Three months ago Bill Lockwood said goodbye to his 8-to-5 corporate job to pursue his passion for sustainable sea transport and a clean ocean.
As the new Uto ni Yalo Trust manager, Mr Lockwood is now in charge of steering the non-profit organisation as it embarks on a new phase with fulltime, paid staff members for the first time.
The Uto ni Yalo is a 72-foot double masted traditional Polynesian sailing canoe equipped with a solar-powered propulsion system, which was designed and built by the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea in New Zealand in 2010.
The vessel is one of the seven traditional sailing canoes of the Te Mana o Te Moana (Spirit of the Ocean) fleet that visited 15 Pacific Island nations in 2011-2012, with the aim to revive voyaging culture and advocate for ocean conservation.
According to the foundation, the voyage was crewed by Pacific Islanders from eleven nations (Fiji, the Cook Islands, Samoa, French Polynesia, New Zealand, Tonga, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Easter Island) and collectively they traversed 210,000 miles of open ocean, training hundreds of first-time sailors along the way.
Mr Lockwood first became involved with the Uto ni Yalo Trust in 2017, when he participated in a massive river-to-ocean clean-up campaign which involved canoes, stand-up paddle boards and kayaks.
Armed with his kayak, Mr Lockwood joined other volunteers to collect rubbish from the Navua River to Pacific Harbour — an experience that triggered his love for clean oceans.
“I’m passionate about the sea. I’m passionate about fishing and diving and snorkeling and sailing… I eat a lot of food from the sea, so fish, shellfish and seaweed and all that.
“And it just hurts me to see that a lot of people really don’t care how clean these things are,” he said.
After taking part in the clean-up campaign, he was invited to join the Uto ni Yalo crew as a fisherman for a sailing trip to Moala and Matuku in the Lau Group.
While on the journey, he was persuaded to join the trust as its treasurer — a position that he had initially hesitated to take and that he eventually held for the past two years until he was appointed the manager in April this year.
This marks a big change in direction for Mr Lockwood, who had spent the past 10 years working as a credit manager for a large cargo and freight company.
As someone who dropped out of school in Form 3 because of financial difficulties, Mr Lockwood has worked his way up the corporate ladder, beginning as a junior clerk in the credit department and ending up as a credit manager with a team of six people.
While working as a credit manager, he completed a Master in Business Administration (MBA) program at The University of the South Pacific.
He said he was also fortunate to take part in three leadership programs during this period, including a management cadet program, a Challenging Horizons program and the Leadership Fiji program.
“So those were the key developments that took place that really moulded the person I am before I joined the Uto ni Yalo Trust.
“So given my MBA and given those three programs, that really built a good, strong foundation for the work that I currently do right now,” he said.
Mr Lockwood said he was excited to bring his experience and knowledge of corporate leadership to the Uto ni Yalo Trust as it set off on its new journey.
One of the key projects that he and his team are focused on at the moment is the construction of 100 traditional canoes (camakau) by the end of this year. These canoes will then be distributed to communities which are involved in the construction process.
“For the last two months, I have been visiting provinces and villages and trying to convince them to send their youths to come and learn how to build it (canoes)… we don’t want a handout mentality where we give the camakau to the community and when it’s broken, they can’t repair them.
“We want them to come and learn how to build it, and then we’ll gift it to the community.”
Mr Lockwood said after the canoes were constructed, they would also teach the villagers how to sail it. So far they have finished constructing 45 canoes, at a workstation based in Navua.
A major challenge ahead, he said, was trying to secure funding for the organisation to pursue its planned and ongoing projects. The trust aligns its work to five pillars — sustainable sea transport, youth empowerment, advocacy, the Uto ni Yalo and its operation, and culture and voyaging tradition.
Reflecting on his journey, Mr Lockwood said that after spending about three decades pursuing various career paths — including a six-year stint at the Pacific Regional Seminary training to be a priest — he had finally found his “true north” or calling in the Uto ni Yalo and his work in promoting sustainable sea transport and a clean ocean.
Mr Lockwood believes that in life, if there is a will to accomplish something, then there is a way to go about achieving it.
“For me, education is the key to success — whether it be informal education or formal education — if you are educated, have a will to succeed, persevere in doing what you do, have a passion for it, then you will succeed.”
He added that he believed if he could make a difference in one person’s life, that was a big achievement.
“If you can influence one human being to do good, you see the ripple effects… It’s going to have a big impact on people’s lives.
“One person. One change. Snail pace. You can make a big change.”
By Neehal Khatri, published in The Fiji Times, 27 July 2019