Pavs Pillay

Pavs Pillay

Pavs Pillay is making waves in the seafood industry by speaking up and implementing bold action to actualize a sustainable seafood supply chain in South Africa. As the head of  WWF South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI), Pillay is on a mission to holistically transform the seafood supply chain at every level, including the consumer, retailers and suppliers.
 

In this interview, Pillay dives into the topics of spirituality, her love for a seafood curry and explains how she overcame the myriad of challenges to stay true to her calling so that she can make a profound difference in this world. “Use your two most powerful tools at your disposal, your voice and your wallet”, explains Pillay. Furthermore, she shares ways that you and I can empower ourselves to make sustainable decisions about our seafood consumption. Because yes, you CAN have your fish and eat it (consciously and sustainably). Here’s how:

1. I love this quote from you: “As an Indian, we say you have five career options: doctor, lawyer, chartered accountant, a teacher, or a failure.” Well done on staying authentic to your ‘inner-voice! How have you managed to honour your core beliefs, regardless of societal expectations?

When I was younger, it was particularly difficult due to both cultural and societal expectations and pressures. 

Many people (including members of my family) thought that my becoming a marine biologist was just a phase and that I would grow out of and get a “real” job, particularly because I was an Indian woman (stereotype much!) and one that had grown up in apartheid, South Africa. However, I knew that this is where I wanted to be, making a significant difference to our oceans and our planet.  

So, I defiantly stayed true to who I am and used to tell people that I am an Indian woman steadfast in purpose.  

It also meant a lot of hard work and perseverance and I learnt early on that enthusiasm is no substitute for perseverance.

One of my core beliefs was that the biggest injustice I could also do was not talk about what I do and my journey (when I graduated with honours in Marine science I only knew 5 other Indians nationally in this area) – so I made every effort to speak my truth and more importantly showcase why and what it is about the oceans and nature I treasure.  

One thing that I used is my beautiful religion and the strong spiritual elements within it. Among the pantheon of Hindu gods are elephants, lions, monkeys, snakes, peacocks, fish and whales to name but a few, as Hindus we celebrate the sun, the moon, harvest time, water and the oceans – we even have gods that reside within these systems.

So how can I not forge a life’s purpose of protecting nature in all its splendour, and life-sustaining beauty, when even Hindu scripture states that we are not on this Earth we are of this Earth.

2. How did your journey with WWF-SASSI start?

I have been very privileged to have had the career I have had thus far. After finishing my MSc in Marine Science, I immediately realized that I did not want to stay in academia. This becomes clear when I took a leather-bound copy of my thesis to my dad who was a fruit and veg hawker in Pretoria, proudly showing it off. There is emblazed golden letters was this very, very scientific title, species and genus names and all. All my dad had to say was well done as he paged through it and then remarked “beautiful leather cover”, I knew then that if I could not get my dad to understand my research – I had failed in my mission to share my love for the ocean. I knew then that I wanted to marry marine science, communications and behaviour change to make it more accessible to everyone and to get people to make informed pro-environmental decisions.  

 

 After 8 years of travelling and working I applied for the WWF-SASSI manager position at WWF. I must admit two statements made me apply, “drive change on the water” and “change people’s purchasing behaviour of seafood” – to say the least, I was hooked – now to just land the job and thankfully I got offered the position. I have grown leaps and bounds and now work as the behaviour change practitioner and the WWF-SASSI manager in a job I can most definitely say:

“I love what I do” and “I am making a difference!”

3. What are the biggest challenges you face in developing a sustainable seafood industry?

Changing any industry is tough and takes time and funding especially when one has to consider, that environmental issues are not always foremost in people’s mind and often not considered as important.

In the seafood space, challenges range from bringing about change at every level of the seafood supply change from consumers to the fishing industry. By this I mean getting consumers to be aware, make smart choices, getting retailer and suppliers to use tools that allow them to source ethically and responsibly, be fully transparent in their practices and getting the industry to be environmentally responsible in their practices.

It is not enough to just get consumers to make informed decisions, you want to transform the system.

4. Consumers don’t always have knowledge of the state of our oceans and the effects on our bodies. How does one build awareness?

One of the pillars of the WWF SASSI is building awareness by using an easy traffic light system to rate fish:

  • Green = best choice,
  • Orange = think twice and
  • Red = don’t buy,

 

Hereby, enabling consumers to act with awareness through the provision of various tools:

Awareness is only awareness if one does not act on it and does not bring about change. We don’t ask people to change their entire lifestyle but to make small incremental changes that when amplified bring about major shifts. 

Guiding questions for consumers are:

  • what is it,
  • where is it from and how was it caught?

5. Do you eat seafood? If so, which are on the green list to consume? (I love seafood!)

Yes, I do, I love seafood, I grew up eating seafood and more so love a good fish curry! I stick to the green list only and my favourite is Cape Bream and Snoek!

6. In your opinion, how does climate change and feminism link?

During the COVID-19 lockdowns the following saying was being bantered around “we all might be at sea in this storm but we most definitely not all in the same boat!” – this is how I feel about the climate crisis and feminism.

 

As the climate crisis escalates, women and particularly women in vulnerable communities will once again be the first to be impacted and will be disproportionally affected. Women and by extension children will be the hardest hit when it comes to loss of income, food insecurity, diseases and livelihood losses. Women have been struggling for years for a gender-equal society and the impacts of climate change are only making it harder to achieve that. 

 

We need our collective voices and actions at the table when it comes to making decisions around the solution and particularly nature-based solutions to climate change, mitigation and adaptation – only then will we shift the needle. Climate justice for women is imperative for us to beat the climate crisis.

7. In order to save the planet, what qualities does the world need more of in humans?

    • Curiosity – ask where your food comes from, read labels, become informed, don’t just take what is given to you by retailers or industry or even NGO’s.
    • Action-orientated people: act on your awareness and be true to your values.
    • Willingness to change – not all our habits/behaviours are good ones

To never lose that tenacious childhood love for nature, allow it to grow in your very being as you grow

8. What advice would you give your younger self?

    • Act on your knowledge with fervour and do so whole-heartedly because the willingness to show up, makes you a little braver every time.
    • Just because you carry your life-load well, does not mean it is not heavy – take time to realize, internalize and acknowledge that!
    • Don’t scoff at the advice of your elders – they have much to teach you!
    • Meditate more, do more yoga and please eat fewer chocolates!
    • Finally, you are the universe, pretending to be a human! (I know, very philosophical but hey life would be pretty boring otherwise) 

9. At Sapmok we are constantly striving to be better and do better for the environment, but there’s always room for improvement. What do you suggest can we do as a brand to assist in the most concerning environmental issues?

Get people to act on their environmental awareness, because science has never been clearer, the awareness has never been greater, its time to act decisively for our planet and our survival now and for the future.  

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Written and interviewed by Ursula Botha