Book Notes: An Army of Problem Solvers

Book Notes: An Army of Problem Solvers

My quick and sloppy notes from reading An Army of Problem Solvers by Shawn Loney. A fantastic book about social enterprises in Canada.

Ch 1

He sees people spend welfare checks on expensive junk food. But in that he also sees competition. He calls it the "upside of down" that because people are spending all their money on one thing there is room to disrupt.

Author cofounded the social enterprise Aki Energy

The Social Enterprise Centre houses many good organizations

Ch 2

Solutions economy is about solving social/environmental problems with market forces

Social enterprise - non profit that's self funded

Social entrepreneur - profit seeking but also focused on social issues (idk about this one)

Gov has a place but it's not to fix everything

Ch 3

"Residential" schools in Canada are awful for First Nations people

First Nations students are sent there and not treated well

Author describes history and challenges First Nations people have faced

Ch 4

No food to buy in one of the First Nations areas he visited. Even with a pocket full of cash.

Lets of diabetes plague First Nations people

Author started a social enterprise farm

Author says employed people tend to be happy and healthy

Gov should be helping the problem solvers

Ch 5

The gov won't help fund geothermal energy for new houses even though it would help the poor.

Gov should be working with problem solvers not blocking them.

Ch 6

For profit food by giant corporations has perverse incentives (aka they try to make money not just feed everyone)

As much as 90% of the cost of food is from energy

What if we required schools and hospitals to buy local food? It would have some higher upfront costs but would greatly help the community.

Summary: If goal was people over profit then food production would look very different.

Ch 7

BUILD is a Winnipeg social enterprise that provides on the job training.

Described how The legal system spends millions on repeat offenders without helping them much.

Government could get first dibs on procurement contracts to social enterprises

Low income families rent and have high utility bills. They can't take advantage of subsidy to install energy efficient toilet b/c they don't own the toilet and the landlord has no incentive to let them.

Ch 8

Some examples of social entrepreneurs and talk about Ashoka foundation

Ch 9

Think long term to solve problems, GDP is short term

GPI - Genuine Progress Indicator is an alternative

Ch 10

M-KOPA installs cheap solar in Kenya

Kiva - empowers people to give loans to those in need

Complementary currencies (aka local currency) ensue money stays in economy

Brazilian city Curitiba offered free bus tokens for picking up trash

"Garden Hills Bucks" could be possible and author describes how it could be used for First Nations

Ch 11

The gov throws money at problems rather than problem solvers. Basically saying they often address symptoms rather than causes.

Author is a big fan of the pay-as-you-save model of funding things like new toilets or heating systems

"The future of philanthropy is social enterprise"

More government doesn't really mean more problems solved but more social enterprises does

Ch 13

In favor of $15 min wage

80% of minimum wage earners in Manitoba are over 20 years old

Minimum wage earners generally not in manufacturing so jobs don't just "go to China"

Ch 14

Left and Right can agree on social enterprises being good


Lets create solutions

My thoughts

I liked the book a lot. It wasn't perfectly written or organized but it really got me thinking about the role of markets. It's interesting that the author advocates for them so heavily despite that they clearly don't solve things on their own. We live in a world where the profit is seen as so important and it's not clear how to change that. The author thinks problems can be fixed by social enterprises which are basically nonprofits that self fund. But it's not super clear to me how we encourage people to start and run them. I guess that's why he wrote this book. It's also a bit of a hard pill to swallow to accept that maybe to have a big impact you shouldn't be at a big org but rather solving things on a local level.

Photo by Andrey Metelev on Unsplash