Thank you OpenUp

A lifetime of lessons in 20 months.

Calyn Pillay
Published in
5 min readJan 24, 2020


It has been almost 20 months since I started my journey with OpenUp to discover how technology is impacting South African society. I wanted to learn more about how these ubiquitous tools, that I use predominately socially and academically, were being transformed into civic enablers.

As this journey ends and in thinking about how to acknowledge these changes with OpenUp, the larger civic tech community and to being a knowledge worker in this sector I came across Alvaro Maz’s farewell piece to the Code for Australia community. It is a piece filled with gratitude and warmth — which resonated deeply with me. I knew I need to say thank you.

To my OpenUp family,

Adi Eyal, Gabriella Razzano, Lailah, Shaun Russell, Deena, JD Bothma, Lunga, Adrian Kearns, Damian, Fierdous S, Matthew Stark, Irene, and Chantal:

I recall well the trepidatious honours’ student who walked through your doors for a university internship. The fact that a different person walks out these doors now — is largely due to our journey together. Thank you for letting me into your family and thank you for letting me grow.

I’ve gotten to know more about myself — what kind of research I liked doing, what I care about and how important a supportive environment can be. The last year at OpenUp has shown me how important the wellness of those around me is and how I’m willing to show up for people.

Thank you to those of you on the OpenUp staff that showed up for me and made my time here enriching both intellectually and emotionally. There are really wonderful people working under the bridge, who cross bridges every day to work with others — be it juniors, government officials, citizens, or non-government organisation staff. Thanks, JD Bothma, Adrian Kearns, Shaun Russell, Gabriella Razzano, Damian and Deena.

Thank you for creating spaces where I got to learn more about my own country — meeting hundreds of South Africans around the country through the Civic Information Drives.

I’ve gotten to the opportunity to work with a small, passionate and experienced teams. Sofia Salas Ungar, Tessa Eidelman, Katie Shepard and Zeeshaan Maudarbocus thank you for making my time at OU that much more rewarding and meaningful.

I will cherish the time I got to spend under the bridge, experimenting away at understanding and learning more about civic tech and about what it means to help people.

2019 with OpenUp

To the civic tech community,

In particular, Grace O’Hara, Rebecca Rumbul, Alex Parsons, Lina Patel, Stan Getui and Alisa Zomer:

I am grateful that I joined OpenUp at a time when civic tech organisations are not islands. Rather we are part of the Code for All Network and are able to leverage the evidence and examples from a collaborative local and international communities.

As a researcher, I jumpstarted my learning through mySociety’s TICTeC conference and found a willing community of researchers willing to share their work and their experience.

I will continue to be part of this community — not only because I find the work both fascinating and impactful, but because of the vibrant, courageous, optimistic, and kind people who are attracted to this work.

Thank you for bringing these words to life for me “I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.”― Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God


I started off this journey being intellectually curious about civic tech. I leave this family and community, having gotten my hands dirty and learnt to be curious with more than just my intellect.

I’ve learnt that sometimes being more empathetic can help you solve problems — be it in thinking about the user or in thinking about a team member.

I’ve learnt the value of experimenting. How doing a little with the information you have teaches you a little bit more — and that knowledge and experience builds.

Code for All program exchange and TICTeC 2019.

I am eager to start my Master of Science in Medicine (Bioethics and Health Law) at the University of Witwatersrand and leverage the experiences and learnings I’ve gained through our conversations and work. The questions that are of foremost interest to me as I begin are— how might AI be used in Healthcare? How is genomic sequencing impacting healthcare? How will increasing amounts of health data influence health care? Lastly, I’ll be thinking about how these changes can enable health care professionals to take better care of their patients.

I am incredibly grateful that I have gotten the opportunity to share this time and space with every one of you. I’ve learnt and grown so much — and I have no doubt that I’ll carry those learnings with me into my masters and into the work I do. As time passes I am sure my experiences at OpenUp will come back to me, in the small moments where I recall or use the skills and ideas I’ve learnt here. I’ll smile then and think of you all.

Editor: Shaun Russell

Photos: Damian Pool, Matthew Stark, Priyanka Pillay and mySociety.



Calyn Pillay
Writer for

is a MSc Med (Bioethics & HealthLaw) candidate at Wits. Interested in Effective altruism, Human Rights and Parity.