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Innovative and impactful

Social enterprises are gaining traction in Tulsa

Taco from T-Town Tacos

Georgia Brooks

After the contentious 2016 election, Sofia Noshay wanted to do something to help bring the Tulsa community together. So, she came up with a social enterprise idea, Jujuu, which highlights local businesses doing good work.

“There seemed to be a lot of negative energy at the time,” she said. “The idea was to provide opportunities to raise money and then be able to donate it back to the Foundation for Tulsa Schools and public education in Oklahoma.”

What originally started as the selling of greeting cards has transformed into the giving of boxes filled with products from social enterprises and nonprofit organizations.

“We honed in on doing gift boxes, with the focus on as many local companies as possible, to showcase those within Tulsa, Oklahoma, and beyond with social giving and social entrepreneurship that exists within our community,” Noshay said.

Jujuu is just one of several social enterprises—defined as organizations that use business principles to generate revenue in order to solve social issues—springing up around Tulsa.

A social enterprise can be a nonprofit entity, i.e. it can have a revenue stream through grants, but it should use business principles to generate revenue, according to Natalie Deuschle, director of grants and impact at the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation (LTFF).

“With all the cuts that are happening or have happened for a long time now to social services and education, I think a lot of foundations are feeling strapped to fill that gap, so, from my perspective, social enterprise is an opportunity for people who want to create change in their community and don’t want to rely on complete funding from foundations,” she said. “They can create revenue streams to support their social focus, the outcome they’re trying to pursue.”

Tulsa, she said, could be an ideal place to start a social enterprise, because it’s a good city for launching ideas.

“People in Tulsa are really willing to talk to you. They’re nice here. I think people have conversations with people, whereas in other cities, people might not be as open to giving their time,” she said. “The challenges here are that [social enterprise is] just so new people don’t really know about it, so maybe it’s access to best practices.”

To build upon the interest of social enterprises in Tulsa, LTFF’s The Tulsa Start-Up Series, an annual startup competition, launched a social enterprise category, which received about 30 applications during its initial run.

“We need more opportunities for people to come and share their social enterprise ideas and get support from the community,” Deuschle said. “It’s not just the capital, but they got feedback from the panel of judges. Just making social enterprise more visible makes people realize it’s an option for them.”

Initially worried they might not get as many applications for this category, the foundation ended up receiving just as many as they had for others.

Other resources for individuals looking to start a social enterprise in Tulsa include Kiva Tulsa, which helps people gain access to capital with a zero-percent interest rate.

One of the main benefits of social enterprise, Deuschle emphasized, is that people can try disruptive ideas without many expectations or repercussions.

“Whereas in a nonprofit with a board with certain expectations, they want to see certain impact every year, and the nonprofit maybe can’t be bold and try something new the way a social enterprise could say, ‘We have a brand new idea. We don’t have a lot of capital, so we can be high-risk and super innovative,’” she said.

During a recent event at 36 Degrees North, New York City-based social entrepreneur Ibada Wadud spoke about her experience founding the social enterprise Run by Rural in Peru. She said it’s critical to ask people what they need, because at the end of the day, if an idea doesn’t have substance, it’s just an idea.

“It’s about being transformers—transforming problems into opportunities,” she said.

A sampling of social enterprises in Tulsa

A subscription-based service that delivers a mix of pads, tampons, and liners to women in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the interest of female empowerment and bettering the lives of women and girls. dollhermonthlyclub.com

Our Troops Consignment and More, Our Troops Services
A veteran-owned and -operated consignment shop and landscaping service. 11118 E. Admiral Blvd. facebook.com/ourtroopscm, ourtroopsok.com

Take 2 Café
Operated by Resonance Center for Women, this café employs former women prisoners transitioning back into society. It features salads, soups, sandwiches, spuds, cake, and pie for dine-in, carryout, or delivery. 309 S. Main St. take2tulsa.com

T-Town Tacos
Youth Services of Tulsa provides education, health and safety, and financial stability to Tulsa’s at-risk and homeless youth through employment with their taco cart. Locations throughout downtown Tulsa. t-towntacos.com