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Interview with Aleksandra Ørbeck-Nilssen

Keynote speaker Aleksandra Ørbeck-Nilssen is a Norwegian model turned conservationist. After traveling the world as a model, Aleksandra moved to Namibia to work with wildlife. Here she started her own non profit organization to protect the wildlife there as well as the culture of life of the Ju/´hoansi bushmen. She is a wonderful storyteller so prepare to be moved when you learn more about her experiences and what she has learned in this interview.

What has been the biggest challenge to creating your own non profit organization?

There are many challenges when you start an organization at the age of 21 years old in the middle of nowhere with the most marginalized people of Southern Africa. When I started the project the most important thing for me was to start at grass root level, seeing that it is the people on the ground that matters the most and it’s their lives not mine. But this made the road long, actually 300 000 km long, to have all the meetings and get all the approvals needed from every single link. What I also quickly realized was how few people in the world who knew about the San people, which in turn made it difficult to get them to see the importance of the project. I sold my clothes, I walked 600 km to raise awareness in Europe, I put all my savings into making this project start, and I had to constantly come up with new solutions to get people interested and keen to support.

But I think the biggest challenge was myself, and dealing with all the limitations, conditioning and doubts of the mind. Most of the time I would walk around as a victim of the past, and a prisoner of the future. I would tell myself every day that I don’t know if I will make it work, or that I’m not doing enough, or that I don’t have enough money or funds to help them. I was strong as a lion, but scared like a mouse and that turned me into my own worst enemy. But what it taught me was that I needed to work on the inside, before I could help and save the outside.  I began to greet the challenges with gratefulness instead of hopelessness, and embrace the support with humbleness. It is through challenge we grow and through support we have time to reflect and assemble to make a change greater then ourselves.


What advice would you give to other women longing to start their own organization?

The biggest challenge most women face in life or in entering business life is that we are often better at loving others than loving ourselves, instead of believing in ourselves, we often allow fear of failure dominate our mind. We allow others opinions to be greater than our own. Women like to pretend that we are scared of the dark, but we are really scared of our own light. The biggest task a woman has when she decides to start an organization is to realize that there is a voice on the inside that is much stronger than any voice on the outside. You can do whatever you set your mind to. You can choose how you perceive challenges as on the way and not in the way. But the coolest of all is that you can turn your scars into stars.  Have the heart of a lion, the skin of a rhino, and soar like an eagle… and if that does not work, then teach people the illusion until they are ready for the truth. Remember that a woman has many super powers; Women know how to make time stand still, they make you feel loved, seen and heard. Women bring you closer to nature, because women are of nature. Women care deeply, love fiercely, women are soft and powerful.. Women are practical and spiritual. Women…  can inspire, influence, provide and create what should exist in this world. And if you don’t know how then I’m here to help you.


How has your early career as a model affected you later in life?

I am so grateful for my career as a model. I have made many special choices in my life, and some of them were a real struggle because they defied everything that was expected of me being a girl from the western world. I moved to Paris to work as a model when I was 15, because I wanted to travel, meet people and do high school over the internet in one year. I had no ambitions, but I quickly started working a lot, so I had to do school at night.  Being a model at such a young age made me grow up quickly, I had to learn how to adapt, take care of myself, communicate with people from all walks of life, set boundaries, handle rejection and criticism and deal with solitude. Yes, there were a lot of challenges, tough moments, beautiful experiences, good days and awful days, but it made me strong, flexible, patient, open minded, it made me focus on the things that I can do something about and not worry so much about the things that are outside of my immediate influence. I learned to enjoy my own company and never give up, which is so important in this fast-moving world. I also thought a lot about the power of trends and how they influence so many of our daily decisions. A piece of clothing might not be able to save the world, but the women who wear them can.


What is the most unique experience you have had as a result of your career?

There have been many amazing fashion campaigns, magazine shoots and shows, but the most unique experience is probably the engagement and support that the fashion industry has shown for my work. Magazines have written about it, and brands like Redken, Replay jeans, Toms shoes and Timberland have supported the cause. It has given me the opportunity to become an influencer both within the industry and outside.


One of your big topics is rewilding, can you tell us more about what you mean by this?

As kids we grow up creating adventure all around us. We created worlds within the world we live in. We decide what should exist without having any boundaries of creation and imagination. We dreamt freely!  As technology & accessibility grew and disconnected us from our innate connection to the natural world, so did the need to learn and reconnect. Rewilding is not about going backwards, to prehistoric times. It’s about reconnecting to that wildness dormant inside you; and to mother earth that birthed us all, or that something that connects us to the earth we need to protect.  You see we are all a part of the same grand ecosystem, our choices, health and wellbeing affect the health of the ecosystem and its diversity. We are not just people living surrounded by nature, we are of nature. Individual power is a myth. Humanity is one large expanding genetic vehicle. We are all building blocks for a higher life. It is up to us decide what kind of life that should be. Finding the balance between active and passive intervention. All living systems learn to feed itself while growing to last.

By observing and absorbing ecosystems and animal nature, whilst tapping into the knowledge of the ancients to reconnect one with their inner nature, we might be able to find opportunity in our problems. In short rewilding is about expanding the ecological consciousness of our planet and reconnecting people with the environment.


Who is your greatest role model? Mother Nature


Describe the atmosphere during your talks in 3 words:

Grounded, connected and lionhearted

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