Nina Hjortlund was born in Denmark and has travelled extensively in Europe, lived in the Middle East before settling 13 years in Mwanza, Tanzania. In 2018 she made the decision to relocate to Perth, Australia.
Becoming the Founding Director and CEO for Australia for Cedar Tanzania was the natural continuation of the not-for-profit work she had begun in Tanzania. There was never a doubt in her mind that that was what she was going to do.
In 2020 she extended the business with ARTEFACTZ importing handmade crafts with a modern and timeless design from Tanzania. ARTEFACTZ supports the work of Australia for Cedar Tanzania as well as secures the culture and livelihood of artisans across East Africa.
Through her many years in Africa, and in Tanzania in particular, she has developed an understanding for the multifaceted issues people are facing on a daily basis in the developing world.
Believing in continuous learning she is currently undertaking a MicroMasters at Queensland University in Leadership in Global Development.
We found out a little more about Nina and why she is a firm believer in creating opportunities rather than waiting for them.
Was there a significant turning point when you decided to become an entrepreneur?
I don’t think there was one specific incident that made me become an entrepreneur. I think I have always been entrepreneurial – without really knowing or realizing that I was.
Grabbing opportunities when they presented themselves and having great faith in that I can learn what I don’t know, has paved the way for my entrepreneurial ventures.
Looking back is there a piece of advice you wish to pass onto someone starting out their entrepreneurial journey?
Aim for the stars but keep your feet on the ground.
Don’t be scared to dream big. Don’t be scared to go for it. What is the worst that can happen?
Once you know what worst case scenario could look like, make a plan to soften the blow. You have now made worst case scenario impossible.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Determination – there are going to be times when things are not going to go your way. During these times you will have to rely on your determination and resilience.
Ability to ask for help – you can’t know everything, and there is no need to re-invent the wheel. I have found people generally are very generous and kind if you ask for their help. Save blunders, save time and save energy. Don’t be shy.
Take time to yourself – it is easy to lose yourself completely into your new venture. This is the hardest one for me. To switch off, to go to bed, to not think about work 24/7. My children help me to think about other things too.
Who do you look up to in business? Who inspires you?
Intelligent and wise people inspire me. Great leaders inspire me.
I admire the work of Melinda & Bill Gates. Having the power to distribute incredible amounts of funding also comes with great responsibility.
In an Australian context I think Alan Joyce has handled the last six months extremely well. His industry is one of the industries hit the hardest by the pandemic and he has had some tough decisions to make. Qantas being such an Australian icon and the flagship of the nation, every decision he makes gets noticed.
What was the best advice that you have been given?
Everything is possible. Nothing is impossible. It just takes a little longer.
What do you think your key to success has been?
Determination, focus, pragmatism.
Maybe a little bit of naivety as well. Not always realizing (or overthinking) what the journey will entail but having a goal in mind.
A lot of my success lies with a couple of close people believing in me and supporting me. Being able to listen and take their advice has made the road a lot easier. I am very grateful to have these mentors in my life.
How have you personally measured your success?
To me, success is when all the pieces fits the puzzle. There are many ways to measure success and I always make sure we also celebrate the small goals on the way. Before starting a project, I always discuss what success look like.
Reaching x amount in sales, getting x number of children vaccinated in a month, or written and submitted x amount of grant applications in a period. Celebrate these goals. Adjust and discuss why a goal hasn’t been reached, celebrate the parts that went well and learn from the bits that wasn’t as successful. Maybe the bar was set too high? Maybe the goal was unrealistic? Or maybe something can be improved to make the goal achievable next time?
Outsource the skill or learn the skill?
Both! To me, it is important to at least have some basic knowledge of what needs doing before I can outsource a task. I feel, without the knowledge, I cannot fully control the result; I can’t know for sure if the person I am outsourcing to is actually doing the best job possible.
Being a Not-for-profit I have of course also had budget constraints which has meant I have not had the opportunity to outsource much. On a daily basis I wear all the hats. Whether it is web-design, BAS reports, marketing, grant writing, or strategic planning it is on me.
Luckily, I am slowly getting a few professional volunteers to take on some of the more time-heavy tasks such as writing and update policies, Google Ads and report writing.
How do you generate new ideas?
Some ideas are a natural progression and development of previous work. Other ideas stem from inspiring people and interesting conversations that I am lucky to have.
Especially during this pandemic, I have taken full advantage of all the webinars and conferences online to meet new people – some in my industry, some in completely different industries. I also try to participate in international conventions regularly to meet people from other backgrounds and cultures.
Exposing myself to people from all walks of life and industries beyond my own opens up for inspiration and collaborations out of the norm.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Being able to create and shape a business from the get-go. See it grow from the first idea to a fully developed business. It is like watching your baby grow and suddenly your baby is no longer a baby but a big kid riding her bike for the first time.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Hancock Creative is definitely one of the companies I admire the most along with founder Alecia Hancock. Having done journalism and marketing worldwide she shifted her focus and started a social enterprise delivering amazing marketing knowledge and strategy to the not-for-profit and social enterprise sector.
I was lucky enough to earn a grant with Hancock Creative learning all things social media marketing. I even had a mentor, the fabulous marketing guru Anna Hill, every month for a whole year.
Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
The dream is to be able to upscale some of our projects and see them implemented throughout Tanzania and potentially even to neighboring countries as well. Assisting many more people and communities to lift themselves out of poverty and gain improved education and health services.
The dream also includes having grown ARTEFACTZ and see our products being available across Australia supporting even more Tanzanian artisans providing them a steady and sustainable income.
We are on our way there. We already have ideas for new ways to expand. We have new projects being developed and ready to be implemented in Tanzania in 2021 – among them delivery of clean water and a Community Centre where we can expand educational and entrepreneurial projects.
We also have plans involving offering travels and safaris – when it is safe to travel again of course.
Who are the women around you that allow you to thrive?
Ooohhh… There are so many. And they all have their spot and place in my heart.
My daughters (aged 9 and 7) – keeping me grounded and present in the now. Forcing me to have a better work/life balance.
My business partner Heidi Woschnak – deep understanding both in business and personally. We complement each other well.
Caroline Bernard – Executive Director for Cedar Tanzania in Tanzania – working together on a daily basis, getting a difficult puzzle to work out every day. Having an open an honest work environment – with lots of humor makes work such a pleasure.
My girlfriends – from near and far. Girlfriends sticking it through despite being countries and continents apart. Having zoom-wine dates at odd hours to make up for inconvenient time differences. Inspiring women and friends I have gained here in Australia. I have always felt very welcome here.
All these women are such a big part of my life. Thank goodness for technology!