Exploring the Upside of Down with Shaun Loney


Shaun Loney is a man on a social mission.

Shaun Loney, Aki Energy

Shaun Loney is a social entrepreneur on a mission –  to recruit an army to solve a world of social challenges…he just wants Government to get the heck out of the way! Shaun is on a promotional book tour for An Army of Problem Solvers – Reconciliation and the Solutions Economy which came out recently and, while I’m waiting for a copy to arrive in the mail, was pleased to hear him speak on CBC’s The Current with Anna Maria Tremonte.

Here’s a link to the interview – essential listening if you are involved in or are considering a social enterprise or, if you want to explore the relationship between First Nations reconciliation and the economy.

In the interview, Loney shares the experience of Winnipeg-based Aki Energy where he and his colleagues have launched several impressive social enterprises in energy, construction and food production – each with measurable social impact.1-geothermal-installation-at-peguis-first-nation


Compounding social benefits: geothermal installations at Peguis First Nation in Manitoba drive community economic development.

Much of Aki’s focus is on tackling poverty faced by First Nations on reserve and in the city. For as much praise as they have received for their intelligent and targeted approaches, their projects have paradoxically met with hard-to-imagine interference from the Federal Government. That is, until you consider the colonial legacy of the Indian Agent. “Canadians can’t expect to have reconciliation if we continue to suppress local economies through structures that go back to colonialism and are founded in the Indian Act.”

In terms of social finance, a core concept from the interview is what Loney calls “the upside of down”. The concept refers to the silver lining of any problem, or the opportunity within the challenge. What I liked about Loney’s example — high food prices at Garden Hill First Nation – was the implicit economic opportunity. High food prices met by a cost competitive social enterprise means the social enterprise has a chance at breaking even and being sustainable. While I admire social enterprises in general, they are not always underpinned by an economic opportunity to lower a cost or improve a service — two things required for a business to survive.

At the end of the interview, I found myself thinking: social enterprise is coming of age. Surely this is instructive to organizations who have launched or are thinking about launching a social enterprise to diversify revenue sources and improve on mission delivery.

My question to you: What do you consider essential to the success of a social enterprise?