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A Masterclass in Employment Social Enterprise – Bethany Wylie, Kellogg School of Management

On my last day as a Farber Summer Fellow at Orion Industries Training & Employment Division, an employment social enterprise located in Washington state, I had the opportunity to witness Steve, an employee of Orion, graduate in front of a very enthusiastic room full of his peers, his mentors, and the support staff who helped him realize his potential. The excitement was palpable as everyone knew Steve was on his way to a well-paying job in aerospace manufacturing, an industry he had spent the last few months learning at Orion.

For me, Steve’s graduation was a visible manifestation of the exceptional outcomes achieved by Orion’s social enterprise, whose business lines include aerospace manufacturing and a call center. I had spent my summer talking to Orion’s many partners to develop a SWOT analysis of Orion’s program department in preparation for a new focus on fundraising. Orion, which is a nonprofit organization, had not needed to fundraise because it covers the cost of its entire transitional employment program through the revenue earned from its aerospace manufacturing and call center businesses. But, there are many philanthropic and government funding opportunities that Orion is well-positioned to take advantage of due to their strength in finding long-term employment and economic opportunity for their program participants.

With Orion’s success as a social enterprise, it’s no surprise that they are looking toward future growth. While it might normally make sense for a social enterprise to grow within its existing facility, on-time success as a manufacturer depends on a stable workforce – something that can be challenging when working with people striving to overcome barriers like addiction, disability, and housing unpredictability. Thus, Orion wanted me to explore if expanding, through a merger or acquisition, to other industries, would allow them to grow their program while also building resilience in their business line revenue. I was able to build a customized framework that helped me assess various manufacturing industries based on Orion’s unique goals and the nuances of a social enterprise. Ultimately, I made recommendations to senior staff on which industries would be a best fit for Orion.

Coming from the nonprofit world before business school, I was excited by the idea of social enterprise as a more efficient, outcome-driven, and sustainable means of impact. The Farber Program showed me that while these things are true, they are not easily achieved. Diving deeply into the strengths, weaknesses, goals, and vision of Orion provided a masterclass in how to build a successful organization that creates mutually reinforcing impact in its business and social mission. (Plus, I got to spend the summer reacquainting myself with my hometown of Auburn, WA where Orion’s main facility is located.)

When Steve was given a chance to speak at his graduation, his advice to fellow program participants was to believe in yourself. He credited Orion with building his self-esteem and confidence so that he could succeed in the workplace. Social enterprises like Orion are transforming individuals every day, and I hope to continue to be a part of that transformation after business school.

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