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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A seasoned civic entrepreneur, Tamara has been with CivicAction since 2007.

As CivicAction’s first COO, Tamara works closely with senior management to build and implement internal processes and integrate tools that help CivicAction launch new initiatives that address tough issues urban regions face.

Part operations manager, part program manager, Tamara also supports the development of new initiatives which includes building a common fact base, fundraising and developing partnership strategies to get great ideas off the ground.

Over the years, Tamara has helped to evolve CivicAction’s operating model from a start-up to a more mature, sustainable organization. Working with stellar colleagues and incredible volunteers, Tamara helped to build a solid foundation for CivicAction’s leadership programs, including ELN and DiverseCity Fellows, launched the inaugural ELNStudio and led work on the First 1000 Days and Child Care Expansion Strategy. More recently Tamara led the development of employer-led actions to level the playing field of opportunity and access for youth.

She sits on the Board of Why Not Theatre, an agile, international theatre company based rooted in the values of innovation, community and collaboration. 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 (outgoing)
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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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With over 10 years of communications and marketing experience, Sarah is always looking for new ways to engage people and create impact through story-telling. As Vice President, Partnerships and Engagement, Sarah guides CivicAction’s external communications, while directing key partnerships and signature events for CivicAction. Sarah brings her creativity, humour and passion for challenging the status know to everything she does.

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.

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.

Allison Hunwicks

Chief of Staff to the CEO (incoming)
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Allison joined CivicAction in 2019 as the Chief of Staff, where she assists in managing the operations and finance, strategy and governance, and communications support and community relations of the organization. With a keen enthusiasm for knowledge building and innovative solutions, she brings a passion for civic engagement, public policy, and social change to her work.

Prior to joining CivicAction, Allison worked as the Research Assistant to the chair of the Expert Panel on Modern Federal Labour Standards, where she had the unique opportunity to engage with challenging policy issues that have significant social impact. She is also an enthusiastic member of the arts community in Toronto, and over the years has worked with many talented young artists to encourage their endeavors and develop their potential.

Allison holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Queen’s University and is completing a Certificate in Law from the Queen’s Faculty of Law.

Jeff Junke

Senior Manager, Communications and Marketing
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For media inquiries, please contact Jeff at above phone number or at

When it comes to storytelling, Jeff Junke comes by it naturally—thanks, in part, to two parents with careers in journalism. But as CivicAction’s resident beat reporter, Jeff’s keen ability to craft compelling narratives on a host of urban issues makes him a dynamic communicator for the GTHA’s civic scene.

As Senior Manager, Communications and Marketing, Jeff leads the development of a wide range of public-facing activities for all of CivicAction’s initiatives, helping to grow CivicAction’s profile and foster new connections with stakeholders, partners and the media.

Jeff brings 10 years of communications experience to CivicAction, largely focusing on strategic communications, publication and project management, social media, knowledge mobilization, and media and stakeholder relations.

Hailing from Jordan Station, Ont., Jeff currently calls Toronto’s East Danforth neighbourhood home and is an avid curler and runner. As a Board Member for Heritage Toronto, Jeff helps promote a greater appreciation for Toronto’s rich architectural, cultural and natural heritage.

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.

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.

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.

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

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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