Nina Jensen is the Secretary General of WWF Norway. She is a marine biologist educated at James Cook University in Australia and the Fisheries School in Tromso. Nina began as a volunteer at the WWF in 2003, got a permanent job as an adviser in 2005, and became Secretary General in 2012. In this interview, we have touched on a wide range of subjects from climate change to her favourite books, spoiler alert – one of them is Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. It has been a pleasure to interview Nina and we hope you enjoy reading about her adventures.
Q: What is your dinner party monologue for when someone says “and what do you do?”
A: I have the best job in the world, as a marine biologist and CEO for the WWF in Norway. I get to spend all my time trying to change the world!
Q: Could you tell us about where you grew up; were you a rural or city dweller?
A: I am a true city girl, and grew up in the middle of Oslo, Norway.
Q: What subject(s) did you excel at in school, and which did you find most challenging?
A: I was a bit of a nerd at school, so did well in most subjects, apart from maybe music and the arts. I was particularly into maths, physics and science.
Q: Can you recall any reoccurring comments from your school reports?
A: Not really, but I was always miserable if I didn’t get the top grade.
Q: Did you ever have a eureka moment where you thought, “this is the subject I want to study”?
A: After spending countless hours in, on and by the sea, it was clear to me from an early age that I wanted to become a marine biologist. But the final eureka moment was watching “The Big Blue” and being completely sold.
Regarding your undergraduate studies:
Q: Which University did you study at, and was it your first choice?
A: I studied at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, and yes it was my first choice. And one of the best choices I have made. A remarkable place, with some of the best people in marine biology in the world!
Q: What undergraduate degree did you study for at University, and in hindsight would you select the same subject again?
A: Marine biology. And yes, without a doubt.
Q: Can you remember a University lecturer who really inspired you?
A: Terry Hughes provided endless inspiration about coral reefs, and Prof. David Bellwood had the most memorable quote “Humans are just a poorly evolved fish”.
Regarding your postgraduate studies:
Q: What motivated you to further pursue academia?
A: A desire to pursue a career in marine biology and conservation.
Q: What institution(s) did you study at in your pursuit of postgraduate education?
A: The Arctic University of Norway (previously Norwegian School of Fisheries Science).
Q: If you had your time as a student again, what would you do, if anything, differently?
A: I would ONLY be a full-time student. When I studied, I worked full time and studied full time simultaneously.
Q: Could you tell us a little about your professional journey to date?
A: It has been a great journey for me, starting out as a volunteer and making it all the way to the top as CEO for the WWF. Before starting at the WWF, I worked for 5 years in advertising; the combination of marketing and biology has been very valuable for what I do today.
Q: What do you think is your biggest achievement?
A: Getting a job at the WWF. Then getting a unanimous Norwegian Parliament voting in favour of our Sovereign Wealth Fund divesting from coal. Getting rid of coal and other fossil fuels, and replacing them with renewable energy, is the single most important thing to solve climate change.
Q: Can you tell us about your current professional focus?
A: Past, current and future – stop the loss of biodiversity, enable the green transition, and reduce climate change.
Q: Within your field, what breakthroughs are on the horizon?
A: We are working to transform the investment community to account for impacts on biodiversity, and shifting/increasing investments in renewable energy. We are hoping to see major developments in this area in 2017. We are also working hard to establish a new global initiative to protect and restore our oceans, with hopefully some good news in the pipeline for 2017 as well.
Q: Let your imagination take over for a minute and tell us what you hope your successors will be working on in 2116?
A: I hope in 2116 humanity has understood and acted on the challenges associated with climate change and biodiversity loss, so that my successors will be stewards of nature and wildlife, rather than protectors. The restoration of wildlife and nature has given us all access to clean drinking water, fresh air, food, and nature/wildlife experiences. Coupled with well-functioning ecosystems, this has reduced the spread of disease and caused an exponential boost in human health. With better access to resources, there is less inequality and resource conflicts, thus dramatically improving quality of life. As a result, the previous billion dollar budgets spent on defence and health budgets have been reduced, and the money reallocated for human development and managing our natural world. An increasing level of 3D-printing and virtual living has reduced the human footprint dramatically, and brought our out-of-control resource use within planetary boundaries. We will be working with health institutions and “improved-life-service” providers to design nature and wildlife experiences that improve quality of life, health and life expectancy.
Q: What do you feel your professional legacy will be?
A: She changed the world (– a little bit).
Q: Are you working on any extra-curricular projects at the moment, such as: books, podcasts, websites, or speaking?
A: I have been working on a book project for quite some time, but never find the time to finalise it… Maybe 2017 will be the year…?
Advice and Tips
Q: If you could give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
A: If you really want to do something – never give up! The impossible is possible; it just may take a bit more time…
If you really want to do something – never give up! The impossible is possible; it just may take a bit more time.
Q: What advice would you give someone looking to start, or progress his or her career in your field?
A: Show your passion and interest through volunteering, and develop complementary skills that could both expand your horizon and be useful in your field.
Q: Which book would you say has had the biggest impact on your life?
A: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach is one of my favourite books.
Q: If you could recommend one book to a novice in your field, what would it be?
A: I would suggest reading WWFs Living Planet Report.
Q: Why do you think being a freethinker is important?
A: Without it, you/we will never be able to change the world. Change means freeing you from old paradigms, and being open to new opportunities.
Q: And finally, we are back at the dinner party. Someone offers you a drink, what do you ask for?
A: A glass of Japanese whisky.
If you’d like to find out more about Nina Jensen you can check out her professional profile, Twitter page and Wikipedia page.