Social entrepreneurs drive meaningful economic change

Shaun Loney is one of the speakers at the Hopeful Economics: Leadership & Innovation Summit in Vancouver April 21-22. 

Shaun Loney is the author of the best-selling "An Army of Problem Solvers: Reconciliation and the Solutions Economy." Photo courtesy the Hopeful Economics Summit.

I come from Manitoba where we have 8,900 indigenous kids in care. Manitoba also has the highest recidivism rates in the country – fully 75 per cent of inmates, when they get out of jail, are back in contact with the justice system within 2 years. 

In Manitoba, we pay more for fossil fuels than we do in provincial income taxes and 75 per cent of our healthcare expenditures are on diseases where diet is the main risk factor.

These problems are not unique to Manitoba. All over the country, communities are struggling with poverty, social inequity, crime and rising health costs. What is causing these problems and what can be done about them?

Some governments think more taxes and more government are the answer. Others say that there is too much government and if we had less government, corporations would be able to meet our environmental, material and social needs. Both of these views have proven to be epic failures.  

The largest success in meaningful economic change have come from what I refer to as our “problem solvers,” social entrepreneurs  as well as people in the small farm movement.

The business sector learned long ago that there is nothing more transformational than a good idea in the hands of an entrepreneur. 

It’s time now to make these good ideas about social and environmental change. People like Elon Musk of Tesla have dedicated their lives to transformative economic change.  Other examples of social entrepreneurs would include the owners of solar or insulation companies whose business acumen have transformed an industry.

Problem solvers in the small farm movement are increasing access to fresh, unprocessed food while cutting down on fossil fuel usage by using locally-produced manure or compost, rather than importing energy intensive pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.  

Social enterprises are non-profit business that use market solutions to meet strong social or environmental mandates. Social entrepreneurs measure business success not just by growth and financial returns to shareholders but by what we refer to as the triple or even quadruple bottom line. 

Triple bottom line goals are economic, social and ecological. The quadruple bottom line refers to spiritual or emotional impacts.

I’ve helped co-found or mentor now 12 different social enterprises in Manitoba, Toronto and St. Johns. Together we have 250 people on our payrolls who wouldn’t otherwise have access to employment. 

In Manitoba, it’s mostly indigenous men with criminal records, no grade 12, no work experience, and no hope. Over the last 10 years they have lowered utility bills at 17,000 low income households saving over $4 million a year in water, electricity and natural gas.  

As Van Jones, the popular American green jobs crusader says – “the defining issue of our time is connecting the people who most need the work with the work that most needs to be done.”

Scotland has surely figured this out. They now have 1500 social enterprises who hire people with barriers to employment. They have the same population as British Columbia.  Imagine what would happen to poverty, inner-city unemployment, child apprehension, and incarceration rates if there were jobs for everyone who needed them.

Unfortunately, our current governments make it very hard for problem solvers. Social enterprises who hire people with barriers to employment get no special treatment in government tendering process, despite that fact that we save them money.

First Nation farms on diabetes-ravaged First Nations get no government supports while retailers who sell mostly unhealthy food get access to millions. Indigenous non-profits who have come up with innovative and cost-effective ways to keep families together have no resources but dollars for child  apprehension r continue to climb.

The good news is that a new problem-solving paradigm is emerging. Problem solvers have shown it can be done despite government. Now it’s time to scale the solutions.  We can’t afford not to.  

About the Author

Shaun Loney is the author of the best-selling An Army of Problem Solvers:  Reconciliation and the Solutions Economy (

He is an Ashoka Fellow (first on Canadian Prairies) and winner of Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Shaun’s work is based out of the Social Enterprise Centre in Winnipeg’s north end.   


Shaun will be at Hopeful Economics: Leadership & Innovation Summit in Vancouver April 21-22. 

More from Shaun Loney

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