Franchising and the HBCU Partnership Challenge


With a Mission to Increase DEI Initiatives, the HBCU Partnership Challenge Works with the IFA to Foster Black Entrepreneurship

Throughout Black History Month, African American entrepreneurs and their amazing contributions have been in the spotlight. But still, less than 10 percent of franchises are Black-owned. To help increase awareness of franchise business opportunities, the International Franchise Association (IFA) launched the Black Franchise Leadership Council (BFLC) last year. In addition, this past September, the IFA has taken it a step further by joining the HBCU Partnership Challenge. “The franchise sector has always been a leader in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), yet we all must strive to do more to continue to break down barriers to advancement,” said IFA President Matthew Haller. “We are thrilled to work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) nationwide to engage these talented young leaders emerging from these schools.”  

The IFA, along with 83 other companies, pledged to join the HBCU Partnership Challenge which was created in September 2017 by Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC-12), Ph.D., founder and co-chair of the Congressional Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Caucus. The goal of the challenge is to strengthen public-private investments in HBCUs. These investments lead to an increase in DEI initiatives for companies in all sectors of the economy (including franchising); increase job prospects for underrepresented minority students; and ensure the future stability of the nation’s more than 100 HBCUs.  

The IFA Webinar

To discuss the challenge and how HBCUs can serve as a talent pipeline for a diverse workforce, Earsa Jackson, the first vice chairwoman of the IFA’s Educational Foundation’s Diversity Institute, moderated the “Strategies for Advancing Diversity in Franchising: Consider the HBCU Partnership Challenge” webinar last week, which was part of IFA’s webinar series.

Diversity and Franchising

Rikki Amos, the Executive Director of the IFA Foundation, opened the webinar by explaining how important this challenge is to help companies increase their DEI initiatives and get underrepresented minorities involved in franchising. “We see the HBCU Challenge as one of those really interesting tools that many of our members are leaning towards leaning into, to help improve and advance their DEI outcomes,” she said.

Since the webinar was recorded, it will be posted online so those who couldn’t attend can watch and share it. Those who attended were able to pose questions in the chat section. She introduced Jackson, who explained the two important missions of the IFA Educational Foundation’s Diversity Institute: building a bridge between franchising and diverse communities, and shaping the future of franchising. She also mentioned that prominent members of the BFLC were in attendance: 

  • Richard Snow – the Chair of the Black Franchise Leadership Council (BFLC)
  • Carolyn Thurston –  Vice-chair of the BFLC and CEO & Founder of Wisdom Senior Care
  • Dr. Cassandra Hill –  Education Committee Chair of the BFLC and Executive Director of Choice Hotels Owners Council (CHOC)

The Webinar’s Panelists

Benjamin Branch, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs, IFA

Ben Branch, DEI initiatives

I definitely recognize the importance of what HBCUs have meant to the African American community.

Benjamin Branch 

Coming from a family of HBCU graduates, Benjamin Branch knows how important these institutions are. “I definitely recognize the importance of what HBCUs have meant to the African American community,” he said. He spoke about Congresswoman Adams. Since forming the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, it has secured more than $1.3 billion for HBCU funding for infrastructure projects. Franchising has also benefited her congressional district. “With respect to franchising in her congressional district, there are over 4,200 franchises that provide over 42,000 jobs, so that is something we are really proud of in her district,” he said. 

John Christie, Chief of Staff, Congresswoman Alma Adams

John Christie- DEI initiatives

Sixty-seven percent of job seekers today think that a diverse workforce is important when looking for a job. And organizations that report higher levels of diversity bring in nearly 15 times more sales revenue than their counterparts.

John Christie

Since the Congresswoman couldn’t be in attendance for the webinar, Christie said some remarks on her behalf. He explained that the Congresswoman formed the challenge as a response to the Trump Administration’s 2017 budget that cut key HBCU priorities and flatlined their funding. The Congresswoman knew that something had to be done; thus, the challenge was formed.

He said that HBCUs punch well above their weight. HBCUs represent only 3% of the total number of the U.S.’ four-year nonprofit colleges and universities but account for 20% of the African American graduates. HBCUs also produce 40% of African American engineers, 50% of all African American public school teachers, and 80% of African American judges. 

Not only are HBCU students beneficial for companies, but being serious about DEI initiatives has also shown to be positive for business. “Sixty-seven percent of job seekers today think that a diverse workforce is important,” he said. “And organizations that report higher levels of diversity bring in nearly 15 times more sales revenue than their counterparts.” This only emphasizes the importance of companies joining the pledge.

Dr. Rosyln Clark Artis, President and CEO, Benedict College

Dr. Roslyn Clark - DEI initiatives

If they can’t see it, they can’t be it.

Dr. Rosyln Clark Artis

Dr. Rosyln Clark Artis, President and CEO of Benedict College, discussed the benefits of working with HBCUs like Benedict. “We are functionally a minority supplier,” she said. “We are providing not widgets; not parts and services, but human capacity.” HBCUs are some of the best partners for companies looking to diversify their workforce and add incredible talent, she said. 

Benedict College has also expanded their school of business to include entrepreneurship. They did this as a way to recognize that while getting a job is good, creating jobs is also important to investing in underserved communities and building generational wealth. She mentioned that her students are trained in management, economics, finance, entrepreneurship, and more. This should be taken into consideration when companies invest in Benedict and other HBCUs around the country. 

She emphasized that while donating money to HBCUs is nice, being a good partner that is involved with the students matters more, especially since a lot of HBCU students are low-income, first-generation college students. Guest speakers and mentors are particularly appreciated, as they show students what is possible. “If they can’t see it, they can’t be it,” she said.

When asked about the different ways that companies can get involved with HBCU students, she wrote in the Zoom chat section: 

  • Joining employer advisory councils 
  • Being guest speakers or lecturers 
  • Attending career fairs  
  • Sponsorship opportunities  
  • Internship opportunities 
  • Vendor fairs
  • Student mentors
  • Direct institutional investment (scholarship/programmatic support)

Benedict College only has about 2,000 students, so it is a small liberals arts institution. “We partner with all the HBCUs across the state of South Carolina, so you get big bang for your buck,” she said. “You will get exposure to all eight HBUCs in South Carolina through our Career Pathways Initiative, where we partner with Claflin, Vorhees, and the other institutions to provide the full breadth of talent that is available in South Carolina.”

To entice franchisees and franchisors even more to partner with them, Benedict College also boasts being the first HBCU to have a Fuddruckers burger franchise on its campus, which was recently purchased in its entirety by a Black franchisor and HBCU graduate, Nicholas Perkins. “That is a living, breathing example of entrepreneurship and of the value of franchise ownership right here on our campus,” she said. She welcomes franchisors partnering with Benedict College to get exposure to their students.

Tim Williams, Director of Franchising, Williams Fried Chicken

TIm Williams - DEI initiatives

It’s a great industry to be a part of, and it has been a hidden jewel for a long time that needs to be exposed.

Tim Williams

An IFA member franchise that joined the HBCU Partnership Challenge is Williams Chicken. “Williams Chicken is probably one of the biggest African American-owned franchisors in the country,” said Tim Williams, Chief Franchising Officer at Williams Fried Chicken. “We actually own our brand. We’ve been in the business for about 30 years,” he said. Williams is also a member of the IFA Board of Directors and is very invested in working with HBCUs. He said he would be more than happy to speak with students on Zoom calls and in person to explain what the IFA and franchising in general. 

Williams also spoke about the importance of not stumbling into franchise ownership and being more deliberate when getting minority students involved in franchising. “It’s a great industry to be a part of, and it has been a hidden jewel for a long time that needs to be exposed,” he said. He wants to tell as many people he can about franchising. A reason why there are so few Black franchisors is because there simply needs to be more education around the franchising industry, he said. And he also makes a point to promote managers to owners or partners. He will do this for five of his managers this year alone, he said.

John Lancaster, Vice President Emerging Markets Franchise Development, Choice Hotels International

John Lancaster - DEI initiatives

At Choice Hotels, we just don’t talk about diversity, equity and inclusion. It is woven in our DNA.

John Lancaster

Another panelist was John Lancaster, Vice President of Emerging Markets and Franchise Development at Choice Hotels International. He joined the Challenge because he’s the product of Howard University. At Choice Hotels, he works to recruit underrepresented minorities into the hospitality industry. “We have awarded and financially supported over 280 underrepresented minorities into the hotel industry,” he said. “I am also proud to say that Choice has created a fantastic partnership with the HBCU Challenge and Congresswoman Alma Adams.” 

Through this partnership, he wants to build a bridge for students leaving HBCUs and help them enter meaningful careers in hospitality and management. Choice is sponsoring training programs for HBCU students to get into hospitality and management with Concord Hospitality Enterprises Company, a member of Choice Hotels’ Ownership Council and Morgan State University. Two recent Morgan graduates will participate in a six-month rotational program at the Cambria Hotel Washington, D.C. Convention Center and the Cambria Hotel Nashville Downtown. Upon completion of the immersive training program, this managers-in-training will have the opportunity to pursue full-time managerial positions with Concord Hospitality. To pick these students, Choice took recommendations from the school as to which two students had the best aptitude, and there was also a rigorous interview process. 

With this program, the brand wants to create a diverse pipeline of talented future general managers who can become owners. “At Choice Hotels, we just don’t talk about diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said. “It is woven in our DNA. And it doesn’t just come from our senior management team. It comes from our Board of Directors, and it starts at the top.” 

Partnering with Morgan State University was also an easy choice, as it is very close to Choice’s headquarters in Rockville, Md. “We have a couple of members from Choice that actually sit on the board at Morgan State, as well,” Lancaster said. 

John Mays, Director of Equity and Inclusion, Kentucky Fried Chicken

John Mays - DEI initiatives

I have experience on both sides of it, and I do believe that franchising is one of the easiest ways to reduce risk and create some generational wealth for your family.

John Mays  

John Mays, the Director of Inclusion and Diversity with KFC, whose parent company is Yum! Brands says that since he and his wife are HBCU graduates and franchise owners, this challenge hits close to home. “I have experience on both sides of it, and I do believe that franchising is one of the easiest ways to reduce risk and create some generational wealth for your family,” he said. Yum! Brands has worked with the University of Louisville and invested in the Yum! Center for Global Franchise Excellence, which will focus on recruiting and educating people of color and women in the franchising industry. 

Additionally, with their accelerator program, Yum! Brands will take six second-year Master of Business (MBA) students from Howard University and four from the University of Louisville in the first cohort. These students will be given extensive training and be matched with existing franchisees to show them the ropes of franchise ownership. The five-month program will culminate in a pitch competition where two grand prize winners will receive seed money, additional training and mentorship, and an opportunity to become a future Yum! franchisee.

Richard Snow, Chair of the BFLC

Richard Snow, Tim Williams - DEI initiatives

I love when everyone comes together for this community and all the different activities that are taking place.

Richard Snow

At the end of the webinar, Richard Snow made some remarks. He commended the representatives of companies on the call for taking the HBCU Partnership Challenge, as well as HBCU representatives for being receptive and telling the companies what they need. “I love when everyone comes together for this community and all the different activities that are taking place,” he said. He gave kudos to other BFLC members and committee chairs:

  • Carolyn Thurston
  • Dr. Cassandra Hill   
  • Jack Wilson – Chair of the Access to Capital Committee of the BFLC and Chief Development Officer (CDO) of Family Financial Centers 
  • Nancy Williams- franchise broker; contributor to Black Enterprise Magazine; Community Partnership Committee of the BFLC
  • Charles Thurston- Wisdom Senior Care, COO

With the Thurstons as an example, Snow pointed out that franchising isn’t just about business relationships, but it also can be good for lifelong partnerships. He wants more people to know about the BFLC and get information out there to the public. 

Working with HBCUs

Throughout the webinar, it was emphasized that companies shouldn’t just invest in the larger HBCUs, like Howard and others, as there are over 100 HBCUs that need investment. For the smaller, private HBCUs, they look to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) for partnership support between them. The UNCF has created the Career Pathways Initiative, which allows franchisors, recruiters, and franchisees to get the benefit of a larger pool of students to draw from. “If you are looking for a more robust, ecosystem-wide relationship, then umbrella organizations like the UNCF … are opportunities to get engaged,” Artis said. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund is the umbrella organization for the public HBCUs, she said.

For companies that are national or global and have footprints in markets where HBCUs are located, she suggests those companies work directly with those schools. For companies that aren’t located by an HBCU, there are many opportunities to communicate with the institutions virtually. For example, Benedict College has partnerships with Apple, Google and ServiceNow which are companies that aren’t located on the campus. “Let’s think creatively, and let’s think outside of the box and find meaningful ways to connect with you people,” she said. “I promise you that you will be glad that you did.” Branding opportunities are also available, as a company that partners with Benedict College can get the opportunity to have their name on the college’s football stadium or the band’s uniform when they march at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, for example. Branding is crucial for franchises. 

If a company is looking for a more diversified workforce and wants to enjoy the unbelievable talents of HBCU students, then joining the HBCU Partnership Challenge is a great way to achieve those goals. To get involved in the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus’ Partnership Challenge, companies can send an email to the Congresswoman’s Chief Of Staff John Christie at stating that the company pledges to join. The Congresswoman’s office will then send out a press release with quotes from the Congresswoman, Rep. French Hill (R-AR-02), co-chair of the Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, and a member of the company’s C-Suite. “The reason why we emphasize the quote from the C-Suite member is that it’s very important that leadership at your company is really involved and engaged in the idea of diversity and inclusion and partnering with HBCUs in order to achieve that,” Christie said. The press release indicates that you are part of the challenge. 

Rikki Amos, the Executive Director of the IFA Foundation, also suggested cc’ing the IFA at Benjamin Branch, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs at the IFA, can also be included by emailing The IFA wants its member companies to take the pledge and share their success stories through the IFA Open for Opportunity initiative. 

DEI Summit at the IFA Annual Convention 2022

At the upcoming IFA 2022 Annual Convention, there will be a DEI Summit featuring educators and recognized leaders from national non-profits who serve entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities. In addition, franchisors will share insights, lessons learned, and brand commitment to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in franchising. Members of the BFLC will be present, including Amos, Jackson, and Snow. A number of key challenges and opportunities about how franchising can further advance minority entrepreneurship will be discussed. In addition, NBA legend and a great role model for Black entrepreneurship, Shaquille O’Neal will be the general speaker.

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Haley Cafarella is a passionate journalist and writer for IFPG. In her role as content and marketing specialist, she creates original articles for FranchiseWire and Franchise Consultant Magazine. Her specialties include educational articles about buying a franchise and franchise consulting. She also reports on franchise professionals who were recently promoted or hired through FranchiseWire’s popular HireWire series.

Haley has contributed to a variety of regional publications, including Quo Vadis, New Brunswick Today, and the Trenton Monitor. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Rutgers University.
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