“High risk, high reward” has been the mantra for many an entrepreneur. It certainly is for MOD Pizza, a company that took a risk on hiring ex-con Tony D’Aloia back in 2011. Recently released from prison, Tony was struggling to find a job and unsure of what being a part of the community would entail. He begrudgingly accepted an open dishwasher position at MOD Pizza, a decision that would irrevocably change both his life and the company. The rewards would prove enormous for both parties.

Though the stigma of prison often prevents employers from hiring formerly incarcerated individuals, businesses like MOD Pizza, Dave’s Killer Bread, and Homeboy Industries have all capitalized on this symbiotic relationship. While these companies are helping to alleviate a social ill by hiring an underrepresented demographic, the individuals they bring onboard often bring a passion and dedication to the job that’s extremely rare for an average employer to come by — these are no pity hires.

A steady job and employer support may help the formerly incarcerated rebuild their lives after prison, but the most fruitful aspect of this phenomenon is the strong community that it fosters. Hiring formerly incarcerated workers helps them become contributing members of society and get back on their feet. In fact, this special bond often extends beyond the hiring process and into daily life.

For example, the term “MODness,” which developed out of that first “risky” hire, is now a core element of the MOD Pizza brand. The company found that MODness — an act that spreads happiness — has a reciprocal effect. Employees that are historically overlooked by more conventional businesses are given ownership and responsibility for their lives and careers, and the confidence this inspires certainly shows. It’s a pay-it-forward mentality that has spread throughout the company in myriad ways. 

One employee, for example, experienced the MODness of his colleagues when they all pitched in to replace his work-commute bike that had been stolen. Others made sure their fellow co-worker had a place to stay when he was living in bouts of homelessness — an act of kindness that undoubtedly helped him become the successful multi-store manager he is today. Meanwhile, the company as a whole has instituted many programs over the years to maintain this community-oriented spirit, such as providing housing for local employees during the Houston floods or establishing resources, such as the Bridge Fund, that endow employees with financial support during times of crisis.

This speaks to the possibilities of a new business frontier. Once upon a time, profit was seen as the sole driving force behind a business. Today, there’s a shift: even huge corporations such as JP Morgan Chase, IBM, and BlackRock have come together with the knowledge that being socially and politically active is important. MOD Pizza started out as a small business, but thanks to its socially-conscious operating structure (particularly the mutually beneficial relationship between employer and employees), they are growing exponentially. There is a future in impact hiring, one that benefits the entire community.