An Army of Problem Solvers – a book review

Sometimes a book comes along so chock-full of tasty ideas that you just want to pass it around for everybody to sample. An Army of Problem Solvers is one of those books.

The book was written by Shaun Loney who was Director of Energy Policy for the Government of Manitoba. His life has taken some interesting turns and led him into a world of being a founder of numerous social enterprises. This in itself makes the book worth reading. He clearly has an insiders view of government while also having boots-on-the-ground experience with real world problem solving.

Although the book focuses on Manitoba’s Indigenous communities, it could apply equally well to many problems and communities around the world. Problems of economic inequity, incarceration rates, poor political processes, and band-aid solutions are endemic throughout the world. Loney offers up some great ideas on changing approaches backed up with successful experiences.

An Army of Problem Sovlers is only 150 pages long, but is wide ranging. It opens with a description of some of the problems – nutrition, health problems, costly food monopolies, incarceration, reconciliation and the ongoing effects of the Residential Schools. It then moves into some concrete problem solving via social enterprises. These can range from farming on reserves to energy-saving initiatives in Winnipeg and further to installation of geothermal and solar systems by small organizations that are invested in local communities.

Solving Problems

Loney spends considerable time talking about corrections systems reform. These enterprises frequently hire offenders who nobody else will hire. And the vast majority successfully turn their lives around, given the opportunity. The enterprises go beyond what any corporation would do by offering training to help people get driver’s licenses, and learn better parenting skills. Re-incarceration rates among Indigenous people in Manitoba run at about 70% but at BUILD (one of the social enterprises) that rate is around 20%.

Loney makes it clear that these are cost-saving enterprises. Improving nutrition reduces healthcare costs. Reducing incarceration reduces prison costs. Improving insulation and energy generation reduces energy costs. And he makes a very good argument for government funding of enterprises such as these because of the short and long term benefits.

Sustainable Solutions

One very interesting point that stands out is the idea that “There is no cause for poverty”. Think cold and heat – the cause of cold is, essentially, the lack of heat. So it is with poverty – it is basically an absence of prosperity. It is an important shift in how we think about problem-solving. The way to solve poverty issues is not to throw money at “fixing” the problem but to create opportunities and prosperity. In doing so, we save money and create sustainability.

The book wraps up with a number of short chapters on global initiatives (such as micro-loans), re-inventing how we measure prosperity (GDP is not the best system), the Uber phenomenon, and how politics needs to change and adapt to a solution-driven model.

For a short book, it contains a lot of positive and optimistic ideas. I highly recommend it.

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