Women of OpenUp: Calyn Pillay

Meet Calyn, our Qualitative Researcher

Tell us about yourself?

Hi, I’m Calyn, I grew up in Durban. I moved to Cape Town to study, however, I fell in love with the city and haven’t left since. I am a feminist! I love learning and sharing good conversations with people.

What are you working on at OpenUp? How does that work inspire you?

There are two pieces of work I’m involved in currently that is quite exciting. The first, I am working with Sofia Salas Ungar on creating a research strategy from the OU mission “inform, empower, activate”. The second project is working with the vulekamali team implementing the civic information drives. I find the nexus between citizen, government and civil society enriching. Listening to the groups engage with each other is insightful. My work inspires me because it allows me to contribute to equity in South Africa from a systems and processes perspective.

Tell us about a failure you’ve had and what you’ve learnt from it?

I set a goal going into my honours year that I wanted to be awarded my degree, Cum Laude. This was largely because I wanted to prove to myself that I could achieve that grade. I ended my year with roughly 73%. This was largely because I had never written a thesis before. I struggled to navigate the relationship with my supervisor. I knew I was struggling and I asked for help, however, looking back I realised I should have acknowledged my challenges more and been more vocal about needing help.

How did your work begin?

I started noticing the emergence of technology in rather unique ways in my Justice and Transformation assigned course readings. For example, in 2017 the ICC put out a warrant of arrest that was based largely on social media evidence or that soldiers in the Congo communicated via WhatsApp. I wanted to explore ICTs in a transitional justice setting. This led me to OU, I asked them about interning and excitedly, they accepted me. After my internship, I began working as a researcher here.

How is it being resourced and sustained?

I get a lot of support from the senior team members at OU — Jd, Adrian, Deena and Shaun- often listen to me and share about their experiences. Having their support helps me manage the uncertainty that comes with working for the first time.

At home, my partner supports me. We have a couple of processes that help us check in with each other and ourselves.

I think the trust and belief my parents and siblings have in me, helps me believe in myself. It is also great knowing they have my back.

Would you describe any aspect of your work in particular, as a Feminist Reality? What aspects of this make it a feminist experience for you?

There is still a lot I am learning about Feminism. I’m grateful to be able find resources on feminism and learn more about it. I think it helps me find context for the things I feel and see. If it deeply resonates with me, I then try and see if it can be applied in my research, in my conversations around the office and with others.

What comes next for you? What’s the world you’re trying to build?

Gender parity is important to me. Currently, I’ve thought about and shared on gender parity in the tech space. I want women to feel safe in the world and in their relationships.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers or in particular with our female readers?

One of the most liberating things I’ve learnt (something that is reinforced at OU) is that you don’t have to be “perfect” or produce perfect things. Mistakes can be opportunities to improve and grow if we let them be. Be kinder to yourself and with your expectations.

How can people find out more about what you are doing, or get involved?

I am a writer on the OU medium blog. I think this is a good place to follow my learning on these topics. Also, I have a medium blog, Calyn Pillay.

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