Meet an L3 Activator: Mark Shields

Tuesday, February 16, 2021
by Zainab Ashraf

This interview is part one of a series of interviews with L3 Community members in the Activation stream. The L3 Community is a fast-evolving group of stakeholders that are involved in designing, delivering, or supporting products, services, and initiatives that will enable social acquisitions in their own communities and contexts. Members in the Community’s Activation stream aim raise interest around Canada in building systemic support for social acquisitions and social purpose conversions. We spoke with Mark Shields about his work in Business Link, his experience as a L3 Activation member and how the two intersect towards the larger goal of building systems to support social acquisition.

Mark Shields

Mark Shields is on the strategist team at Business Link, a non-profit based in Alberta that provides a support system for businesses to start and grow. Business Link provides one-on-one support and guidance, market research, access to experts, training, networking opportunities, and specialized support for Indigenous entrepreneurs.

What aspect of social acquisition interests you the most? How do you work with that in your role as an Activator?

I have a strong interest in the cooperative structure and the idea of figuring out ways to change standard business structures when it comes to business structures. I have worked in a handful of co-ops here (in Alberta) which has familiarized me to the process of social acquisition. This interest in a social purpose organization is what drew me to L3, and when I met the Project Manager Meg Ronson we spoke more about cooperative structures and social purpose organizations which sparked my interest further. I began learning more about L3 and how it fit into what I was doing with Business Link here.

At Business Link, we help all businesses similarly – whether they are cooperatives, non-profits, or not. But through my role as an Activator, I see Business Link as having a role in broadening the message about social acquisition structures. For example, the social acquisition seed can be planted in the startups we mostly deal with. These questions are always helpful in making our clients think about their business structures: How does your business lifespan looks like? What does your five-year plan look like? What’s your business’s exit plan? I think that the social acquisition is the most likely way to have a positive economic outcome. I see a really important role for it to play over the next 10 years in my role as an activator at L3 and a strategist at Business Link.

How has your role as an Activator benefitted your community/business?

While we are in the process of absorbing and implementing the knowledge around social acquisition, I suppose my own perspective on how we can engage clients has been broadened. Being part of the Activation stream and hearing the different perspectives of other members has been helpful in learning more about the different ways we can engage our communities. The collaboration with different members of the Activation group has helped me understand the larger ecosystem of support that exists, which I can apply to my work with clients. Though social acquisition is not always relevant to our clientele in Business Link (since they are new businesses), being in the Activation stream has helped increase the different ways in which we can engage with our clients.

For instance, we as business providers are often focused on that growth and sustainability side, rather than describing the full cycle of businesses.

What are some insights you suggested to L3 from your experience? How did that insight turn into a knowledge product/resource for the Design stream?

A lot of conversations I’ve been a part of are about the need for more professional service providers to be equipped with the knowledge of social purpose organizations and social acquisitions. We run many programs at Business Link that support clients in terms of legal or accounting help. Having people specialize in those realms can help clients towards a more well-rounded approach.

What is something you picked up during the quarantine of 2020? How does that reflect your values or your personality?

I think the thing would have to be cycling. Iit was prompted by a good friend of mine from school days who decided to do this 600-kilometer ride during the month of August on a bike starting from zero kilometers! I am also fascinated by the consistent design of the bicycle which has not been improved upon from decades. The functioning of the bike serves its purpose with its existing model. The innovative, growth mindset does not apply necessarily to the (functioning) of the bike.

About Legacy Leadership Lab (L3)

L3 is an 18-month initiative by the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience, funded by the Government of Canada’s Investment Readiness program. We are leading online workshops and events to help build expert-driven solutions for Canada’s transitioning small business community. The L3 Community is developing and activating market interventions and prototypes that allow conventional and social finance players, business service providers, and community leaders to facilitate social acquisitions of existing businesses in their own towns and contexts.

About Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR)

WISIR is a research institute at the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development committed to generating trans- and inter-disciplinary knowledge about social innovations and the social innovation process (the dynamics of learning, adaptation and resilience). Our approach is to pursue collaborative research and projects that bridge University of Waterloo departments, involve researchers from around the world, and engage those beyond academia. We seek to mobilize this knowledge through a range of new curriculum offerings and training opportunities - both within and outside of a university setting.