Our Team

Who We Are

The CivicAction team makes up the staff for both CivicAction and the CivicAction Leadership Foundation.

Leslie Woo

Chief Executive Officer

Leslie Woo is a respected leader with over 25 years of experience building sustainable communities and shaping urban development in Canada’s fastest-growing urban region, greater Toronto. Leslie assumed the role of CEO at CivicAction in September 2020. CivicAction is a premier civic engagement organization that convenes established and rising leaders from all sectors, backgrounds and experiences, CivicAction catalyzes actions and impactful solutions to address pressing challenges in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and beyond.

Before joining CivicAction, Leslie was at Metrolinx for over a decade including her time as Metrolinx’s Chief Planning Officer. Leslie is a tri-sector athlete with experience in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors as well as her experience as a planner, architect and community activator. An accomplished leader, Leslie was named One of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in 2017 by WXN, Spacing Toronto’s Transit Changemaker in 2016 and Canada’s Women’s Infrastructure Network’s 2015 Outstanding Leader. Founder of, Leslie uses her voice and platform to amplify and celebrate other women city builders.

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

Chief Operating Officer
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A seasoned civic leader and entrepreneur, Tamara has been with the organization for over a decade and became COO in September of 2018. Under Tamara’s leadership, CivicAction and the CivicAction Leadership Foundation will continue to boost civic engagement and build better cities through its initiatives and programs.

During her time with CivicAction, Tamara contributed to the evolution of CivicAction from a start-up to a mature, sustainable organization. Tamara led CivicAction’s leadership programs – ELN and DiverseCity Fellows – through several stages of growth, and has led key initiatives including the First 1000 Days and Child Care, climate resiliency and employer-led actions to level the playing field for opportunity youth which includes national expansion of our work.

Tamara was Interim CEO of CivicAction from February to September 2020.

Neha Bhargava

Program Director
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Neha Bhargava is a Program Director at CivicAction where she leads key initiatives including Anti-Sex Trafficking and Future of Work. She joined CivicAction in 2016 and has managed several important programs focused on helping at-risk youth gain employment, including HireNext, SkillsConnect and YouthConnect.

Prior to joining CivicAction, Neha led a strategic cross-sector partnership at Target with police services across Canada to build better and safer communities. She developed a cross-sector fellowship program for promising future police leaders to give them access to skills and knowledge used in the private sector. Neha also led a nation-wide program to help at-risk youth connect better with police officers to help break the barriers of communication between the two groups.

Previously, Neha was Head of People & Brand at Paddle HR and co-founder and Marketing Director for The Intersector Project, a New York based non-profit empowering professionals to solve pressing social issues by collaborating across sectors. She also worked with Hill+Knowlton Strategies where she led public relations campaigns for Microsoft and started her career with the Federal Government. Neha graduated from the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa with a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

Leslie Domenico

Senior Program Manager
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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 a 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 channelled 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).

Sarah Harris

Vice President, Partnerships and Engagement
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For media inquiries, please contact Sarah at the above phone number or at

With over 10 years of communications and marketing experience, Sarah is always looking for new ways to engage people and create impact through storytelling. As Vice President, Partnerships and Engagement, Sarah guides CivicAction’s external communications, while directing key partnerships and signature events for CivicAction.

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 for all. She draws on her communications and leadership expertise to promote the work of CivicAction, shine a spotlight on important urban issues, and surface untold stories. 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.

Magda Hjartarson

Director – Partnerships and Development
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Magda is a successful development professional with over ten years of experience in fundraising and donor relations. As a Director of Partnerships and Development at CivicAction, she develops and executes a multi-year fundraising plan as well as manages and grows the entire donor portfolio for CivicAction and CivicAction Leadership Foundation. In her work, she draws on her detailed knowledge of government and stakeholder relations and has earned praise and trust for her capacity in developing and executing innovative and tailored partnership strategies. Also, she often brings valuable insight for event planning teams. 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. She loves Toronto for all it has to offer and enjoys the outdoors with her family and friends.

Rebecca Klaassen in a blue jean jacket smiling to the camera.

Rebecca Klaassen

Program Manager, Emerging Leaders Network
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Rebecca joins CivicAction as the Program Manager of the Emerging Leaders Network, where she works to support young, emerging, and underrepresented leaders in strengthening leadership skills, developing networks, and activating on civic issues. She brings forward strong experience in civic engagement, youth leadership, and community development. Prior to joining the CivicAction team, Rebecca coordinated the Toronto RISE project for Apathy is Boring, where she led groups of youth in becoming more civically and democratically engaged, and was a co-facilitator for Amplify, a transatlantic youth dialogue. Previously, her career has taken her to Africa, Asia, Central America and the South Pacific to work with a diversity of social change organizations. She is an alumnus of the University of Ottawa, where she studied International Development and was a member of the City of Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee.If she is not at a community event or travelling somewhere new, you’ll find Rebecca sitting in a park with a book in hand.

Mariyam Lightwala

Operations and Development Officer
Maternity Leave

Mariyam Lightwala is CivicAction’s Operations and Development Officer. She works closely with our Director of Partnerships and Development to assist in fundraising as well as handling 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 passion 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 was a counsellor for the Naseeha Muslim Youth Helpline. When she’s not at CivicAction or volunteering in her community, Mariyam spends her time consulting on research projects. An outdoor enthusiast, Mariyam loves her time in nature either hiking or canoeing.

Carita Marsili

Carita Marsili

Design and Digital Lead
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Carita intends to use digital media and visual communications to help organizations improve their communications and storytelling capabilities. Currently, she holds a BFA in Film Studies, with a specialization in Integrated Digital Media from Ryerson University.

Before CivicAction, Carita worked as a Graphic Designer for the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education at Ryerson University. After this, she took her work abroad, working in Indonesia as a Marketing and Communications Coordinator for a youth-capacity building project called EQWIP HUBs.

Jodie Rawn

Managing Director – CivicAction Leadership Foundation
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Jodie joined CivicAction in March 2015 as Project Director, Leadership Programs. In her role, she oversees the CivicAction Leadership Foundation 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.

Photo of CivicAction staff member Greg Sam.

Greg Sam

Program Manager, DiverseCity Fellows- CivicAction Leadership Foundation
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Greg is an inclusive leader in community development with over 10 years of non-profit experience in the GTHA. As CivicAction’s DiverseCity Fellows Program Manager, Greg currently spends his time building a dynamic and engaging environment for civic-minded peers to increase their leadership capacity while diversifying their personal and professional networks.

Before joining CivicAction, Greg was a Projects Lead at Ophea where he worked with health and physical education champions, public health professionals, and government ministries to develop programs and resources for Ontario educators focused on healthy eating, mental health, and physical activity. A trained teacher and expert facilitator, Greg finds great joy in managing relationships, designing programs, and developing key strategies. He exercises these skills by working as a consultant with Hart House’s Integrated Learning and Community Engagement department while acting as a Senior Advisor to their Recreational Athletics and Wellness Committee. Greg earned an honours degree in Leisure and Recreational Studies at the University of Ottawa, a Bachelor of Education at York University, and a certificate in Project Management at the University of Toronto. If you’re in Toronto and would like to find Greg, simply head to your nearest basketball court and there’s a good chance he’ll be there playing hoops with the best of them.

Gargi Saripalli smiles in a yellow shirt.

Gargi Saripalli

Operations and Development Officer
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Gargi joined CivicAction as Operations and Development Officer in fall 2020. She is a nonprofit management graduate from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri with 3+ years of experience specializing in digital marketing, fundraising and operations for high impact-driven nonprofits both in the US and in India. Gargi previously worked in various capacities with India School Leadership Institute, The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL South Asia), Junior Achievement of Chicago, 826CHI among others.

She is highly passionate about enabling nonprofits to accelerate the social impact in terms of improved systems and processes, resource development and/or utilizing new digital media. As a new immigrant to Canada, she calls Toronto her new home and hopes to explore and learn more about the region. In her free time, she loves to read and research about tiny homes and dreams to build one in the future. She is also a wannabe dog mom.

Cynthia Zakhem

Program and Events Officer – CivicAction Leadership Foundation
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Cynthia is currently working as the Foundation’s team Program and Events Officer.

Since joining CivicAction from Deloitte in July 2018, Cynthia has quickly become an invaluable and trusted member of the CivicAction family. She started off by contributing to both the Mental Health in the Workplace file while also working on making this year’s Summit as user-friendly as possible. After these projects, she joined the Youth team and provided invaluable project and coordination support. In her current role, she is providing administrative, program, event and logistical support to the Foundation’s programs, and has officially become a Salesforce Super User.

When she is not at work she is out in a park reading, experimenting with new recipes or catching a movie at The Carlton. Cynthia loves attending public engagement events and is always happy to meet new people. So if you see her around make sure to say hello!

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