Former Chief of his home community Garden Hill First Nation, Darcy Woods is a Co-Founder and Executive Director of Aki Energy, as well as the CEO of Aki Foods Inc. Previously, Darcy worked as a Senior Policy Analyst in the housing and infrastructure department of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and for Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada at both the Manitoba region and Federal levels. He has spent years developing relationships with First Nations which continues to guide the work we do.
Co-Founder of Aki Energy, Shaun Loney is a Ashoka Fellow and Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year (2014). He has co-founded and mentored 11 social enterprises including BUILD Inc. Shaun was Director of Energy Policy for the Government of Manitoba (2002-2008) and a political advisor to Garry Doer’s NDP (1997-2002). He has written two books chronicling the rise of social enterprise development including ‘An Army of Problem Solvers’ and ‘The Beautiful Bailout’.
As Project Manager of Aki Energy, Kalen has worked with First Nations across Manitoba to create local jobs through renewable energy and food sovereignty. Since 2011, Kalen has authored a number of major research papers on community-wide retrofit programs and Pay As You Save financing programs, including an international study of PAYS approached and a national report looking at the potential for PAYS programs to empower First Nations community-owned energy development. Prior to 2016, she also was the project lead for Aki Food’s food projects.
Along with Shaun Loney, Darcy Wood and Kalen Taylor, our other founding members of Aki Energy Inc. include: Sam Murdock, Russ Courchone and Lucas Stewart, who share the common goal of promoting employment and economic development for Indigenous people in Canada.
Co-founded in 2013 by Darcy Woods, Shaun Loney, Kalen Taylor, and Sam Murdock, the team uses an “upside to down” approach while envisioning a series of opportunities in a system that is desperately broken. Instead of poorly spent government money, we saw ample opportunity for smarter investment - starting with creating jobs for an already ample workforce.
Aki Energy trains local community members to install, maintain and troubleshoot geothermal units. Not only does this method create jobs, it also lowers heating and cooling costs up to 75% - all while enabling First Nation money to stay within the community, therefore boosting the local economy.
Within our first three years of production, Aki Energy and our partners installed $6 million worth of energy efficient geothermal energy systems in 350 homes on four different First Nation’s in Canada.
In 2015, the Fisher River Cree Nation and the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba signed agreements with Aki Energy and Manitoba Hydro to complete an additional $14 million worth of geothermal systems. These First Nation’s now own the two largest geothermal companies in Western Canada.
In 2016, Kalen Taylor (Co-Founder and Director of Projects) received the Social Innovation Award at the 2016 Startup Canada Awards, recognizing the work Aki Energy facilitated within the renewable energy development project in Indigenous communities in Manitoba.
Founded in 2015, The Meechim Project soon became our next big thing. The project consists of local food movement headed by Garden Hill First Nation, in partnership with Aki Foods. When co-founder Shaun Loney first visited the fly-in community of roughly four-thousand-people, six things soon became clear to him:
There is a large untapped source of labour in Garden Hill.
There is an obvious potential for gardening in Garden Hill.
There is a large market for food that can be diverted away from the monopoly retailers towards community-minded local business.
Community-minded ventures can create jobs by growing and selling locally at prices well below what’s being charged at the monopoly retailer.
Dollars that are being spent now to subsidize the monopoly retailer, that sells mostly unhealthy food, can be immediately diverted to social enterprises dedicated to selling only healthy food.
Dollars that will inevitably be spent on diabetes treatment can be diverted to diabetes prevention now.
The farm now employs 18 local community members, offers a bi-monthly healthy food market, operates a 13 acre farm including a chicken barn and orchard, and facilitates two educational programs where children and young adults learn the importance of eating healthy food, agricultural practices, and small business teachings. Learn more about Farm-to-School or Farm School for Young Adults here.