In Conversation: Ninna Larsen of Reground

It's goes unsaid that 2020 was a crazy rollercoaster ride that felt like it was never going to end. While there were definitely a lot of challenges to navigate, I personally relished the opportunity to step back, slow down, reflect and then make some changes, both professionally and in my personal life.

Here at Sow, we poured time and effort into getting our online store up and running. We're now successfully retailing a curated offering of products that I truly believe in and - in most cases - use daily. Additionally, on the back of work and consideration that happened last year, we were so proud to recently launch our coffee offering, with the help of talented friends.

2020 also gave me the chance to refocus my vision for this section of Sow - the one dedicated to celebrating the humble humans and coffee legends who are a constant inspiration. One of my goals when I first started Sow Coffee Project was to shine a spotlight on the amazing people in our coffee community and with the new year comes an invigorating energy to bring this goal back into focus.

This In Conversation is really a reflection of the general conversations we experienced last year. Our normal ways of connecting were interrupted. Like many others, I relied on video calls to maintain relationships with family and friends, and as someone who already appreciated catching up over a coffee or meal, I'll never take meeting a friend at a cafe or restaurant for granted again! So, this In Conversation isn't like the previous two: there's no video footage. Instead, I'm pleased to present an introduction to Reground and their amazing founder and driving force Ninna Larsen through the written word.

I was first introduced to Reground and their redirection approach through Padre Coffee's Brunswick East store. It was also here where I first met Ninna. My colleague - and now good friend - Gito was dating Ninna at the time and it feels like yesterday I was sitting at their dinner table red wine in hand, eating my first home-cooked meal in Melbourne. Spaghetti Carbonara will always conjure special memories of that night. Gito and Ninna are now married, with a beautiful son Albert, and over time our connection and friendship have blossomed. I'm super excited and proud to share this conversation between Ninna and I!

Charlie Wade: How do you see yourself?

Ninna Larsen: "That's a big question! As a human being of planet earth! The way I see myself and the way I want to represent myself wherever I am, is to be a human being like everyone else, that has an understanding of and a sensitivity to what happens in the world and the people that are around me. The systems that are around me and the context that I'm in and that I benefit off, trying to represent that in a way that enhances and progresses that instead of me.

I don't talk about myself a lot or see myself as a key figure in anything, cause that's really not my purpose here. So how I see myself is more as a force of motivation for shedding light on certain issues or participating in conversations that can create depth to a topic, or to a human being, a friend of mine or whoever/ wherever I am and try and lift that up instead of needing to make things fit for me.

I feel like who I am is almost less important cause I can be anything, I try not to define myself too much because it can be quite fluid - that's how I've always lived. My role is changing all of the time, so I see myself as part of a bigger movement. Whether it's a family, a citizen, an inhabitant of planet earth - I have different roles and so how do you align all of these roles without losing your identity entirely - that is for me understanding that I have to set myself free from the expectation of being something. Cause once again I can be anything!

I don't want to be associated as someone that's super innovative or constantly pioneering cause that's not me, and that doesn't resonate with me. I work with having a fluid understanding of who I am. Today I am one thing and tomorrow I can be something different."

After hearing Ninna describe herself, I was intrigued by what word or phrase Ninna felt encompassed Reground. Ninna had really deconstructed herself and talked in such big terms, I was captivated by our conversation already. Organically, we navigate to the next question.

CW: What one word would you say encompasses what Reground is?

NL: "I think 'democratic'. It's something that's more about the community and representing many people and hearing the needs of the community including the people who aren't in my position. How can you be empathetic to that, how can you let everyone have a voice and I believe that's where the foundation is for me.

It's never about me, Ninna, it's not about my ego. People love to boost their egos and to talk about how they are super special, when, what makes you special is that you can see the special in what is around you and that's why Reground is successful, cause that's the way I look at things. And now I've said "I" and it sounds like I've done something unique, but I really have not.

Everyone fails when it's all about furthering their own agenda, when in fact by building a movement by furthering many people's agenda, and the planet's agenda - you know, whatever it is that you represent, that you understand how you can enable change by seeing what is required. You know it comes back to the idea of fluidity and change, because people's needs change. Once we've solved one problem, we will have to address the next problem. It's an ongoing thing.

Yeah, I think 'democratic' is a good word, I feel like that word is about hearing everyone out - which is a big part of what I do."

CW: What's been the most rewarding win to date for Reground?

NL:"It's getting my team to where it's at today. To build a really strong team where everyone feels that they are working towards their own personal purpose and where we're working together towards Reground's purpose. We are all six different individuals that have different dreams and different interests but I've managed to create a system that has taken me a long time to learn. Even though I studied Business Management at University, I didn't study practically how to manage people - so I've had to learn that and it's been really really challenging.

I'd like to say it has been the least enjoyable aspect for me at Reground but that's also why it's such a great win for me and for Reground. To get to a point where everyone is great and the culture is great and at a point where I feel like everyone understands they are valued for who they are and I truly believe that creates better work.

I think that has been the greatest win, to have some really amazing, very different people to who I am and some that I also headbutt with a lot but, you know, when you can harness people's strengths without needing to suppress their weaknesses, when you can have a conversation around their weaknesses instead you can really elevate a team. I believe that's our greatest win."

CW: Such a big part of sustainability is tied to educating. With so much education that needs to happen when awareness campaigning for more sustainable products or services, as a whole how do you take such a massive task and break it down to something achievable?

NL: "In our team, we research and study tools used in psychology, behavioural science, behavioural design and habit research and loop in the reality of waste. We often deal with behaviour and infrastructure that is hard to change and with habits that are ingrained. The context is hard to change and that's just how it is, we can't really change the premise of the work we're doing. I think the way we do it and the way every one of us should do it, is to start with things that are achievable and feel that it makes a difference today - because all of that change added up over a year, let's say, that's massive change and the small positive wins will foster more progressive adjustments.

So we use tools from psychology, behavioural science, behavioural design to really help out with this and really speed up the movement. Because it's actually not that hard to change. How can we focus on changing behaviour quickly and that has given me a lot of hope, it's not hard but it is invisible to a lot of people. The solutions are quite simple, often practical - if you know what to do.

So, I think a lot of habit theory is what we use at the moment and that is how we're going to get there, is by actually changing small things cause that will hopefully escalate. As an example - food waste is a huge issue at scale. The third-best way to revert climate change is to reduce the amount of food waste that is created. But how do you do that? At the moment we are creating an app for waste minimisation with local businesses. People are super biased and overconfident with opinions that food waste doesn't apply to them, when science backed by research indicates every one of us has avoidable food waste that shouldn't go in the bin.