The Current

Problems can only be solved if we support problem solvers, says entrepreneur Shaun Loney

Social entrepreneur Shaun Loney believes you need to find the problem solvers, not the problems. He shares his practical vision to address issues communities face while transforming lives along the way.
We need to switch our thinking from fighting poverty to creating prosperity, says social entrepreneur Shaun Loney, author of An Army of Problem Solvers. (Suzanne Dufresne/CBC)

Full episode transcript

>> The Disruptors​

Shaun Loney left his bureaucracy-heavy civil servant job in pursuit of a new idea he had - to pull people out of poverty one must create new opportunities out of the very things standing in their way.

The Winnipeg entrepreneur says it's working.

"We can use entrepreneurial tools to solve social problems and environmental problems," Loney tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

According to Loney, social enterprises are economic ventures that solve problems while shying away from government funding.

"In Canada, we believe the defining issue is connecting people who most need the work with the work that most needs to be done," he explains.

Loney co-founded Akki Energy, what he calls a social enterprise incubator, in Manitoba.

"Aki' is an Ojibwe word for Earth and we're doing geothermal on First Nations. But we've started several other social enterprises through it on many other First Nations in Manitoba," Loney tells Tremonti.

"In fact, the two largest geothermal companies in all of Western Canada are social enterprises that we've started, they're employing people where there were no where there was no employment before."

The high utility bills on First Nations was an opportunity, Loney says. By providing renewable energy options that would lower bills significantly, they were able to use some of the bill reductions to pay for the upfront infrastructure costs of geothermal — and thus engaging First Nations communities in an economic development process.

Loney says that they've been able to do seven million dollars worth of geothermal in just three years.

"It's very labor intensive work. So wherever that happens we're employing people from the First Nations themselves."

Loney tells Tremonti that the government generally asks First Nations to apply for funding when it comes to renewable energy and brings in outside companies for those services. 

"There's no economic development in that whole process so we've turned that on its head and said 'why don't we set up utilities'? The First Nations can operate in, and employ folks from their own nations to install their renewable energy, and then use the bill reductions to pay for the up front costs of that infrastructure."


It's an exciting turn of events says Loney but that doesn't mean it hasn't come without some push back.

In May, the government shut down an eight million dollar geothermal project and suggested to apply for funding to get it back running. Loney and co. refuse to do this.

"This is how colonial governments …  do business. They want to maintain control and they don't believe that the First Nation families, Indigenous communities can do anything for themselves."

"And we're showing them quite different."

Loney says his new book, An Army of Problem Solvers: Reconciliation and The Solutions Economy, looks at all the different ways the government gets in the way of progress happening and wants to challenge the government to think beyond the colonial past.

"Let's look at Canada and how it can be in its next 150 years."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by Winnipeg network producer Suzanne Dufresne.