Our Team


Sevaun Palvetzian

Chief Executive Officer
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Follow Sev on Twitter @SevaunP

One of Canada’s leading experts on civic engagement, Sevaun Palvetzian has been CEO of CivicAction since January 2014. Under her leadership, CivicAction has focused on building inclusive cities with the launch of the CivicAction Leadership Foundation to change the face of leadership in our region and initiatives focused on youth unemployment and mental health in the workplace which level the playing field of opportunity and access. Throughout her career, Sevaun has advocated for new voices at the tables of influence including championing the next generation of leaders. During a decade of senior executive leadership within the Ontario Government she launched a strategy to attract and retain future generations of leaders which included the award-winning Learn and Work Program for at-risk youth and led the team responsible for the new Trillium Park at Ontario Place. She has also held positions at the University of Toronto, the World Bank Group, and Presidential Classroom a civic education organization in Washington DC.

Named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women, Sevaun is a voice of influence and advocacy on many urban issues, and is frequently called on for print, radio and TV commentary. She’s active in a range of community roles including serving as a member of the Toronto Police Service Board Transformational Task Force, and as a member of Mayor John Tory’s Advisory Panel for International Hosting Opportunities. She sits on the Board of Directors for NPower Canada, Waterfront Toronto, and is a member of the Ivey Business School Leadership Council. She has an M.A in history from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed executive programs at the Ivey School of Business and Harvard School of Business.

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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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 2013 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.

Neha Bhargava

Senior Project Manager
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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.

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 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
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Brooke joined in the team in 2016, supporting fundraising, administration, and program initiatives, including the child care initiative. As the Chief of Staff, she assists in managing the operations, governance, human resources, and finances of the organization. Prior to joining CivicAction, she was the social media and event coordinator for a non-profit in Etobicoke.

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.

Originally from Mono, Ontario, Brooke now calls the west end of Toronto home. She is an avid supporter of initiatives that improve local and urban democracy. In her spare time, she is an avid reader and can often be seen at local events in the High Park area.

Sarah Harris

Vice President, Partnerships and Engagement
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As Vice President, Partnerships and Engagement, Sarah Harris guides CivicAction’s external communications, while managing 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. 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
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Currently working as CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network Program Manager, Toota Hassanien works to co-create engaging, cutting edge programming to amplify the impact and capacity of diverse leaders across the Greater Toronto & Hamilton Region.

Toota has an honours degree in Psychology from York University and a Graduate Certificate in Human Resource Management. Throughout her professional career she has refined the skills of Program Design, Program Evaluation, Human Centered Design, and Facilitation. 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 – a highly impactful, hyper local initiative focused on youth educational attainment. Toota aims to use this experience, as well as her lived experience, to create the conditions for others to realize and act on their potential.

She is a member of the Ontario Black Youth Action Plan Steering Committee, a volunteer with The Canadian Muslim Vote, a former free-lance writer with Afri-Culture and previously served on SpeakSudan’s Board of Directors. She is also one of the recipients of Minister Ahmed Hussein’s Community Leadership Award in 2018.

She is equally passionate about writing as a medium for reflection, rebellion and self-care, art that tells unconventional narratives, and most importantly her vibrant family- which is both her driving and grounding force.

Magda Hjartarson

Director – Partnerships and Development
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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 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 the 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.

Jeff Junke

Communications Manager
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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 Lazarevic

Senior Communications Advisor
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From telling impactful stories in 280 characters, developing strategic communication plans, or supporting individuals at all levels to better understand how to leverage the digital world, Jelena Lazarevic 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 travelling, behind the camera, or indulging in good food.

Mariyam Lightwala

Office and Fundraising Coordinator
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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.

Emily Mininger

Communications and Alumni Engagement Coordinator, CivicAction Leadership Foundation
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As communications intern, Emily Mininger assists the communications team with a variety of tasks such as conducting media relations, writing and editing communications products, supporting coordination of events, implementing stakeholder engagement strategies, and writing social media and website content.

Emily found her passion for not-for-profit communications through volunteering, with her most notable volunteer role as founder and facilitator of KW Peace, a grassroots group dedicated to creating networking opportunities for peace and justice groups in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Through this experience she experienced the power of connecting diverse groups with similar interests and is excited to continue this work with CivicAction.

Prior to moving to Toronto, Emily served as the undergraduate academic advisor in the psychology department at the University of Waterloo, helping students navigate their academic career and developing strategies to communicate important information about academic opportunities and requirements. Wanting to switch gears and dive deeper into communications, she left the university to complete a communications post-grad program in September 2017.

Emily earned her Honours BA in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Waterloo and is a candidate for the post graduate certificate in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at Centennial College.

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.

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.

Alia Scanlon

Project Manager – 2019 CivicAction Summit
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Alia is the Project Manager for the 2019 CivicAction Summit, which brings together senior executives and rising leaders from all sectors to tackle the biggest challenges facing the GTHA. Every four years, the Summit takes the pulse of the region and sets the stage for CivicAction to be an independent and nimble developer of broad civic leadership, creating collaborative solutions to unresolved challenges. Alia also supports CivicAction’s YouthConnect Summit.

Alia specializes in managing complex, community-based projects and outcomes-driven program delivery using creative problem-solving, design thinking, strategy, spreadsheets, and disciplined curiosity. Alia seeks to make city-building in Toronto and around the world more human-centered, resulting in better public policy, inclusively designed services and spaces, and an urban ecosystem that is competitive, innovative, and compassionate. Previously, Alia was Executive Director of Jane’s Walk, a global movement of community-led walking tours that bring urban residents together to explore the places they live, work, and play through the eyes of their neighbours. Before moving to Toronto, Alia was a translator and editor at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants China and held corporate communications, marketing, and public relations roles in Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Guangdong. Alia received her MPA from the University of Colorado-Denver and has a BA in History from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Seher Shafiq

Program Manager – DiverseCity Fellows
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Passionate about diversity and inclusion, Seher currently works CivicAction Leadership Foundation, where she manages the DiverseCity Fellows program. Prior to joining CivicAction, Seher Shafiq was the Partnerships & Community Engagement Manager at Lifeline Syria, where she managed the volunteer program, media/communications, and government relations of the organization. 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. Since 2015, Seher has been part of the leadership team 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.

Born in Edmonton to Pakistani parents, Seher grew up in the Greater Toronto Area and currently lives in downtown Toronto. In her free time, Seher is a big foodie and loves trying new restaurants and recipes!

Bareera Sial

Project Coordinator and Analyst
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At CivicAction, Bareera supports Escalator as a project coordinator, a cross-sector initiative focused on tackling the issue of unemployment for youth facing barriers. She is particularly interested in creating opportunities for underserved youth and has worked on several youth-focused initiatives in Waterloo and Toronto.

Beyond her work at CivicAction, Bareera spends her free time working on projects related to community building and social equity. As a mental health advocate and BSc Psychology graduate, Bareera is very interested in learning how social determinants of health, such as employment, impact wellbeing. Recently, Bareera has supported a research initiative at CAMH dedicated to creating culturally-informed wellness interventions for young South Asian women to support them in their mental health journey. Bareera is also the youngest board member of the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW- a female led organization which strives to provide leadership opportunities to Muslim women in the Waterloo region. At CMW, Bareera has facilitated projects related to hate crime prevention, diverse representation in municipal leadership, and artistic expression of cultural identity.

Linda Weichel

Vice President – Initiatives
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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 by 12.1% 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.

Cynthia Zakhem

Project Coordinator
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Cynthia joins CivicAction as part of the MindsMatter Mental Health in the Workplace and the Summit 2019 teams.

When she is not at work she is out reading, spending time at the AGO, or catching a movie at the Carlton. Cynthia loves engaging with the all the initiatives that CivicAction is currently working on, and is happy to be part of the team.

Before joining CA she held positions at OLG as well as Deloitte.

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