When starting any business, there are many challenges one will face. Sadly, there is never a one size fits all solution. In this 5 part series on social franchising, we spoke with a multitude of SPEAK founders. This aims to show the unique challenges they had to overcome and the reason behind taking SPEAK to their cities. 

“I was one of the first to open SPEAK in a new city” – Valeria, SPEAK Aveiro

One of the first to join SPEAK with its social franchising model back in 2018 was Valeria. She started SPEAK in the town of Aveiro, Portugal. Valéria migrated from Mexico to Portugal, and “faced some difficulties along the way, such as dealing with feelings of doubt and fear about maybe having made the wrong decision.” Although she believes this is part of the immigration process, she feels that new solutions are needed, to reduce the time required to adapt to the new environment. 

Valeria shared, “I started SPEAK because it was inevitable for me to think how much more difficult it must be for all of the other newcomers that don’t have the kind of resources that I did.” Her husband had direct family in Portugal, and she had some distant relatives. Furthermore, she had a sense of the language. She said, “I want others to feel at home in their new countries, as I do now.”

Although faced with many challenges when starting SPEAK in her city, such as being put outside her comfort zone, one must “step-up and try to do better.” The most significant challenge that Valeria had to overcome was herself. She shared, “I used to refrain myself from taking action, always waiting to be prepared, always waiting for things to be perfect and, since perfection is impossible to achieve, nothing got done.” Due to this, she used to avoid the spotlight as she was afraid to make mistakes, but now knows this is part of the growing process. With the help of the community and the amazing stories they share with her, she is able to go to work every day feeling inspired and wanting to fight the social barriers that many face.


I run SPEAK in a small city” – Ana Marques, SPEAK Ipswich

Ana Marques is the founder of SPEAK in the small town of Ipswich, England. She used the social franchising model of SPEAK, to open in the smallest location. Ipswich has a population of only 133.000. Ana started her journey with SPEAK as a buddy in 2018, in Leiria (Portugal). After migrating to the United Kingdom, she decided to open SPEAK there. 

When questioned about the greatest challenge of starting SPEAK Ipswich, her response was, “The biggest challenge for me was being new to the city myself”. She felt this was a great challenge since she had trouble on where to start and whom to contact. Richard Catherall, the business advisor for SPEAK, shared many contacts with Ana, helping her get started. Due to Ana being a migrant, gaining the trust of the local community was a significant challenge. 

I feel very lucky to be able to be a SPEAK founder.” Being a SPEAK founder is a humbling experience as one sees the challenges that migrants face first hand she continued. When moving to a new country, it is tricky if you don’t speak the native language. Furthermore finding an affordable option to learn the language is challenging. “SPEAK helps combat that problem. Participants are not only learning a language, but they are also gaining a network of people/friends that they can use for other things.” She hopes to bring people together as, “Now more than ever, it is essential that we work together to fight against prejudice and racism.

I run SPEAK in a huge city” – Mariana Rocha, SPEAK London

Mariana Rocha is one of four co-founders of SPEAK London, England. The population of London is 8.98 million. Although this might seem like an obvious option, many challenges come with such large cities. The reason for founding SPEAK London “came from our motivation and belief in the work that we do and the positive impact we can have in different communities, but it’s not a ‘walk in the park’.” Mariana mentioned that the countless laws and the bureaucracy of opening a social enterprise were most challenging.

Mariana joined SPEAK London as an ambassador before becoming a buddy and later, joined the SPEAK London team as a late co-founder. She found she could relate to some of the challenges that migrants and refugees face, due to her immigrating to the United Kingdom in 2010. Mariana said, “All I wanted to do was to give back and support others’ integration into a community, something that can be very daunting when you first arrive.” 

When asked, what she most loves about being a SPEAK founder, she replied that the learning experiences that came from SPEAK are one of the most beneficial things. Although it has been challenging, there is a strong community she can rely upon. This has led to some of her most fond memories.“ Yes, it has been challenging and no one ever said it would be easy. But trust me, it’s worth it.”, she replied. 

“I have an outstanding community” – Chloé, SPEAK Brussels

SPEAK is all about building a community, and Chloé from SPEAK Brussels, Belgium, has one hell of a community! This community was not built overnight.  Chloé said, “In the initial stage of building the SPEAK Brussels community a lot of emphasis was placed on personal contact and face to face talks with members to explain what SPEAK is and to help them understand how we’re different from other language and integration projects. This takes effort and follow up but it does pay off!” Only with time and effort was she able to get many friend circles talking about SPEAK.

She admits, “It is a very big challenge to keep everyone happy and to manage the dynamics that can happen in an event or in a language group.” Yet, personal contact is most effective at countering this. This is due to these efforts giving SPEAK Brussels a face, and thereby “creating more connection to the community.”

Chloé said, “I’m incredibly grateful this opportunity crossed my path and that I can be a part of SPEAK.” Chloé is excited about the growth SPEAK is showing and how fast it is expanding into different countries and cities. She is proud of where SPEAK Brussels is today and the organic growth rate of the community. “I’m excited to see what’s coming…” 


I started SPEAK using crowdfunding” – Sofia, SPEAK Almada

Sofia started SPEAK in Almada, Portugal, with the help of crowdfunding. Crowdfunding it is the act of raising a large amount of funds via small donations (usually over the internet). Sofia decided to go with crowdfunding as she believes many of us want to change the world for the better, however, are unaware of how we can make this change occur. Crowdfunding allows everyone to be agents for the change that they want to see in the world. With the power of word of mouth, she was able to spread the word within a small community. Through word of mouth that would expand into many more communities.  

Being a co-founder of SPEAK Almada has been the best way for her to develop her personal and professional skills. She has learnt the importance of leadership, time management and keeping true to what you set out to do. 

Her favourite part of being a co-founder is that she better understands her city and the challenges that must be overcome. She also notices many opportunities that are waiting to be taken. Through this experience, she is now closer with many, who identify with integration in a welcoming way. Sofia said, “In the middle of all this – SPEAK helped me be more aware of social problems, a greater human commitment to what we truly believe, that is the well-being of others in their fullness.”


I run SPEAK in a non-European city” – Rasel, SPEAK Bangladesh

All the examples have been from European cities, but SPEAK knows no borders. Rasel started SPEAK in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He wants to help empower the youth as many wish to study in foreign countries. Not knowing the language or culture, makes integration trickier. Furthermore, due to the increasing trend of migration, he wishes to give all a basic idea of the cultures and languages that make the world so beautiful. Rasel feels that he can make a visible impact in the community. 

The biggest challenge, he says, is that many do not understand the importance of language, culture or volunteering. As Dhaka is not a multicultural city, finding buddies who speak languages other than English and Bangali is difficult. Many events are held at universities to try combat these issues by spreading awareness.

When asked, what he likes about being a founder, he said, “I get a lot of good vibes from buddies, participants, ambassadors and partners.” This motivates him to keep building a community. Community is so important, that he tries to contact everyone, who joins SPEAK, personally. He feels this “will open doors for many possibilities due to language and cultural exchange.” With the growth of the community, he “feels more human”, as his actions are making the world a better place.


Over this 5 part series, we have taken a deep look into social franchising and its many components. In the first part, we discussed exactly what social franchising is. We spoke from how it can make the world a better place to tips we can take from commercial franchising. The series continued with how we can scale impact, and how anyone can start SPEAK in their own city. In part 3 we discussed what you need to know when opening a social franchise.  Part 4  was on what SPEAK has learnt from this scalability model. It also highlighted how SPEAK has improved its social franchising model.

We are now ending this 5 part social franchising series with a deep-dive with some of the founders worldwide. We took a look at their testimonials, particularly the challenges and opportunities they came across since they are SPEAK founders. 

SPEAK brings together newcomers and locals living in the same city through community-led language groups and cultural exchange events. If you are passionate about diversity and committed to making your city more inclusive visit https://www.speak.social/en/take-speak-to-your-city/. Not everyone needs to be a social entrepreneur or have the will to implement a project in their local community, but we should contribute to make the world a better place, where acceptance and diversity are fundamental values. 

We shared a little bit of our vision with you during this series. We hope you can share your world with our community one day. 


Do you enjoy this post? We have a 5 part blog series about social franchising, take a look into part 01 - "What is Social Franchising?", part 02 - "Scale your impact with a Social Franchising", part 03 - "6 Tips to start your own impact venture" and part 04 - "Four things SPEAK has learnt"

Author: Robin Müller

Robin is a marketing intern at SPEAK. He has an ambitious goal of visiting a new country every year (sadly is 3 behind).

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