Oscar Ohlström

The rational activist with dreams of social change

October 25, 2018 - Interviews

Oscar Ohlström is the entrepreneurial fanatic, with a degree in global development studies, who’s been running service operations in the restaurant industry, and is SE Forum’s current intern. Most recently, Oscar worked with fundraising and communications as Doctors Without Borders and he is studying a master’s degree in operations management at the moment so is using his internship semester to support us with the project planning and strategic partnership acquisition for the GATHER Fellowship programme we’ll be running in 2019.

We interrupted his busy schedule to ask about his take on social entrepreneurship, his thoughts on the future, and what his SE Forum experience has been like so far.


Hey Oscar, why the interest in social entrepreneurship?

I love combining social development with sustainable economic solutions – it’s like being a rational and constructive activist!

You have a degree in development studies, what is your take on business for social good?

This may be slightly controversial, but coming from a background in development studies, I would definitely want to tell everyone in the private sector that old CSR strategies are nothing more than pointless philanthropy and that you need to make social good an integrated part of your business operations today.

I know that many are already on top of doing genuine business for good but to those who are not, I would argue that social equality should be part of your customer acquisition process and that your environmental protection should be part of your long-term survival strategy by mitigating your supply chain risks and sustaining your market’s purchasing power.

What has your time at SE Forum been like so far?

My internship has fairly recently started but I also had the opportunity to work on the GATHER Fellowship programme last spring and it was a total blast! I think everyone should have the opportunity to learn and work in an environment that is aligned with their intrinsic motivation. It simply makes life exciting. The SE Forum team is also an amazing team to work with and I have room to leverage my competences and skills in the work that I am doing.

Overall, getting involved in social entrepreneurship has been like jumping into a loving relationship with communication issues – everything I knew from my background in the development and non-profit sector could translate into business. It’s been a fun and eye-opening epiphany!

One of my key realisations has been that good sustainable development initiatives share all the characteristics of a social venture implementing a great customer acquisition strategy. It’s cost effective, scalable and it reaches the right customer – in this case, target groups. Different language, but same objectives.

What’s been some of your key learnings so far since starting with SE Forum?

Working with project delivery has helped me identify what I’m really good at. To use my people skills, my previous experience from the service industry and my ability to think outside the box has proven amazingly useful when delivering great incubator programmes for social entrepreneurs. I would also like to thank Fiona [Hazell] for her guidance, mentoring support and for being an awesome programme director – you rock Fiona!

Tell us a bit more about your future plans, ambitions and dreams – what’s on the table?

Spending time at SE Forum has made me realise that I want to work towards making social change a given objective across the private sector, as well as overcoming the post-colonial funding structures in traditional development aid by working on economic sustainable solutions in the sector. I believe economic sustainability can drive social development and that social development can sustain long-term economic growth. It’s the most difficult simple thing ever!

In the near future, I would like to keep delivering amazing programmes for social entrepreneurs. Hopefully, having the opportunity to work with the actual delivery of next year’s GATHER Fellowship incubator that SE Forum is hosting here in Stockholm in April 2019.

For my studies, I would like to dig deeper into the operational structures surrounding the social innovation ecosystem in Sweden by writing my master’s thesis on the subject, so if anyone’s sitting on a great topic for a thesis, then please let me know!

When it comes to future ambitions, I wish to be the best enabler of social change that I can be – whatever that means!

My dream is to sit amongst my grandchildren, telling them the story about a dark time in human history when some people had more money than they could possibly spend, while others did not have food for the day, and we were all going to die due to human-made climate change. My dream is to know that we overcame that stupidity. My dream is to create a sustainable world in which everyone has the opportunity to invest in their own future.

Speaking about dreams, you have recently also co-founded a nonprofit named Global Välfärd! What’s that all about?

Global Välfärd is all about empowering social businesses, in low-income countries, that are selling amazing products to eradicate poverty in their own communities. We are building a website to help them reach more affluent markets with their poverty fighting products. This is ‘Trade Against Poverty’ going 21st century – thank you global broadband penetration!

The services we aim to provide to these ventures are:

  • Understanding market demand, by empowering social businesses with knowledge to understand market dynamics when entering a new market.
  • Channelling their unique selling point, by making it easy for social businesses to communicate their social mission to re-sellers, so the re-sellers can use it for marketing purposes.
  • Order handling, by making it easy for social businesses to receive, process and track orders placed by re-sellers.
  • Communications, by making communication easy between social businesses and re-sellers.
  • Payments, by making payments between social businesses and re-sellers easy, fast and with minimum friction.
  • Advocacy, by telling the world about the importance of trade as a vehicle for social change and poverty reduction.

The aim is to pilot the concept next spring so if you want to get involved, then do get in touch!

Finally, tell us something about yourself that we might not know!

I’m an avid surfer. There is simply nothing more special and humbling than harvesting ocean power for joy. Power created thousands of miles away by natural weather cycles. It’s the highest form of meditation as it keeps you in the present for hours while you are having fun. “Surfing is such an amazing concept. You’re taking on Nature with a little stick and saying, ‘I’m gonna ride you!’, and a lot of times Nature says, ‘No you’re not!’ and crashes you to the bottom!, as Jolene Blalock would say!