Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Sara Bonizio

USA • Assistant Vice President for Quality Assurance, Work Inc.

MBA '10

Putting People to Work: Social Enterprise

Sara Bonizio, MBA '10, helps her organization move forward in tough economic times

Spring 2011

As Assistant Vice President for Quality Assurance at Work Inc. in Boston, Sara Bonizio, MBA '10, is all about staying true to the organization's core mission -- to provide job training and placement, counseling and other services for people with disabilities. But these days she's also focused on developing new business opportunities for the 45-year-old nonprofit.

"If Work Inc. conformed to the stereotype of the stuck-in-the-mud nonprofit, we wouldn't be here," says Bonizio, a member of the board of the Massachusetts chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance.

Work Inc. has long partnered with federal offices to get people with disabilities jobs as custodians, landscapers, mailroom clerks, couriers and fleet management techs. The organization is New England's leader in contracts from the federal AbilityOne program, which helps thousands of people who are blind or have other severe disabilities find employment. It also provides complete facilities management for the John F. Kennedy Library using a nationally recognized training and apprenticeship model. About half of Work Inc.'s budget has always come from government contracts -- a precarious place to be these days, says Bonizio, which is why the organization has turned to social enterprise.

"With drastic budget cuts in the past three years, we need to make our own business self-sustaining," says Bonizio, who worked as a fundraising consultant before joining the organization last year.

About six years ago, Work Inc. took over a for-profit subsidiary called Facilities Management and Maintenance (FM&M), a private custodial and "green" cleaning company open to individuals who graduate from the AbilityOne program. Any profits the company makes are reinvested in Work Inc. In 2009, FM&M became profitable."In this tough economy, that's saying something," says Bonizio, who is active in new business development for FM&M and the Work Inc. commercial business lines.

"With no margins, there's no mission." So far, that motto is holding up. In 2009 Work Inc. purchased and moved into a new facility double the size of its old one. With about 70 percent of people with disabilities unemployed nationally, the organization hopes to broaden its reach.

"Most people believe that individuals with disabilities are unable to work," says Bonizio. "We're fighting an antiquated mindset. It's a huge challenge to prove that wrong."

However, awareness is on the rise. While still a student at the Heller School, Bonizio was encouraged by the creation of the new Lurie Institute for Disability Policy. She hopes the research conducted there will help educate and engage the public.

"It's an exciting time," says Bonizio. "The life-changing capacity of this work really inspires me."

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