Dr Dorsamy (Gansen) Pillay is currently the Deputy Chief Executive Officer (DCEO): Research and Innovation Support and Advancement (RISA) of the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa. His thirty-year career in research, teaching, management and leadership includes academic, management and leadership positions at the former University of Durban-Westville (UD-W: now University of KwaZulu Natal) as Full Professor and Head of the Department of Microbiology, as Director of Research Management and Development at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and as the current DCEO of the NRF. He has also spent time as Visiting Research Professor in the Department of Microbiology at Cornell University, USA; the Department of Applied Biology and Biotechnology at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia; the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cellular Microbiology at Goethe Universitat, Frankfurt, Germany; and the Department of Plant Pathology at the Scottish Crops Research Institute (SCRI) in Invergowrie, Dundee, Scotland.
Following completion of the B.Sc., B.Sc. (Hons) and M.Sc. degrees at UD-W, he obtained a post-M.Sc. qualification in Biophysics at the Weizmann Institute for Science in Rehovot, Israel, and a PhD degree in Microbiology from UD-W. He completed the International Executive Development Programme (IEDP) partnered through WITS University, South Africa; the London School of Business, UK; and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM)Bangalore, India.
His research has focused on both prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms, from human diseases (bilharzia and gonorrhea) to bacterial plant diseases (ratoon stunting disease) with particular emphasis on elucidating the molecular architecture of the causal microorganisms with a view to understanding genetic diversity, extra-chromosomal elements and developing rapid disease diagnoses. He was appointed full Professor at both DUT and UD-W and has published in excess of 60 primary research papers, including several highly cited works in peer-reviewed international journals. Scores of higher degree students up to the postdoctoral level, have been successfully supervised under his leadership.
Dr Pillay is the recipient of numerous Professional and scholarly awards including, inter alia, the Weizmann Institute of Science Emerging Researcher Award, the Ernest Oppenheimer Trust Award, the Foundation for Research Development (FRD) Young Researcher Award and he was a National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) finalist for research capacity building in South Africa. He held an NRF rating for 16 years. He is/was a member of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Phytopathology Society (APS) and the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). On the international front, Dr Pillay is currently a member of (i) the Selection Committee for the Future Earth Engagement Committee; (ii) the International Steering Committee of the Global Research Council (GRC), an initiative headed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA; and (iii) the Council of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria. He has served as the Regional Secretary of the Committee for Science and Technology in Developing Countries (Southern and East African region), has served on numerous committees of the International Council for Science (ICSU), and has been the SA delegate to the preparatory WSSD meetings in the USA and Indonesia. He has also co-authored the position paper for Sustainable Development with researchers from Harvard University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico and wrote the position papers on “Capacity Building in Developing Countries” and “Meeting the MDGs: Challenges facing developing countries”.
Dr Pillay has an intimate knowledge of South Africa’s Higher Education and Training landscape, the National System of Innovation (NSI), and the challenges facing research and researchers in South Africa and internationally. He has served on the Audit Panels of the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) of the Council on Higher Education (CHE) of South Africa and the audit of the University of Mauritius. He was responsible for the HEQC audit of the research component of Rhodes University and was the Chair of the HEQC Audit Panel for the Tshwane University of Technology of South Africa. Dr. Pillay also conducted audits pertaining to Teaching and Learning and Research at the University of Stellenbosch. He was the former Chair of (i) the SA National Board of the International Council for Science (ICSU); and (ii) the SA National Committee of the International Union of Microbiology Societies (IUMS).
His academic and research leadership also includes various portfolios he occupied at institutional, regional, national and international levels. These include, inter alia, Past President and Past Vice-President (SA Society for Microbiology), Chairman on numerous NRF committees, and Voting Delegate or alternate Voting Delegate for South Africa at six ICSU and two IUMS General Assemblies. He serves on the Editorial Board of the South African Journal of Science and is a reviewer for various international journals. He is a former Trustee and Board member of LifeLab (a Biotechnology Innovation Centre of the DST) as well as Chair of its Project Investment Committee. Dr. Pillay is/was an Honorary Research Professor at UKZN and the DUT in South Africa.
His leadership and management skills are evident from (i) the international standing of the Department of Microbiology which he headed at the former UD-W; (ii) the emerging research culture that was established at DUT when he was Director of Research Management and Development; and (iii) the re-positioning and improved efficiencies of RISA at the NRF. During his tenure from 2010 as Vice President of the NRF and as MD of RISA to his current position as DCEO of RISA, he was able to double the budget of RISA and robustly drive the transformation mandate of the NRF through the introduction of several innovative and new funding instruments in response to a changing higher education landscape. He took responsibility for the RISA Renewal Initiative which placed strong focus on transformation, and customer-centricity by working in a matrix environment. Through business process re-engineering, the turnaround times of grant awards have been significantly reduced and the stakeholder community has embraced this positive development. These initiatives have also augured well for the NRF in terms of stakeholder relationships and reputation building. Dr Pillay has attended numerous courses on directorships, management, conflict resolution, corporate governance and corporate finance, the learnings from which he has successfully deployed in his leadership at RISA resulting in clean audits of the NRF for the past four years. He is currently a member of the Institute of Directors of South Africa (IoDSA).
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