Our Team



Sevaun Palvetzian

Chief Executive Officer
416-309-4480 x511
Follow Sev on Twitter @SevaunP

Sevaun Palvetzian has been CEO at CivicAction since January of 2014. Under her leadership, the organization has launched the CivicAction Leadership Foundation and two new initiatives focused on youth unemployment and mental health in the workplace. Before CivicAction, Sevaun held several senior executive roles within the Ontario Government where she championed the next generation of leaders launching the Youth and New Professional Secretariat – a government-wide strategy to attract and retain future generations of leaders which included launching the award-winning Learn and Work Program for at-risk youth.

Prior to her work in government, Sevaun held positions at the University of Toronto, the World Bank Group, and Presidential Classroom, a Washington D.C. -based civic education organization.

Sevaun frequently contributes to city-building efforts including serving as a member of the Premier’s Community Hubs Advisory Group, The Toronto Police Service Board Transformational Task Force, and as a member of Mayor John Tory’s Advisory Panel for International Hosting Opportunities. She also sits on the Board of Directors for both Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), NPower Canada, Waterfront Toronto, and is a member of Ivey Business School Leadership Council.

She completed the Ivey Executive Program at the Ivey School of Business and has an M.A. in history from the University of Western Ontario.

Chris Adams

Chief Financial Officer

Chris runs an accounting firm based out of MARS that serves primarily start-up technology companies along with other Toronto-based non-profit organizations. He has served as CivicAction’s CFO since 2009 supporting the CivicAction Board of Directors and Finance Committee. Chris lives in Etobicoke with his family, and enjoys commuting by bicycle along the waterfront in the warmer months.

Tamara Balan

Project Director – Escalator

Tamara leads CivicAction’s Escalator: Jobs for Youth Facing Barriers initiative, focused on creating economic opportunities for youth, while also meeting the needs of employers. A new mom herself, Tamara also oversees an initiative that aims to provide babies in our region the best start in life – beginning with their first 1000 days.

Tamara has been at CivicAction since 2007. She believes in collective leadership to overcome the status quo and make the Toronto region better. She’s been breaking down barriers across sectors, municipal boundaries and continues to do that in her current work. Tamara holds a Bachelors degree in Urban Studies and Political Science from the University of Toronto. In 2012, Tamara was named a Vital Person by the Toronto Community Foundation.

Tamara is currently on leave. Please contact Sarah Harris or Neha Bhargava with any questions regarding Escalator. 

Neha Bhargava

Project Manager – Escalator
416-309-4480 x 509

Neha Bhargava is CivicActions’s Project Manager of Escalator, a cross-sector initiative to tackle the issue of unemployment for youth facing barriers. Prior to joining CivicAction, Neha led a strategic cross-sector partnership at Target with police services across Canada to build better and safer communities. Here she, developed a five day cross-sector fellowship program for promising future police leaders to give them access to skills and knowledge used in the private sector. In addition, she led a nationwide program to help at-risk youth connect better with police officers to help break the barriers of communication between the two groups.

Previously, she was Head of People & Brand at Paddle, and still serves as a Marketing Advisor to the Toronto-based tech startup that provides modern career advice to students and recent graduates. She has also served as the Director of Marketing & Communications for The InterSector Project, a non-profit empowering professionals to solve pressing social issues by collaborating across the private, public, and community sectors. Here she led the marketing, special events and global branding activities for the organization.

In addition, Neha has also worked with Hill+Knowlton Strategies, where she led public relations campaigns for Microsoft, Government of India and Brand South Africa. Neha started her career working as a marketing specialist for Enablence Technologies, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and United Way Ottawa. She graduated from the Telfer School of Management with a B.Com from the University of Ottawa. 

Alexandra Biron

Program and Events Coordinator – CivicAction Leadership Foundation
416-309-4480 x 504

Alexandra is the Program and Events Coordinator for CivicAction’s Leadership Foundation. She is born and raised in Toronto and has always been an active leader in her community. From leading sport for development programs for youth, helping to plan fundraising events to volunteering at mental health organizations, she is committed to being involved in community development initiatives and in creating a prosperous future for the GTHA.

Alexandra Biron is a graduate from Wilfrid Laurier University’s Honour of Business Administration Program. She graduated with a minor in psychology and major in Business Sustainability, and has a great passion for social sustainability in particular. Alexandra has experience working for corporations as well as non-profit organizations in finance, accounting and monitoring & evaluation. She offers a unique skill set, which is paired with her business mindset and commitment to social good.

Leslie Domenico

Senior Program Manager
416-309-4480 x 506

Leslie has been a Program Manager at CivicAction since 2011.  Since joining, she has helped drive CivicAction’s award-winning Race to Reduce smart energy office challenge over the finish line, orchestrated CivicAction’s 2015 Summit – Better City Bootcamp, and is now immersed in two of CivicAction’s new focus areas – Mental Health in the Workplace and Infrastructure Investment.

Leslie’s strategic sense and knack for “getting things done” has served her well.  Her career has included progressively senior marketing and communications roles managing a variety of gold standard programs for national and international clients.  In recent years she has channeled her considerable energy and efforts to the non-profit sector, contributing extensively to several environmental non-profits organizations including Green Enterprise Ontario, one of Canada’s largest green business organizations and The Climate Group’s LightSavers initiative, a coalition of public and private sector leaders working to accelerate the scale-up of LED technologies.

Leslie holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP).

Brooke Downey

Chief of Staff to the CEO
416-309-4480 x 512

At CivicAction, Brooke focuses on our fundraising priorities and assisting in other initiatives as needed. Prior to joining CivicAction, she was the social media and event coordinator for a small non-profit in Etobicoke. She brings a passion for city politics and civic engagement to her work within and outside of CivicAction.

Brooke received her HBA in Political Science and Women & Gender Studies from the University of Toronto where she focused her studies on Canadian politics, urban issues, and community organizing. While a student she was an executive on the Women and Gender Studies Student Union, a mentor at UofT’s Accessibility Services, a volunteer at the Women and Trans Centre, and coordinator at the Innis College Registrar.

Currently, Brooke lives in the west end of Toronto where she volunteers her time with local community groups in the Parkdale-High Park area. Brooke has an interest in Toronto’s built heritage and can often be found exploring the city looking for unique, timeless architecture.

Sarah Harris

Senior Director – Integrated Communications and Public Affairs
416-309-4480 x 508

As the Senior Director, Integrated Communications and Public Affairs, Sarah Harris leads the development and execution of the organization’s strategic communications goals, guides CivicAction’s narrative, and directs all aspects of the organization’s external communications. She plays a key role in managing CivicAction’s stakeholder relationships across multiple mediums and channels.

Before joining CivicAction, Sarah worked for the Ontario government where she held various communications positions at the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Her work in government focused on strategic communications planning, crisis communications, reputation management and media relations.

A Toronto native, Sarah is passionate about making the GTHA a better place to live and work. She draws on her communications and leadership expertise to promote the work of CivicAction and advance the organization’s city-building priorities.

Sarah earned her Honours BA in History and Art History at the University of Toronto and her Post Graduate Certificate in Public Relations at Humber College.

Toota Hassanien

Program Manager – Emerging Leaders Network
416-309-4480 x 514

Nihal Toota Hassanien has joined the CivicAction team to support the development and execution of our Leadership Programs. Driven by a passion for innovation & lifelong learning, she is always looking for opportunities to support the sustainable growth of our city and of the individuals within this city that can drive change forward.

Toota has obtained both an honours degree in Psychology from York University and a Graduate Certificate in Human Resource Management from Seneca College. She has developed her skills and passion for city building primarily through her work in the Jane & Finch community, with the Success Beyond Limits Education Program. Toota aims to use this experience, as well as her lived experience, to positively impact and support individuals and organizations to cultivate a shared vision, tap into their talents and achieve their best. She believes that through smart dreaming, designing and collaboration, a vision that was once distant can come to fruition and real change can happen.

Magda Hjartarson

Director – Partnerships and Development
416-309-4480 x 513

Magda is a successful development professional with over ten years experience in fundraising and donor relations.

As a Director of Partnerships and Development at CivicAction she will develop and execute a multi-year fundraising plan as well as manage and grow the entire donor portfolio.

Prior to working for CivicAction, she was with the Ontario Liberal Fund where she has earned praise and trust for her capacity in developing and executing innovative and tailored partnership strategies. With a detailed knowledge of government and stakeholder relations, Magda was able to successfully execute fundraising events and brought valuable insight for the entire fundraising team.

Her unique skills are augmented by participation in many provincial election campaigns and events and development work at the University of Toronto.

She is thrilled to be working with like-minded and passionate individuals to tackle some of the GTHA’s toughest social, economic and environmental challenges.

Magda earned her undergraduate degree in Poland and her Post Graduate Certificate in Public Relations at Ryerson University.

Jeff Junke

Communications Manager
416-309-4480 x 533

For media inquiries, please contact Jeff at above phone number or at

As Communications Manager, Jeff leads the development of a broad range of communication and public relations activities aimed at growing CivicAction’s profile and fostering new connections with external stakeholders, partners, and media.

Prior to joining CivicAction, Jeff was Associate, Communications at The Change Foundation, a health policy think-tank that engages patients, family caregivers, health providers, and government agencies to improve the experiences Ontarians have in the province’s health care system. At The Change Foundation, Jeff provided day-to-day communications management across all areas, as well as strategy and planning leadership for various projects and publications. He also brings social media, report publication, and media relations experience from the Council of Canadian Academies, a national non-profit that provides evidence-based advice to policy- and decision-makers.

Hailing from small town Niagara, Jeff currently calls Toronto’s burgeoning east end home. He is excited to be part of CivicAction’s essential work nurturing civic leadership and collaborative solutions to address key challenges that affect our region.

Jeff holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts in History and English from the University of Ottawa and a Master of Professional Communication from Ryerson University.

Jelena Lazarević

Communications Advisor
416-309-4480 x 503

From telling impactful stories in 140 characters, developing strategic communication plans, or supporting individuals at all levels to better understand how to leverage the digital world, Jelena Lazarević is a rising leader. She uses her deep passion and understanding of digital tools to create meaningful change across communities. Currently, Jelena helps manage all digital communications for CivicAction and the CivicAction Leadership Foundation – two organizations that take a cross-sectoral collaborative approach to solve our region’s most complex issues. As a graduate of the Master of Professional Communication program at Ryerson University, Jelena became fascinated with all things digital and with finding ways diverse people can use the digital sphere to connect with those around them.

Over the past 5 years she has developed her passion for global development, communication, and the arts through working with The University Students’ Council of Western University, UNICEF-at-Western, and helping manage a student-run elections blog. Today, as a young communications professional, graphic designer, and photographer, she continues to find ways to contribute her strong digital media and graphic design skills to a variety of causes. When she’s not tweeting away, you’ll find her traveling, behind the camera, or indulging in good food.

Sebastian Lewis

Project Coordinator – Escalator
416-309-4480 x 519

Sebastian Lewis is a Toronto native with a passion and drive to help the city be a better place to live. As a child, Sebastian loved playing with computers, and as a result has picked up programming as a passion, and is self-taught and always looking to learn more. Sebastian is easily inspired by others around him, and has a keen will to make things work for the better.

Now he joins CivicAction to lend his tech skills, specifically in the areas of database management, and the digital and technological aspects of various projects. Sebastian is a passionate and dedicated worker, as well as a strong advocate for youth and taking on the prominent issues facing the GTHA.

Mariyam Lightwala

Office and Fundraising Coordinator
416-309-4480 x 505

Mariyam Lightwala joins CivicAction as our Office and Fundraising Coordinator. She works closely with our Director of Partnerships and Development to assist in fundraising as well as handle office administration tasks. Beyond that, she supports other staff members with events or special projects. She completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto followed by a Masters at McMaster University, where she focused on learning about healthcare management in a global health setting. During this time, she discovered her passions for equitable healthcare and diversity and inclusion. Mariyam has always offered her free time to groups she is passionate about and has volunteered as an executive member for UofT’s Muslims’ Students Association, mentored for the First Year Learning Community, contributed to Friends of MSF at McMaster, and is currently a counsellor for the Naseeha Muslim Youth Helpline. When she’s not at CivicAction, or volunteering in her community, Mariyam spends her time doing research at CAMH for The Roshni Project. An outdoor enthusiast, Mariyam loves her time in nature either hiking or canoeing.

Taher Mahmood


Taher is a  CPA US professional. He has worked for the Chris J. Adams Accounting Firm for over seven years and provided bookkeeping services for CivicAction since 2010. He enjoys living in downtown Toronto with his wife.

Moriah McKay


Moriah has joined the CivicAction team as an intern from the University of Toronto, where she studies Human Geography and Urban Studies. Moriah grew up in Toronto and loves the diversity that characterizes the city. She is passionate about making Toronto an inclusive city for everyone.

Moriah is excited to be working with the Mental Health in the Workplace team and learning about the impactful initiatives within CivicAction.

While studying abroad at the University of Western Australia, Moriah was able to explore the city of Perth and her love for travel.

Using her leadership skills, Moriah volunteers as a mentor to lower-year Geography students and to incoming exchange students at the University of Toronto.

Jodie Rawn

Managing Director – CivicAction Leadership Foundation
416-309-4480 x 580

Jodie joined CivicAction in March 2015 as Project Director – Leadership Programs. In her role, she oversees the DiverseCity Fellows and Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) programs, and is responsible for the development of strategies to identify and prepare the future leaders of our region.

Jodie comes to CivicAction by way of the Ontario government, where she held progressively senior roles in key areas of the organization including marketing/communications, issues management, strategy, organizational transformation and leadership development.  In addition to management roles with both the Ministry of Government Services and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, she also recently spent three years as Manager – Organizational Dynamics at ServiceOntario where she led her team in producing creative and high-impact engagement, communication, and leadership initiatives.

Born and raised in Southwestern Ontario, Jodie moved to Toronto in 2007 and quickly adopted the city as home (yes – even its long-suffering sports teams).  She has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science (Honours) from Wilfrid Laurier University and is a graduate of the Ontario Public Service’s Leadership Development Program.  She has also completed management certificate programs at both the Schulich School of Business and Rotman School of Business.

Seher Shafiq

Program Manager – DiverseCity Fellows
416-309-4480 x 518

Prior to joining CivicAction, Seher Shafiq managed the community engagement initiatives, government relations, and volunteer program at Lifeline Syria. Seher’s other experiences include working at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, as well as project management for a youth resiliency and mental health project in Ontario.

Seher is extremely passionate about civic engagement and was heavily involved in get-out-the-vote efforts during the 2015 federal election. She is a Director at The Canadian-Muslim Vote, which seeks to educate community members about the ins and outs of Canadian democracy, as well as the importance of being involved in the political process.  

Seher completed both her degrees at the University of Toronto – a Masters in Global Affairs from the Munk School of Global Affairs and a BA with a double major in International Relations and Ethics, Society & Law. 

In her free time, Seher is a big foodie and loves trying new restaurants and recipes!

Donovan Taplin

Intern, Mental Health in the Workplace
416-309-4480 x 517

Donovan is a storyteller at heart. He has been a TEDx speaker, a guest columnist for, and a community radio host.

Donovan is from Bell Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, where he served for four years as the youngest person elected to a municipal council in the province. Among other accomplishments as a Municipal Councillor, Donovan introduced proclamations to establish the Town’s first ever Pride Week and Mental Health Awareness Week and aided in lobbying for landmark investments in local drinking water infrastructure. Donovan sat on the Public Relations and Communications Committee of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador and was a spokesperson for the provincial Municipal Awareness Day.

In 2013 CBC Gen Why Magazine named Donovan one of “12 Young Leaders Changing Canada.” He sat on Newfoundland and Labrador’s Premier’s Advisory Committee for Youth and currently holds a youth advisory role with Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In 2016, he served as a delegate for the Young Diplomats of Canada at the Y7 Summit in Tokyo, Japan, the official counterpart to the 42nd Annual G7 Summit. 

Donovan is a winner of a Loran Award, a TD Scholarship for Community Leadership, an Ontario Graduate Scholarship, and was a finalist for a 2018 Rhodes Scholarship. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications Studies and is currently pursuing a Master of Professional Communication degree at Ryerson University.

Linda Weichel

Vice President – Initiatives
416-309-4480 x 502

Linda draws on her business and communications leadership and passion for city-building as she drives action across sectors to improve the Toronto region’s economic, social, and environmental prosperity. Linda is leading CivicAction’s new initiative that will mobilize employers and employees to provide greater Mental Health Support in the Workplace, while sustaining CivicAction’s support for a regional transportation network and the means to pay for it. She is wrapping up the legacy work for the award-winning Race to Reduce that inspired 42% of all GTA commercial buildings to reduce their total energy use by12.1% and costs by $13.7 million over four years.

Linda brings to her work knowledge of the financial services and real estate sectors and environmental communications with private, public, and non-profit organizations, and has successfully advanced public policy objectives over two decades, particularly at the municipal level. Linda encourages vibrant, walkable neighbourhoods as an advisory committee member of neighbourhood walking tour phenomenon Jane’s Walk.