Mathias Karlsson

"We must try to think in new ways about how we want to live our lives"

Mathias Karlsson conducts research on the relationship between entrepreneurship and societal change. His dissertation on IKEA’s initiative with social entrepreneurs has contributed to an increased understanding of how a certain form of entrepreneurship is carried out out by devoted, responsible and keen individuals, which in turn leads to more responsible societal change.

You conduct research in business administration and in your dissertation you combine ethnography and philosophy. What is it more concretely that you do research on?

“I’m primarily interested in ethic and existential aspects of entrepreneurship. This can be a wide range of questions. For instance, how can you practice entrepreneurship in a responsible way? What does responsibility entail? How can entrepreneurship lead to improved conditions of life for those involved? What are the limitations and dangers of having too much faith in entrepreneurship? However, in addition to working with these slightly more philosophical questions, I also want to spend time in the field to learn from other people and take part of their real-life experience and practices”.

Your dissertation focuses on how entrepreneurship can lead to societal change. How can it contribute to a more sustainable world? Would you like to explain what this means?

“Humanity is currently facing many global and local challenges, like increasing climate changes, increasing economic divides, and a range of social tensions. Most things indicate that we cannot continue living our lives like we do today. Therefore, we must come up with new ways of living our lives and come up with more sustainable products and services. In addition to taking responsibility for how we live our lives as citizens, we must also be innovative and creative and this is where entrepreneurship enters the picture. In other words, how can entrepreneurs come up with responsible and sustainable solutions to the challenges of our time at the specific location on which they are active? That’s a question that interests me”.

What’s the hardest thing about working with social entrepreneurship? Do you have any tips to offer?

“The social entrepreneurs that I have met have noticed a great number of different challenges. How to solve funding when their objective primarily is to create a better society? How to measure and conform their impact? How to convince involved actors that societal change takes time and requires patience?”

“Another aspect that I’ve seen in my research is that it is hard to maintain the energy at the personal level. How can you keep up the energy when there seems to be no stop to injustices like poverty and poor life conditions? In my dissertation, I discuss, among other things, that humor and not taking yourself too seriously can help you keep up when things are rough. I also discuss the idea of that staying true to a perception of what is good (whatever that may be) can make your life seem meaningful and give you energy to continue struggling despite the challenges you face”.

You have received Handelsbanken’s Wallander Scholarship which means that you can conduct research full-time for three years. What will you do during these three years?

“My ambition is to further deepen my knowledge on the questions above. That’s the type of research that I’m passionate about and I have a sense that we will not be able to create a perfect world any time soon. More concretely, I’m writing on a number of different research articles. Lately, I have also closely studied the work of Swedish philosopher Martin Hägglund. It would be interesting to apply his ideas and reasoning to the subject of entrepreneurship as they are linked to the idea that we must try to think in new ways about how we want to live our lives”.

“I also take part in the research project Leadership and entrepreneurship in Småland, LEIS, where I’m part of a group of researchers who study four different entrepreneurial initiatives that explicitly want to contribute to a more sustainable world”.