No two days are the same for Sevaun Palvetzian, BA'98, MA'99. But one thing remains constant for the CivicAction CEO – her team’s optimism and drive to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).
“I work with the best team in the business,” said Palvetzian, who was named CEO of CivicAction in January 2014. “These are people who share a common goal of making our city and our region better. You can’t help but have a positive outlook in a role like this.”
Launched in 2002, CivicAction brings together senior executives and emerging leaders from all sectors – government, business, labour, community organizations and academia – to take action on major social, economic and environmental challenges facing the region of about 6.5 million people.
Palvetzian says the group prides itself on being a ‘neutral sandbox’ where all parties work collectively.
“You need places where you can leave your sectoral baggage at the door and have good, engaging, meaningful conversations,” she said. “We’re non-partisan; no one sits at the head of the table. We care about the issues getting solved.”
Landing at CivicAction was a natural evolution for Palvetzian after spending a decade working in provincial government. But that evolution, the Torontonian says, goes back even further – to her first stint at Western.
Born and raised in Cambridge, Ont., Palvetzian got hooked on history after taking a course to “fill a spot” in her undergraduate calendar. She completed an Honours BA in History in 1998, and earned a master’s degree a year later. Her focus on American history led her right out of graduate school to Washington, D.C., where she worked for Presidential Classroom, an organization that brings high school students to the nation’s capital to experience the political process.
From there, she moved on to work at the International Finance Corporation, a private arm of the World Bank Group. But the pull home brought her back to Canada in 2002. After a stint working in donor relations at the University of Toronto, Palvetzian joined the Ontario Government as a senior executive.
“Government is a good place to find the types of challenges that I’m intellectually energized by,” she said. “It’s a place where the sectors converge, where the issues are complex, where there are no simple solutions.”
Palvetzian worked on a variety of files over a decade, serving lastly as the director of the Ontario Place Revitalization project within the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. She also launched the Youth and New Professional Secretariat, a government-wide strategy to attract and retain future generations of leaders.
She also returned to her roots at Western. In 2013, she completed the Ivey Executive Program (IEP).
“I loved the opportunity to go back, and the advantage of doing the (IEP) was that I had the benefit of 10 to 15 years of work experience,” Palvetzian said. “It ramped up for me a new chapter of applicability learning – with a great environment in which to do it, and with the professors and students from which to learn.”
In 2014, the opportunity came up for her to take the reins at CivicAction. Formerly known as the Toronto City Summit Alliance, the group is both highly connected and respected by city leaders. Toronto Mayor John Tory chaired the organization’s board from 2010-14.
“I loved that (CivicAction) was an organization that sits where the sectors converge to do city-building – in an action-filled way,” Palvetzian said. “We put our finger on the pulse of urban issues that need attention, and we bring together leaders from all sectors to do something about them.”
The group’s fifth summit – the Better City Bootcamp in spring 2015 – was attended by nearly 1,000 citizens. During it, CivicAction identified five topics of focus for the next four years: seniors’ housing affordability; the city’s infrastructure needs of tomorrow; the importance of a child’s ‘first 1,000 days’; increasing public space; and mental health in the workplace.
With all the projects on the go, including grooming the next generation of ‘emerging leaders,’ Palvetzian shifts gears throughout the day while managing her staff of 13.
“It’s really been a great place to draw upon so many different parts of my professional experiences and academic experiences,” she said. “They all come together in one wonderful petri dish.”
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