New ideas and practical information for building civic literacy,
and promoting engagement and leadership


Maytree brought together 400 engaged leaders for CollaborAction, a one-day conference focused on making change in highly diverse, low income communities.

The purpose of the conference was to share tools and examples of good practice for building leadership and a promoting engagement. The conference showcased local leadership success stories and opportunities for participants to learn from each other.

Find out how the day unfolded

We recorded each session, have posted presentation slides, and have graphic illustrations of each session.

Welcome and opening panel
Opening welcome by Alan Broadbent
Opening panel moderated by David Miller, with Deena Ladd, Workers’ Action Centre, Deborah Littman, London Living Wage Campaign, Victor Willis, PARC and Shelley Zuckerman, North York Community House

Watch welcome and the panel.


The engagement imperative
Presenters: Alison Loat, Samara; and Myer Siemiatycki, Ryerson University.
Respondent: Jehad Aliweiwi, Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office

Watch the workshop.

Building a civic movement
Presenters: Niambi Martin-John, Malton Community Building Project; Adriana Salazar, Mennonite New Life Centre; and Jamie Robinson, United Way of Greater Toronto. Facilitated by Dave Meslin

Watch the workshop.

How can technology help organizing?
Presenters: Chris Cowperthwaite and Adel Boulazreg

Watch the workshop.

In their own interest, in their own voice
Presenters: Judy Duncan, ACORN-Canada; Winnie Ng, Ryerson University; Sonia Singh, Workers’ Action Centre. Facilitated by Effie Vlachoyannacos, Public Interest

Watch the workshop.

Concluding remarks by Ratna Omidvar

Watch the concluding remarks.

Speakers and presenters

David Miller, Aird & Berlis LLP

David Miller is Counsel, International Business and Sustainability at Aird & Berlis LLP. In that role, he assists the firm in the development of its international clean tech and renewable energy practices. David is a leading advocate for the creation of sustainable urban economies. In addition to being a strong and forceful champion for the next generation of jobs through sustainability, David advises companies – and governments – on practical measures to make this happen.

David Miller was Mayor of Toronto from 2003 to 2010. Under his leadership, Toronto became widely admired internationally for its environmental leadership, economic strength and social integration.

As Chair of the influential C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group from 2008 – 2010, David Miller was instrumental in demonstrating the practical and real change cities are already making and can continue to make as they fight climate change and create sustainable employment. He continues that work today with the World Bank, OECD, UNEP and other national and international organizations to strengthen the capacity of City governments worldwide to act. David is the Future of Cities Global Fellow at Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly). He is a member of the David Suzuki Foundation Board, an Honorary Director of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and Chair of Cape Farewell North America. Most recently, David was appointed by the Canadian Counsel of Academies to Chair an Expert Panel on “The Potential for New and Innovative Uses of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) for Greening Canada.”

David Miller is a Harvard trained economist and professionally a lawyer. He and his wife, lawyer Jill Arthur, are the parents of two children.

Deena Ladd
, Workers’ Action Centre

For over 20 years, Deena Ladd has been working to improve wages and working conditions primarily for racialized communities, women, low-wage workers and immigrant workers. She has been successful in establishing new initiatives, partnerships and linkages to shine a light on exploitation and discrimination.

She has worked as a union organizer with garment workers, home-based workers, social service, retail and manufacturing workers. Deena has developed and taught courses and training sessions for rank and file unionized women, young workers and workers of colour for various federations of labour, unions and community organizations.

She has worked with community organizations such as the Maquila Solidarity Network, Desh Pardesh and Toronto Coalition Against Racism. In 2008, Deena was awarded the Constance E. Hamilton Award on the Status of women by the City of Toronto. She has served on the board of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians and the Metcalf Foundation Community Program Advisory Committee addressing issues of poverty and community organizing. She is currently on the Metcalf Foundation Opportunities Fund Advisory Committee and is also active in the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change – a new coalition focusing on improving conditions for migrant workers in Canada.

For the past twelve years, Deena has been working to build a membership based worker’s centre in Toronto that can improve wages and working conditions for many working people. The Workers’ Action Centre works with predominantly low-waged immigrant workers and workers of colour in precarious jobs that face discrimination, violations of rights and no benefits in the workplace.

Jehad Aliweiwi, Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office

Jehad Aliweiwi is a strategic thinker with more than 15 years of experience in senior management positions in social, settlement and community service organizations. Since 2004, Jehad has held the position of Executive Director with Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, a multi service non-profit organization serving the Thorncliffe community for more than 20 years. Prior to that, he was Regional Director, Metro Region of Catholic Cross-Cultural Services. Jehad also worked with the Canadian Arab Federation for eight years, as Race Relations Officer and, later, as Executive Director. He is a Trustee of the Ontario Science Centre and a board member of Fred Victor Services and Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI). In 2010 Jehad was the recipient of the Local Hero Award from the Canadian Urban Institute.

Adel Boulazreg
In the United States, Adel Boulazreg was an organizer with Obama for America/Organizing for America (OFA) in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was responsible to recruit, manage, and train volunteers to organize their communities and neighborhoods into teams that register, persuade, and motivate voters. He has organized events for Mr. Bill Clinton, former Governor Jim Hunt, and Democractic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

Most recently, Adel was the volunteer coordinator for Kathleen Wynne’s leadership campaign. Fresh off the Obama win, he was determined to bring grassroots ideals to the Wynne campaign. In constant communication with a pool of over 500 volunteers, Adel developed a core volunteer team that exceeded 90 people. As well, he was the Executive Assistant to the Campaign Manager, Tom Allison, for the two-day Liberal Leadership Convention. Previously, Adel was the Communications Assistant with the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada – Ontario chapter.

Chris Cowperthwaite
Chris Cowperthwaite’s passion for grassroots organizing and the thrill of running a campaign on a tight budget drive his digital technology and project management work.

Chris led Kathleen Wynne’s digital team in the 2007 and 2011 provincial campaigns and the 2013 Ontario Liberal Party leadership campaign, with responsibility for website development, data management and social media strategy. As Manager of Development and Alumni Relations at the Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation (2007 – 2010), Chris was responsible for the foundation’s fundraising databases and alumni engagement strategy. He has worked since 2005 to build the Ten Oaks project, Canada’s first sleep-away camp for youth of the LGBT community, as Chair of their Toronto fundraising committee and lead on their CRM database development project.

Judy Duncan, ACORN Canada

Judy Duncan founded ACORN Canada over eight years ago in August 2004. Under her management the organization has now grown to over 51,000 members with four offices across the country. Prior to joining ACORN, she worked with the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Winnipeg. Judy received her M.A. in Community and Regional Planning from the University of British Columbia in 2003.

Deborah Littman, London Living Wage Campaign

Alison Loat, Samara

Alison is the co-founder and executive director of Samara, an organization that improves political and civic participation in Canada. Samara conducted Canada’s first-ever series of exit interviews with former Members of Parliament and initiates other research and education programs dedicated to reconnecting citizens and politics. Alison is also a fellow and instructor at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance and the President of the Canadian Club of Toronto. For her public service work, Alison received the Public Policy Forum’s Youth Leaders Award and the Queen’s Gold and Diamond Jubilee Medals. She also worked at McKinsey & Company, the Government of Canada and the MaRS Discovery District and was a founder of Canada25. She has degrees from Queen’s University and the Harvard Kennedy School and enjoys reading, curling and going places she’s never been.

Niambi Martin-John, Malton Community Building Project

Niambi Martin-John is a professional grass-roots community developer, advocate and organizer. She brings an eclectic background of fundraising management in the cultural/arts and non-profit sector as well as hands-on cutting edge community building in low income neighbourhoods working with racialized and marginalized communities.

In her current role as a community developer for the Malton Community Building Project, Niambi seeks to influence dynamic political and social change in the at-risk community Malton. She has laid the foundation for increased civic participation among community residents and has proposed an asset-based youth leadership approach that will ultimately bring sustainable change to Malton.

In a unique project, Niambi builds leadership capacity among Black and South Asian ethnic communities. By actively engaging residents and leveraging cultural and human capital, she has created opportunities to bridge gaps, build cohesion and tear down barriers facing Malton’s two dominant ethnic groups. Working with residents to realize the role they can play in building their community, she has empowered others to take on key leadership roles in the community.

Dave Meslin
Dave Meslin (“Mez”) is a Toronto-based artist and organizer, with a focus on public space issues, cycling infrastructure, voting reform, transpartisan advocacy and democratic renewal. Dave is active on many issues, some of which include: organizing Reclaim the Streets, coordinating Toronto’s Car Free Day programming, founding the Toronto Public Space Committee, co-founding Spacing Magazine, launching Better Ballots, creating the Ranked Ballot Initiative and recently curating the Fourth Wall exhibit about transforming local politics in Toronto.

In November 2010, Dave co-edited Local Motion: The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto (Coach House Books). Some of his favorite projects to date include the Downtown De-fence Project, the Professional Guest and the Pee-Wee Herman Picture Show, which featured members of Toronto’s indie rock community coming together to raise funds and awareness about bicycle advocacy in the city. When he’s not deeply immersed in urban politics or electoral reform, Dave tours with The Hidden Cameras (a “gay folk church music” band). Future projects he’s considering include a transit riders’ union, a bike store, a reality TV show, and maybe another book.

Winnie Ng, Ryerson University

Labour rights activist and scholar Winnie Ng holds the CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University. The CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy is the first union-endowed chair at a Canadian university. For over three decades, Ng has championed the rights of workers through her involvement with various labour organizations and networks. She began her labour involvement in 1977 as a union organizer with the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union.

As a labour and anti-racism educator, Ng coordinated the English in the Workplace Program and Equity Program at the Labour Education Centre, and for eight years, she was the Canadian Labour Congress’ Ontario regional director. She is the labour co-chair of Good Jobs for All Coalition, an executive member of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance and a board member of Labour Community Services. Recognized for her leadership in the Canadian labour movement, Ng is the recipient of numerous distinctions including the Urban Alliance on Race Relations’ Leadership Award, the United Farm Workers’ Cesar Chavez Black Eagle Award and the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award.

She is a sought-after speaker and contributor on women’s rights, labour equity and anti-racism issues. Ng holds a MA and PhD from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Her doctoral studies focused on re-imagining the labour movement from an anti-racism perspective. She graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor of Sociology.

Adriana Salazar, Mennonite New Life Centre

Adriana F. Salazar is the coordinator of the Newcomer Skills at Work project at the Mennonite New Life in Toronto. Her training and practice in social justice and human rights spans 20 years of work in Colombia and Canada. She brings over four years of direct engagement with immigrant communities in Toronto around topics of economic, social and civic inclusion.

Adriana has led three Participatory Action Research projects investigating the access to fair and meaningful employment for newcomers and exploring the civic and political participation of immigrant communities. She has promoted empowering opportunities for recent immigrants to share their stories of struggle, resilience and innovation through initiatives such as the Newcomer Advocacy Committee, Newcomers Speakers Bureau and New Voices Newsletter.

Myer Siemiatycki, Ryerson University

Myer Siemiatycki is Professor of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University. His research has explored immigrant and minority civic integration in Canada, with a focus on Toronto. Professor Siemiatycki was the Founding Director of Ryerson’s Graduate Program in Immigration and Settlement Studies. His publications have examined such topics as immigrant political representation, non-citizen voting rights, transnational ties, minority religions and public space. Myer is a frequent media commentator on topics of urban politics and immigration.

Sonia Singh, Workers’ Action Centre

Sonia Singh is an organizer with the Workers’ Action Centre (WAC), a worker-based organization committed to improving the lives and working conditions of people in low-wage and unstable employment. WAC brings workers together to to fight for fair employment and to provide leadership in our struggle for fairness and dignity at work.

Sonia works with other WAC staff to support workers to become members in the Centre and to become actively involved in WAC organizing campaigns. Through community and coalition work, Sonia has supported WAC to build partnerships with community organizations and grassroots groups across the city, including the development of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and a new campaign to raise the minimum wage in Ontario.

Jamie Robinson, United Way of Greater Toronto

Jamie Robinson joined United Way Toronto in December 2008 and has since held a number of roles in support of the organization’s Building Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy, a cross organizational priority aimed at improving conditions in communities with high concentrations of poverty.

He has been responsible for evaluation of the Strategy and was one of the primary authors of UWT’s Vertical Poverty report on conditions in high-rise apartment buildings. As Team Lead, Neighbourhoods, Jamie is now responsible for overseeing the implementation of UWT’s investments in community development, Community Hubs and tower neighbourhood renewal.

Prior to joining United Way Toronto, Jamie worked as a Regeneration Consultant in London, England, where he provided a range of evaluation, research and consultancy services focused on neighbourhood renewal, community development and local public service improvement.

Effie Vlachoyannacos, Public Interest Strategy & Communications

Effie Vlachoyannacos is a Project Manager with Public Interest. Public Interest works with public, not-for-profit, and labour organizations to support social change, improve the environment, facilitate community development and promote progressive public policy.

With Public Interest, Effie has worked on diverse community engagement initiatives and campaigns across Toronto’s inner suburbs, with a particular focus on affordable and social housing advocacy.

Effie has worked extensively with tenants in Toronto Community Housing on a variety of housing, environmental, and children’s program initiatives, including Save Our Structures, Building Stronger Futures and the Anti-Ableism Committee. Most recently, Effie has had the privilege of working with Tenants for Social Housing, a tenant-led campaign where tenant voices are at the forefront of the campaign and broader housing decision-making processes. The campaign has been actively working to advocate for the protection, enhancement and promotion of tenant rights and social housing in Toronto. Effie is also Chair of the Board of Directors for the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations.

Victor Willis, Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC)

Victor Willis is the Executive Director of PARC (the Parkdale Activity – Recreation Centre). He’s been involved in community and mental health initiatives for over twenty-five years, working on a wide range of community development and leadership activities.

As Chair of the first Community Fire Response Protocol, he helped oversee the creation of a city-wide initiative to assist marginalized residents of rooming houses with the after effects of a fire. Victor led a community-based response to a proposed re-development of a derelict and notorious rooming house adjacent to PARC. This resulted in the development of 29 units of affordable housing called Edmond Place which opened its doors in January 2011. He has been the Co-Chair of the St. Joseph’s Health Centre mental health and addiction population panel for seven years; the chair of the St. Joseph’s Health Centre Strategic Population panel for five years as well as a member of the St. Joseph’s Health Centre performance council for four. Victor is also a board member of the Parkdale Village BIA and the just opened West End Food Coop as well as recently elected to the board of the Daily Bread Food Bank.

Victor works to ensure that experiences in direct service are translated into lessons learned for others doing similar work. With a team of UofT students he published Beyond Bread & Butter: toward food security in a changing Parkdale (PDF) and helped with the collaborative work and vision of A Place for Everyone: How a community Land Trust could protect affordability and community assets in Parkdale (PDF).

Shelley Zuckerman, North York Community House

Shelley Zuckerman is currently the Executive Director of North York Community House (NYCH). She has over 30 years of experience in community development and the management of non-profits in Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal. Shelley is committed to increasing engagement and innovation in neighbourhoods and facilitating the full participation of newcomers to Canada.