Social capital, social context and social networks. Dr. Sarah Jack has always been interested in understanding how relationships between individuals contribute to entrepreneurship. The issue of context is increasingly important. Understanding the local setting is a condition to understanding global entrepreneurship, according to Sarah.
The office at the Stockholm School of Economics, at the adjacent annex at Saltmätargatan, looks bare. The room is fully furnished with a sofa, a desk and shelves, but the usual piles of papers and books that have come to be synonymous with university offices are missing.
– No, it’s not because I’m new here. Usually, I may have some more working material, but I’m a light traveler, as it’s called, Sarah Jack says.
It’s not the first time that the newly installed professor at SSE has received comments about her office beeing unusually empty.
Sarah Jack joined SSE in September of 2017. She is the first to hold the Jacob and Marcus Wallenberg Chair in Sustainable and Innovative Business Development at the Stockholm School of Economics. The professorship is focused on research on long term development of firms, business management, leadership and how firms can create sustainable growth through innovation and sustainable investments. Sarah Jack will conduct some teaching, to pass on new knowledge to students. However, most of her time here will be devoted to research.
As we meet for the interview, Sarah has just lectured to a group of Master students. Sarah Jack’s impression is that the students at SSE are “lovely” – very interested and committed.
– It’s exciting that the group is so international, and that they bring experiences from different parts of the world, she says.
It fits Jack well; her research concerns the social context; in its broadest meaning.
– I research anything that starts with the word social; social capital, social innovations, social entrepreneurship, social networks, she says, smiling.
The interest in how relationships between individuals contribute to entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial spirit has been part of Sarah’s life since forever. She was raised in the countryside along the Scottish coast.
– There, I experienced the importance of entrepreneurship for people’s access to work first hand. The private sector gives back to society through taxes and jobs, and adds new knowledge, she says.
Before Sarah Jack pursued her PhD she did work in both the private and public sectors. Amongst other things for the Atomic Energy Authority, which let half of the 3000 employees go overnight. At the same time, the number of employed people grew in the local private sector. When Sarah decided to go back to academia, she wanted to conduct research about the environment that “was close to home”; she returned to where she was raised.
– I had a business administration degree, and wanted to study how entrepreneurship influences, and is influenced in return, by the social context in rural areas. Social capital is important for entrepreneurship, and in rural areas people have strong social ties that are important for your opportunitiy to start and develop a business. It is also clearer what influences entrepreneurship in a more limited area, such as a small town.
According to Sarah Jack, it is crucial to sustainable business survival how firms can embed in the local society, and how they can give and take from the social context.
– We need to better understand and tell these stories to increase awareness among students. It’s like the students here at SSE; they will become leaders of firms active across the world. They need to understand that things work differently, in different parts of the world.
Sarah Jack’s dissertation The Role and Nature of Networking in the Entrepreneurial Process was published in 2002. It led to a thorough career as a researcher with positions at the University of Aberdeen, and a professorship in entrepreneurship and an assignment as the Director at the Department of Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Innovation at Lancaster University. She has also work as an editor and is a member of the editorial boards for a number of scientific journals such as Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice and the Journal of Business Venturing.
– I never saw myself as an academic, I saw myself as a teacher. It was what I studied during my Bachelor. But now I’m thankful to be able to do what I do, she says.
The Swedish and Scandinavian research community in entrepreneurship acted as an extra attractive force when Sarah Jack was asked to join the Stockholm School of Economics as a professor. Carin Holmquist, Bengt Johannisson and Hans Landström are all cited in her thesis.
– The Scandinavian research community is internationally renown. I have followed their research for many years.
From the perspective of the Stockholm School of Economics, there is a will to work with social innovation and entrepreneurship, according to Jack.
– I believe there is room to strengthen the entrepreneurship and innovation group here. And I hope that I can contribute by adding experiences from my international network, too, is what she answers to the questions of what she wants to achieve in her new role.
After almost exactly half a year in Sweden she finds it difficult to compare the research environments in Great Britain and Sweden.
– The systems are very different. An stiking difference is that research results are measured and evaluated to much larger degree in Great Britain. You really need to be able to demonstrate the influence your research have on society.
Jack has had to prove that local citizens have changed a certain behavior – as a result of the new insights that her research has generated. It means that there is an expectation that research findings are communicated to the wider society and lead to measurable behavioral changes in a foreseeable future.
– The performance-based system has never been a problem for me. I’m raised in it. The system is clear, you know what goals to achieve, and thus you know where to go and strive for. But I can see that some younger people struggle with it, also in Great Britan, although they have been raised inside of that system.
– I like that there are channels like ESBRI here, where you can disseminate your research to a wider audience than the one I can reach at the university, she says.
In more recent years, Sarah Jack has started to look at historical research, on how firms emerge over time.
– It’s interesting, and I like the fact that what we do today is dependent on what has been done before. It shapes our future. Right now, I’m studying the Spanish transport firm Seur, to see how it has developed over time, with network bricolage as the theoretical grounding.
Seur was established in a political and economic unstable climate but was able to grow through its relationships. The firm used the resources they had on hand. If you had a car, you were the one to deliver the package, so to speak.
– For the future, I find the global challenges exciting. The context grows in importance; you cannot take something that has been developed in the West and think that it will work in Africa. It should lead to major organizational changes and influence business models.
This article was originally published in Entré, written by Anna-Karin Florén. Translated by SSES.