Inspiring career changes: From international development to bringing beautiful hand-crafted products to the Barossa Valley

I’m really excited to be able to share the following inspiring career change with you as it’s my first from someone here in the Barossa.

Lisa first got in touch with me via Facebook after I had made a comment on a post about Vietnamese street food. Lisa had also commented on the post and realised we had probably had some similar overseas experiences. We finally met up for coffee in early March and not only had we both lived in China and Vietnam, but it turned out we even had a mutual friend. The world is small and social media is making it even smaller.

I had been admiring Lisa’s beautiful shop Elemental, with it’s wonderful collection of handcrafted products from Australia and around the world, since it opened last year so it was lovely to meet Lisa and hear her story of how she came to be living in the Barossa and making a career change from international development.


  1. What did you do before?

I was wonder woman, more commonly referred to as a stay at home mummy, to my now 5 year and 3 year old boys. Prior to that I was working in International Development and I spent nearly 10 years working in China, Vietnam and Laos, during which time I completed my Masters of International Development. I worked for a range of agencies including Australian Volunteers International, CARE Australia, Mines Advisory Group and lead consultancies for UNDP and UNICEF. In Vietnam and Laos I primarily worked in the UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) clearance / community development sector. Laos and Vietnam were so heavily bombed during the Vietnam conflict and the legacy of the UXOs mean a lot of injuries are still occurring when people are going about ploughing a rice field and accidentally trigger an UXO causing it to explode, or people will intentionally collect the scrap of the UXO or try to defuse the bombs with devastating consequences. It was an interesting and challenging sector to work in.

Laos was so heavily bombed during the Vietnam conflict that it is common in the rural villages to see bomb casings used as stilts for houses
Laos was so heavily bombed during the Vietnam conflict that it is common in the rural villages to see bomb casings used as stilts for houses
  1. What are you doing now?

I am the owner of Elemental Barossa in Tanunda, a shop full of gorgeous hand crafted products from around the world. Having worked in community development I have seen first hand how assisting communities to have a market for their crafts can be so beneficial and Fair Trade ensures people have been paid a fair wage for their work. My partner Steffen is German and when we visited Germany I always loved the Christmas houses, full of so many beautiful products. Elemental Barossa also stock the beautiful hand crafted Christmas and Easter products from Germany. It has been wonderful to have so many people come into the store and recognise the beautiful German products from their own families that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Just a sample of the beautiful handmade products from around Australia and the world available at Elemental
Just a sample of the beautiful handmade products from around Australia and the world available at Elemental
  1. What made you decide to take the leap and change?

Steffen and I returned to Australia 5 weeks before I gave birth to our first son. I was originally on maternity leave, but we made the decision to stay in Australia as I was working remotely in southern Laos where the medical facilities were not the best and so we decided not to return with a young baby. So we stayed in Australia and settled in the beautiful Barossa Valley, where we have met wonderful people and love living. Steffen and I had always had the idea in the back of our minds of opening a German Christmas house so I used the time that I was at home with the boys to do a Small Business Management course to plan what would become Elemental Barossa. What made me make the final leap and change career was when I started applying for work in Adelaide in community development and found it difficult to get back into that field of work. I was left wondering if people had trouble relating the work overseas to an Australian context and what my steps forward would be. After some deliberation, I decided to take the leap and open Elemental Barossa.

  1. What has your career change given you?

Family time. Steffen still works away and is away for 6-9 months of the year, so one of the key reasons for starting my own business has also been about being able to spend time with our boys. I can do school drop off in the morning and when I close at 4.30pm I am home straight away to play and hear about their day. I am so blessed to be able to do this, as many families have long commutes to and from work, which means missing out on this precious family time that I am so lucky to have.

It has also kept me connected with my Community Development background that has been such an important part of my life to date. In sourcing products from around the world it is important for me to know where products have come from and know the story behind the group / individual who are making the products so I can then pass on to customers.

  1. What have you learned?

That I will make mistakes, very possibly lots of them! I need to learn from them, not dwell on them and move forward. Coming from an environment where I worked in a team to where I work by myself, I have missed having other people as sounding boards, so I have learned that I need to seek support in the areas that are not my strengths so I have people to use as my sounding boards who have experience in this area to help build the business to where I want it to be.

  1. Is there anything you would do differently?

I would never change taking the step to open Elemental Barossa, however starting my own business has been one of the biggest learning experiences of my life! So with that wonderful thing we call hindsight, there would have been things I did differently and although there are always things to learn from the past, I look forward to the future.

  1. Inspire us – your favourite quote, mantra or piece of advice for anyone else thinking of a career change.

Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover

Mark Twain.

This quote has been my mantra for a long time. For many years I had my sails up, exploring and discovering the world, and now I am in a different phase of my life with young children I try to instil this exploring and discovering mantra with our boys. Be it the backyard with the palaeontologist dig we have permanently set up in South America or at a local park for a fun afternoon of play, there are so many possibilities to explore and discover and create life long memories.

  1. Where can people learn more about you and the things you are doing?

You can learn more about me on my LinkedIn profile, Lisa Ognjanovic

Find out more about Elemental Barossa at:


Facebook: ElementalBarossa

Twitter: @EMBarossa

Instagram: elementalbarossa



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I started this blog almost 3 years ago when we first arrived in the Barossa Valley. I've always wanted to write and I wanted to share my experience of my career change, our move to this beautiful wine region and discovering my next adventure. After 15 years as a public servant working in Canberra, Beijing, China and Hanoi, Vietnam, I decided it was time for a career change and more importantly, a lifestyle change. In 2014, we left Hanoi and headed to the Barossa Valley in South Australia with a dream of a more fulfilling lifestyle in one of Australia's premier food and wine regions. My husband and I both work in the wine industry - where my job could be described as anything but making the wine. In 2017, I decided to wind-up the consulting business I established in 2015 and focus on learning as much as I could about the wine industry and writing - both on this blog and a memoir of our time in Vietnam. This blog is an opportunity for me to share my writing - about everything from motherhood, to career change, fitness, travel and our vine-change/career change experience.

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