of this success I have developed a sister program for kids called Harry Helper further impacting 20,000 kids. 

One phone call. One conversation. One decision.

If you are a franchisor looking to shift to social impact modelling or a social entrepreneur considering franchising, my door is always open to hear your story, and to share mine. 

Working with the Franchising-Ed team has been such a positive experience, and I am deeply grateful to have the chance to share my social franchise experience with you. 

With so few examples of successful social franchises, I feel it is my duty to share. My offering may be a little shaky, after all I am learning as I go. Not many have gone before me. There is no social franchising handbook (yet). There is no business paradigm of profitable secure business systems and franchised social impact. But I don’t mind trail blazing. I know the power of people. I know that big change happens when you least expect it. Little did I know that my future would see me ride the power of social franchising to create enduring positive change.

You are invited to comment on this blog. I’d love to hear your thoughts and will try my best to answer your questions. If you have topics for future social franchising dialogue I’d be humbled and excited to be part of your discussions

Nataly Tormey is a social entrepreneur with a passion for creating community health educational programs that meet market need, funded by private consumers not government funding. Nataly understands that a reliance on government funding is unsustainable, so she is on a mission to share her successful programs it not just nationally, but globally through the power of franchising. Founder of Parentmedic and Harry Helper, Director of Contribute Group, the home of both programs [and hopefully many more]!