From a temp job to creating her own role, Alveena Pillay has built her career on honesty, tenacity, resilience and curiosity.
That’s the word Alveena Pillay, Group Learning and Development Manager has coined to describe her career trajectory.
Her first job was straight out of high school, at Momentum Actuaries and Consultants. A job she says she got not because she was the most qualified, but because she was the most honest.
“I had four interviews that day,” she says. “This interview was the last. I walked in and said: ‘I’m sorry I don’t have any work experience. This is who I am. This is what I have done. And this is why I think I would be great at this job.’ We weren’t even on the highway yet and the agency phoned me back and said: ‘These people have interviewed other candidates who have lots of experience – but somehow you got the job.’ When I asked why – they said it was because I was the first person who was so honest.”
It’s a lesson she’s carried throughout her career, saying: “If you’re just truthful to who you are, good things will come. You’re opening yourself up to receive.”
“If you're just truthful to who you are, good things will come.”
Honesty together with tenacity and resilience have formed the foundation of her career. They’re qualities she learnt as the daughter of a single father, and as a single mother herself.
“I am the oldest of three kids. My dad was a single dad and then he met my amazing step-mom, who is my Mommy. She taught us resilience and love. She taught us to work hard to achieve things and not allow our circumstances to be a deterrent in our lives. She really inspired me.”
Alveena started at Sasfin as a temp in the company secretarial division. From there she joined the Human Capital Department and, in 2012, after completing one of Sasfin’s mentorship programmes, Alveena approached the Head of Human Capital and asked to specialise in learning and development.
God, however, had different plans. On the day her new training role was approved, she received an opportunity to go to New York with her church to be part of a leadership programme. This was an opportunity she could not miss and so she resigned from Sasfin. It was a risk, she says, but “sometimes, taking a chance – a calculated risk – pans out. It’s only through the willingness to put yourself through that risk that you will either reap the rewards or learn from it.”
Her Sasfin story was not yet over and when she returned from New York she started looking for another job. “I am a single mom and I have a daughter to take care of, so I really needed a job.” she says. Two weeks later, the same training job she turned down to go to New York became available. She applied, going through the full recruitment process again, and got the job. “For me it was no coincidence. I say ‘Godincidence’, because I left the same job I had really wanted and I came back and I got that very job.”
I say ‘Godincidence’, because I left the same job I had really wanted and I came back and I got that very job.”
It’s a job she still holds and one that Alveena says is her calling. “When we signed off our first trainee, it was such a heartfelt and rewarding moment. I realised then that this is what I want to do. I want to be able to give people the opportunity to achieve things they may not have been able to, growing up. Or hold their hand while they’re working towards something. Just being able to motivate them and encourage them to get there, that is what I live for.”
Just as Alveena has impacted their lives, her trainees have impacted her’s. She shares a story of a learner in Sasfin’s disabled learnership: “He just has his thumbs and because of our sponsorship, he was able to become an accounting professional at a host company. Yes, life is hard and everybody has their own challenges. But when you see someone who did not allow his physical disability to stop him you get some real perspective.”
It’s one of the pieces of advice she would give her 18-year-old self, she says. “There will be challenges, there will be trials and there will be hardships, but look at the bigger picture. Try and see a light at the end – because there is always light.”
Work has always been a priority, especially as a single mother to her daughter, who is the reason she says she gets up in the morning. “Being a single mom for 17 years and wanting to give her the best life possible is hard. But knowing that I wake up to come to a job that I enjoy, and can show her that it can be done, and be an inspiration to her [gets me up].”
Single parenting has taught her the importance of having a support structure and not doing everything yourself. “We don't have to do it all alone,” she says. “I think sometimes as a single mom you want to prove to the world you can do this by yourself. I am very fortunate and blessed to have a very good support structure, from grandparents to my parents, siblings and friends.
It’s that same perspective of community that she’s carried into her working life. She says: “At the end of the day, it isn't a competition between peers, it's to make sure everybody shines the same light and at the same brightness.”
She continues: “If we make time for our networks, if we understand what each of us brings to the table, our strengths and our weaknesses, we are unstoppable.”
“...if we understand what each of us brings to the table, our strengths and our weaknesses, we are unstoppable.”
As for what makes Sasfin so special, Alveena shares: “You're accountable for the responsibility you're given, and you are able to make that work for you. You're able to put in the work and you get recognised for it.”
For someone who's always been curious, the ability to explore all that life has to offer is important to her. She laughs: “I’m curious, and that sometimes makes me the ‘yellow pages of Human Capital.”
With curiosity often comes the courage to act on your curiosity. Alveena believes that courage is contagious. She quotes author and speaker Brene Brown: “Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little greater.”
“Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little greater.”
This resonates with her because of her past. She says: “Coming from an abusive relationship and feeling all alone and having this little girl to now be my responsibility, I had to be brave. If I never had people around me, my mom, my aunts, my grandparents, my girlfriends. If I never had strong women around me to show me that I can be brave and I can get the sun, I might not be here. I might not have been able to realise my own strength to be able to do that. Just being brave helps the next person be brave. Women should live by the understanding that you're not meek and you're not weak because of the virtue that you're a woman. You are brave – braver than you can imagine.”
While gym keeps Alveena recharged, it’s gratitude that fills her cup every day. She says: “It's extremely important that in everything we do, we have gratitude. Gratitude for the job we have, for the family we have and for the work we're able to do. The fact that we're able to drive to work and come back home safely. If we all took time to count our blessings, even if it's one by one or even if it's one blessing each day. Gratitude gives us the opportunity to look forward to more blessings.”
It’s one of the many life lessons that Alveena imparts daily as she heads up Learning and Development at Sasfin.