From the September 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

Many franchises support charity and community causes. But a handful of new franchises are taking the idea of giving back a step further by helping others not as a side project, but as their primary mission.

Through their training and consulting businesses, Darcie Harris and Julane Borth became familiar with peer advisory forums. While they knew the benefits of these forums, they also knew it wasn't always easy for women to join these kinds of groups. "The criteria for membership for most of those forums are so high that most women business owners do not qualify for membership," Harris says. "Most women tend to start their businesses a little later in life, so there are many viable, strong businesses run by women that don't have the 50 employees or the $5 million in revenues it takes to participate."

To remedy this situation, Harris and Borth founded EWF (Executive Women's Forum) International LLC, a peer advisory forum for women business owners and executives. Unlike other forums, business size and titles aren't of paramount importance for membership. "We look for women who indicate an interest in professional development and personal growth," Harris says.

Harris and Borth began facilitating peer advisory forums in Oklahoma City in 1998 and started offering franchises in 2002 to provide its services in other regions. Franchising works better than using local managers, says Harris. "[Because] the client base is primarily female entrepreneurs, they need to see the woman who is creating and facilitating the group as [one of them]," Harris says. "That [franchisee] needs to be a business owner herself to truly understand what it's like to be in the mind of a female business owner."

Overall, helping women run their businesses is what EWF is all about. "Our mission is to help women discover, articulate and achieve their version of success," Harris says.

While EWF works with women who already have businesses, Employ America helps people get their start in the business world by reducing the cost of franchising. Founder Herb Davis says that through Caboto's Associated Food Services Inc., a St. George, Utah, mobile and fixed food franchise, Employ America offers affordable businesses to women, minorities and people "who live from paycheck to paycheck and feel they could never dig their way out."

"We did an analysis of the top 200 franchises in the United States and found the average [person] can't afford the average franchise," Davis explains. "That was a little disheartening." To help these potential franchises overcome financial hurdles, the Caboto's system has a lower start-up cost and no royalties. The franchisor makes its money by selling franchisees products rather than charging fees.

Eventually, Davis would like to expand the Employ America program to other franchises. "I want to make sure all the logistics are worked out first, so there are no hiccups," he says. "Then the plan is to go out to other franchises and say 'Let us represent you in an Employ America program.'"

Regardless of which companies offer Employ America, Davis is clear about what this program should ultimately achieve. "Employ America is about giving people the opportunity to take control of their destiny and not worry anymore about whether they're going to be one of the millions of people who were laid off in the last year with no place to go."