Chat with Maria Payet, a young professional | 31 October 2020
‘I did not choose statistics; statistics chose me’
As from November 1, Maria Payet, a young Seychellois professional who worked for the National Bureau of Statistics, will be working with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and will be based in the Pretoria Office, within the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team for Eastern and Southern African. In total, she will be working with 18 countries, including the Seychelles, providing assistance on the production and development of regular labour market indicators. Seychelles NATION had a chat with her to know more about this young woman and her professional journey.
Seychelles NATION: Please tell us who is Maria Payet?
Maria Payet: My name is Maria Payet, nee Bacco. I am 33 years old. I am married and we have a 9-month-old baby. My family hails from Mont Buxton, but I now live at North East Point with my husband and child. I am my mother’s first child and only daughter. I am a Seventh-Day Adventist.
Seychelles NATION: Where and what did you study and why?
Maria Payet: I went to English River secondary school and it is there that I met most of my friends. We are friends up to this day. They are very important to me. They have become more like family. After secondary school I moved on to A’ level. All through my secondary years, and even at A’ level, I wanted to become a lawyer. Unfortunately this could not happen because at that time the human resource development body responsible for graduate studies did not consider ‘law’ as a priority of studies. I was really affected by this because I had set my heart on studying law and for some time I (and the rest of my cohort who wanted to study law), were given the impression that this could not happen. I had to change my field of studies and I chose psychology. I graduated with a BA Double Major in Psychology and Criminology from Edith Cowan University (2007-2010), Perth, Australia. I quickly realised that students from Seychelles are sent abroad to study psychology, without being given much information about the career path. You see, after a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, one does not become a psychologist; you can branch out in research etc. There is a 4th year of studies (called the Post Graduate Diploma) between Bachelor and Master, which allows one to become a provisional psychologist. Without this 4th year, one cannot move on to Masters (this is specific to psychology), and without a Masters in Psychology, one does not become a psychologist. Once I realised that 3 years of studies were not enough, I had to fight my way to be sent for the 4th year. I was asked to come back home while they (the government) sort it out.
Seychelles NATION: What did you do while waiting?
Maria Payet: While waiting it out, I went to work at the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). I had no intention of staying at NBS. I was told I would go for my 4th year of psychology studies in South Africa and I started preparations to leave. Meanwhile, the job at NBS started growing on me. At that time, I was involved in the compilation of crime and justice statistics and I formed part of the team which ran the ‘Living Conditions Survey’ of 2011. I then reached a crossroad, whereby the government was ready to send me for my 4th year of psychology in South Africa, or to take a Masters in Applied Labour Economics for Development, paid for by the NBS, and I fell in love with labour market statistics. I took the Masters from NBS, and I never looked back. The Masters was run by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), together with the University of Sciences Politiques in Paris, and the University of Turin in Italy. It was part online and part face-to-face and the face-to-face part took place at the International Training Centre of the ILO (ITCILO), in Turin. That is when my love for labour market statistics developed.
In 2014, I formed part of the team that worked on the poverty line for Seychelles and the NBS released the poverty line in 2015, based on data collected in 2013. Participating in this exercise was life-changing for me. I discovered that I really loved this field of statistics (poverty analysis). On the other hand, I also experienced some set-backs. The result of this poverty line was not well received and this was a blow to my morale, and I decided that I needed to study more, and gain more knowledge in the field of poverty analysis. I applied for a Chevening scholarship, and to my surprise, I got it, and studied for my second Masters. This time it was an MSc Social Statistics at the University of Southampton, UK.
Seychelles NATION: How did you embrace your new career path?
Maria Payet: I came back and was promoted to principal statistician of the Social Statistics Section at NBS, and this section is responsible for the production of the following statistics; quarterly labour market indicators through the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, the Household Budget Survey (HBS) and production of the monetary poverty line, the Multidimensional Poverty index (MPI), Food Insecurity and Experience Scale Survey, Crime and Justices statistics. We also work with other stakeholders to produce statistics upon request and so far, we have conducted data collection and analysis of the Fish Survey, on behalf of the Ministry of Health, the Gambling Survey, on behalf of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), and we also worked with the Central Bank on the Consumer Expectation and Satisfaction Survey but we handed the dataset over to them for analysis. The section is currently working with World Bank on the HBS conducted in 2018, and results of this survey, as well as production of new poverty statistics, should be released soon.
As you can see, I did not choose statistics; statistics chose me. The field of statistics, as a career path, is not really popular here in Seychelles and people with the background tend to select other work places such as Ministry of Finance or Central Bank. Statistics is perceived as boring and uninspiring but it is actually the opposite. There is excitement in working with data to see what is revealed. I get excited whenever I see new results. It gives me great pleasure to see how statistics influence policies and vice-versa. For example, the Bureau works closely with the Ministry of Employment and when quarterly labour market results are released, we get together so that the ministry explains measures taken and we always see a link between their measures and our statistics. This is a great example of how the NBS functions: to help policy-makers make informed decisions. My hope is to see the NBS rise to become the epicenter of decision-making in Seychelles, for people to realise that the staff are committed to their work, and the Bureau is independent, in the sense that it functions to provide statistics and will not at any one point in time misinform the public on purpose.
Seychelles NATION: Are you ready for this new international challenge?
Maria Payet: As from November 1, I will be working with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and will be based in the Pretoria Office, within the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team for Eastern and Southern African. In total, I will be working with 18 countries, including the Seychelles, providing assistance on the production and development of regular labour market indicators. This job is in line with my first masters, and in my line of work, I have been liaising with this office so in a sense this is familiar territory. However, I have been working for one country and will now be working with 18. This is a great challenge and sometimes I question my decision to take up this challenge when my son is only 9 months old, but I had to seize the opportunity when it came and this position will not open up again for some time. This is a great plus for Seychelles; the team at NBS has worked hard to produce reliable quarterly labour market estimates and there are very few countries in Africa which are producing quarterly labour market statistics. I believe that the team’s performance has contributed to a Seychellois (myself) being selected for this position (after a rigorous interview process). I am therefore grateful to NBS for creating this platform. Without NBS, I would not have had this opportunity. I am sad to leave my office (NBS will always be my office) but I am happy to be leaving on a good note. NBS is a very good place to work. I have received good coaching and great exposure and the management team has given me the space to grow in a field of my choice. In my case, poverty analysis and labour market statistics are my two greatest loves. I am sad to part ways with poverty analysis for a while, but it is now time to extend my wings and see how I can make contributions at the Continent level.
Seychelles NATION wishes Maria Payet all the best in her new career path and to keep making Seychelles proud.