Meet Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of CivicAction
Sevaun Palvetzian is one of Canada’s leading experts on civic engagement and is a voice for influence and advocacy on many urban issues. Since 2014, Sevaun has focused on building inclusive cities and levelling the playing field of opportunity at CivicAction. She is also a member of Mayor John Tory’s Advisory Panel for International Hosting Opportunities, sits on the Board of Directors for the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, and is a member of the Ivey Business School Leadership Council. Throughout her career, Sevaun has advocated for new voices at the tables of influence including championing the next generation of leaders in her roles with the Ontario Public Service, University of Toronto, and Presidential Classroom in Washington, D.C
My first job ever was… Video store clerk. I swear I was mumbling, “please be kind and rewind” in my sleep for years.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… It chose me. Still does. I never know what I’m going to do next. Each chapter has surprised me in how it appears and what it offers as a new chapter in life’s giant ‘Table of Contents.’ I’ve been fortunate to work with some INCREDIBLY gifted people. And while each job I’ve had is different, they share three things in common: it has to be work I’m passionate about; it has to be an environment that involves smart people to learn from and work alongside; and it needs to be challenging and complex.
My proudest accomplishment is… On the personal front, I am very proud of my family. My two children are amazing human beings and the bookends of my day and life. My extended family and friends are also a treasure. On the professional front, there are several. I am proud of the amazing talent that I’ve had the good fortune to know and hopefully, helped nudge, coach and sponsor positively along their own career journeys. I am also proud of launching the Learn and Work program within the Ontario Government for at-risk youth, the Ontario Place Trillium Park and Trail, and the new CivicAction Leadership Foundation we launched last year.
My boldest move to date was… Moving to Washington, D.C. right out of university to start my career. I didn’t know a soul, but I was in love with American history and politics and that was enough. I had some INCREDIBLE professional experiences there. I could write a book about the lessons that town taught me — and maybe one day I will.
I surprise people when I tell them… I’ve been cage diving with great white sharks. I love sharks. I am fascinated by them and could talk for hours about them.
My best advice to people starting a business is… Trust your gut. It’s the best GPS system you’ll ever have. Also, make a pact with your values and honour it. If you agree to always follow your values they, in exchange, will lead you through any situation that gets thrown at you. There’s no better deal than the one you make with yourself.
My best advice from a mentor was… When you get a seat at the table, own it. The world wasn’t shaped by wallflowers so don’t be one.
“When you get a seat at the table, own it. The world wasn’t shaped by wallflowers so don’t be one.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… Don’t worry about whether things are the “right move to make.” It’s actually pretty hard to make a really bad career decision. I would also tell my 20-year old self that she has NO IDEA how cool life gets. None of what’s coming I could have ever imagined!
The biggest thing leaders underestimate… Is the amount of time you need to set aside to feed your curiosity. Great leaders never quench it. They’re deliberate about feeding that curiosity for themselves, and fostering it within the teams they’re a part of.
Work/life balance is… Fiction. I don’t believe in some kind of divided day between work and life. We don’t live with perforated edges. The ability to compartmentalize helps, but ultimately, I think doing what you love on the professional side, and making sure that your top priorities are protected with dedicated time and focus in the personal side, makes a full life.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I’m a beer pong champ and a Jenga ninja.
I stay inspired by… Packing my life — both professionally and personally — with authentic people. People who live their lives with deliberation. We only have a certain number of days on this planet. I’m in awe of those who use them consciously and don’t leave anything on the table.
The future excites me because… It’s without boundaries.
My next step is… Forward. There are no U-turns on the highway!