(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Sabrina Viitasaari is the Managing Partner & Co-Founder of Nusa Sentara – a bridge for new environmental technologies, service providers, and manufacturers to realize their solutions adapted in a best-fit manner through infrastructure development, systems design and close cooperation with local communities. Sabrina had held management positions in various start-ups in U.S.A, Finland, and Russia before building Nusa Sentara in Indonesia, together with her two siblings. They have now gathered a crew of like-minded people and are working hard to solve some of the greatest environmental challenges.
What makes you do what you do?
A belief in something bigger than myself, to borrow a phrase from one of my early influencers Marten Mickos. That and pursuit of living, working and an overall belief that people and companies can have a positive effect on the environment and cultural surrounding.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Drive, same as most I guess, with a side of hustling. Like most young people who entered the tech scene, I had an almost addiction like pursuit of achieving something great. And like so many others, when I entered I had stars (unicorns in my eyes). That time was important for me though, it not only taught me what I should do but also what I really shouldn’t.
Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
After a decade in the Start-up scene, I began to question if the blood, sweat and tears were worth the “hope of unicorns” and perhaps even more so if the products/ companies I was working were really worth building. Then, during a 6 month sabbatical from the tech world, I began to rethink not only the products and projects I had been working on but perhaps more importantly how we worked on them.
I guess that is how Nusa Sentara formed – the belief (of my siblings and myself- it is a family company) that not just the technology (app, networks, hardware, etc.), but also the methods and operating models used by the teams building the tech could be applied to other industries and major global problems. Not just what we were doing but how were doing it could have really MAJOR impacts.
So yeah, you could say that being a start up in the energy & utility sector in Indonesia is not that typical but I think it’s because we are different, and have a different way of working that we have the potential to catalyze big changes.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? `
I’ve had many mentors, in many industries. I was very lucky to start my career in tech by working on a publishing project which was a collaboration of 8 business, academic and political leaders on the way leadership was changing in the Digital Age. I didn’t exactly look for mentors but I definitely found them.
How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
Like I said, it was a lucky experience that I was able to get my first “real” job out of uni on this project. Just by working together with the authors throughout the project and having them guide me in the process was like having an infinite well of leadership wisdom on tap. It was great, I can’t say how grateful I have for the experience and how much it has shaped mine to this day. I still find that lot of the learnings from that project are still relevant to me today.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
It comes in a couple of different ways, but always in relation to the team and project that I am working on. When it comes to finding people for your crew you have to look at not only what skills they have technically in regards to the positions you are looking for, but also how they harmonize with the existing team and also the working environment. For example the majority of our projects are based in different islands across Indonesia, that creates a certain environment (often chaotic) which not everyone can thrive in, but some will shine like stars.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Both I think. As a female entrepreneur, working in the tech industry I’ve faced all of the hurtles of working in a male-dominated environment. So I think it’s just innate in me that I want to support other women, in our company and partnerships but also just in the industry in general.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I know it sounds cliché, but an adaptability to change. It is the only constant and in today’s world not only with the exponential growth of changing technologies, but also with the volatile socio/political and environmental climate is it essential to your business and leadership strategy. Just recently after the island where we have been developing a project was rocked by a number of major earthquakes, it shook the project we’ve been working on for a year to the ground (pun intended). Yet in the aftermath, instead of panicking or feeling defeated, we looked at what we had created, the core model and realized that more than ever was what we are creating relevant to the community. Did it need to be adjusted slightly, sure, but the core idea was resilient. But whether not our idea was resilient, it takes the adaptability and agility of the leadership team to feel confident enough to make the necessary changes.
Advice for others?
Constantly question your motivations for why you are doing what you are doing. If you don’t like the answer, change it.
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Indonesian tourist island of Lombok. They have started this initiative Rebuild Lombok to coordinate efforts for the relief and rebuild. It’s amazing to see how different people and organizations are getting involved. They need your help to further their efforts. Visit https://rebuildlombok.com/ to know how you can get involved.
If you’d like to get in touch with Sabrina Viitasaari, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sabrina-viitasaari-b5180a2a/
To learn more about Nusa Sentara, please click here.