Meet Karey Billyard – eXXpedition Ambassador and Virtual Voyage Tonga Crew Member. Ocean lover, master storyteller and sustainable entrepreneur,  Karey caught up with us about her adventures since finishing her Tonga Virtual Voyage.

We discussed the place for storytelling in the fight against plastic pollution, her work at Waterlution – an NGO that works with young leaders to solve hyper localized water issues – and the mission behind her new sustainable enterprise.

As part of our Ambassador Spotlight Series we wanted to showcase all this by telling Karey’s Superpower Story.

Quite uniquely you have love for both art and the creatives but also science and research – where did both those passions come from when did you realise the two could overlap?

I grew up going to the ocean and Great Lakes here in North America so I’ve always had a passion for the water. Alongside that I spent my time doing all things arty – dancing, acting, and all that fun stuff. I went to university for radio and television, and for theatre production.

I eventually made it to London where I started working at the Natural History Museum. It was there, at the Sir David Attenborough Studio, where I witnessed audiences of all ages engaging in meaningful dialogue about the natural world. I saw the bluechip natural history films sparking kids imagination and realised how big an impact can come from storytelling. I discovered that there was a real place for effective storytelling and that I could use storytelling to overlap my two passions.

How did you your love for storytelling develop?

Through the Natural History Museum I ended up getting the magical opportunity to work on a production with the one and only Sir David Attenborough himself.

Ever since, I have loved researching and speaking to multidisciplinary experts. I love digging deeper and becoming a temporary expert in different fields. I have been able to talk to all these different people who do fascinating things and then tell their story in a way that made it accessible to a wider audience. And I loved doing that. I love making the deeper science interesting to the point where it’s actually something kids want to do and get involved with. I think that is the magic of combining arts and science.

As one of probably greatest storytellers out there, what did Sir David Attenborough teach you about telling a story?

You can’t be the conveyor of a message unless you understand it deeply yourself. That is why research is so important. But mostly, having true genuine interest is the only way that you come across as an authentic source of real information – the only way you can hope to be an inspiration. His stories are born from his authenticity, from his genuinity and his own intrinsic sense of curiosity. To put it simply, he taught me that you have got to know your stuff.

“… having true genuine interest is the only way that you come across as an authentic source of real information – the only way you can hope to be an inspiration.”

What place does storytelling have in the fight against plastic pollution?

Making the unseen seen. Not only is this the power of storytelling, but it is the real mandate of eXXpedition. eXXpedition was an opportunity to show firsthand what is going on in our ocean. Emily’s mission is to connect all these super powered women via the emotion in that experience and then convey that emotion, with authenticity, to our wider global audience. It is that authenticity that has the potential to have genuine ripple effects throughout the community where people can be swayed to make different choices and perk up their ears to the deeper issues at work.

How did you come to be involved with eXXpedition?

I’ve spent my career telling the stories about how others take risks, go further, dive deeper, jump higher – put things on the line in order to make the world a better place. I just felt it was my time to actually be that person, on the boat, doing the research, and telling my own story. It was my turn to take that risk, make that jump and go on an adventure of my own.

What do you think your superpower is?

I would describe myself as a shapeshifter – I am able to just jump in and talk shop with almost anybody.

What has been your proudest achievement since finishing your Tongan voyage?

My proudest achievement is starting a sustainable personal care product business with my best friend who is in the beauty industry in Toronto. It’s something I never thought I would do, and it was eXXpedition that sparked the whole idea. Having this network of eXXpedition women all across the world that I could connect with at any given moment gave me that confidence just to go for it.

So when and why did you decide to focus on personal care products?

It was on a call with one of my best friends who’s in the beauty industry and in Toronto and quite influential in that space. I was telling her about how microplastics affect women most directly, because of the many reasons that we had discussed in our voyage session and she began talking about all the waste that comes out of beauty salons.

So that then started a conversation about personal care products and how we are made to feel guilty about wanting to take care of ourselves. We are already so pressured about how we look and the choices we make. Adding the environmental credentials of all these products to the list is just another added pressure. We wanted to get rid of that pressure. And so, Frankly Sustainable was born.

Will you just be focusing on personal care products?

Along with our sustainable personal care product range we are hoping to launch a podcast series where we want to host real conversations, present different approaches and highlight all the different feelings that surround the whole concept of sustainability within beauty. We want it to be sexy, we want it to be hip so that it can reach a broader audience. In a way, I’m matching art with science once again I guess!

What’s the message behind your product?

Our slogan puts it nicely – small choices, big impact and frank conversation. It all goes back to authenticity. Our idea comes from a place where Carolyn’s experience in the beauty industry meets my super nerdy science experience. A toothbrush isn’t going to save the planet but it is going to start a conversation, it’s going to pull people in, it’s going to make them understand that small choices can have big impacts.

Is there something you learnt that has really stuck with you since the Voyage?

We had a meeting with a representative from Tongan government at our “solutions” workshop during the voyage. He reminded me that in some places, it’s not always just a matter of making a “simple, little choice”. For so many people around the world there are so many other front loaded socio-economic issues that have to be put ahead of environmental ones. Hearing those words reminded me just how much of a privilege it is to even think about shopping sustainably. It is not always as simple as making a little choice but if you are lucky to have that privilege, don’t let it go to waste.

“It is not always as simple as making a little choice but if you are lucky to have that privilege, don’t let it go to waste.”

You also work for a charity called Waterlution. What is the NGO aiming to tackle and what is your role there?

Waterlution aims to bring university students from across the globe all together to solve very hyper-localized water issues. Currently I work as their communications lead. At the moment I am in the process of doing a full rebranding of the whole organization which has been really interesting as I get to unpack it all and put it all back together again.

Why do they choose to work with young people specifically?

Young leaders are so important. They are the ones being handed the baton. And it’s a really hypercharged, scary baton to receive. So educating them and giving them capacity training for the future we have left for them, is the least we can do. My work with them reminds me that all is not lost in the world. With these bright young minds at the helm, we at least have a chance of getting back on track.

In three words, how would you describe eXXpedition?

“Women supporting women”.

If you were able to tell the world one message, what would you want to say?

Get out there and be inspired. Feel the natural world with your own hands and see it with your own eyes. Understand the problem at its core. Doing that will keep you motivated to make significant changes; it will push you to get up in the morning; and understand that the work is hard but that it’s worth it.

Photo Credits

With thanks to: Karey Billyard, Kristine Berg, Nomad Mneumounics & Jamie Colman