A practical theory works in providing products to the business community and jobs for people with disabilities.

Quietly – for over 50 years – an organization in Minnesota, initiated and developed a working theory of Social Enterprise and now continues to refine it in practice. MDI is a manufacturing organization that provides standard and custom packaging solutions, production and fulfillment services, and environmental services for business customers. It has operated a successful non-profit social enterprise for over 50 years, providing meaningful job opportunities for people with disabilities in an inclusive business setting.

There are a number of organizations entering the social enterprise segment and universities delving into Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurs. This newest trend in social enterprise is toward what is called a “hybrid model” – a model that combines for-profit thinking with a social mission. The model for some entities is earned income from sales of product or services that supports the mission of the organization, not necessarily grants or donations.

These organizations are showing up in many segments – environmental, retail, consumer products and technology. The migration from for-profit to the hybrid is, however, not without challenges, whether operational, financial, sales, technology or human resources.

Each organization finds their way, but there are several foundational aspects to a successful social enterprise:
* Financial discipline
* Operational Excellence
* Business Development Focus
* Distribution Channels
* Innovative Leaders

The requirements for a successful social enterprise have through innovation and practice produced MDI. It’s vision and passion is meaningful employment for all people with disabilities. Today, MDI employ’s 214 people with disabilities as part of a total workforce of 516 at four locations. MDI’s economic model is driven by 98% earned revenue from the sale of products and services. MDI strives to be the best in the world social enterprise. MDI is accredited by CARF (Commission for the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities), certified ISO 9001:2008 and is financially sound.  Ninety-five percent of MDI employees report liking their work at MDI!

MDI has a strong customer base with long-term relationships with a large government contract and commercial customers such as 3M, Nike and Uline. MDI is continuing to invest in and grow its commercial business. MDI commercial revenues have grown from $2 million to $8 million over the last seven years. Most of MDI’s commercial plastic sales come through a well-developed distributor network.

Last but not least, MDI has a highly capable and dedicated leadership team that is passionate about growing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The team recently embarked on a concerted effort to move from good to great using Jim Collins model – Good to Great and The Social Sectors.

Individuals and organizations that want to move from business success to being significant in your community would benefit from studying the social enterprise model. Making a difference in people’s lives and your community is more meaningful and fulfilling than creating value for a distant shareholder.

The information in this writing was sourced from several organizations and their papers and commentary on Social Enterprise, including: Stanford Social Innovation Review, Huffington Post, The Skoll World Forum, Unite For Sight, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Harvard Business Review, Community Wealth.org, Good to Great and The Social Sectors