Our Thought Leaders and Panelists

Throughout the three-day event, we will have the privilege of hearing from thought leaders who will push our thinking further in Asset-Based Community Development, neighbourhood work, and deepening community.

John McKnight

John McKnight

Co-Director, Asset-Based Community Development Institute

John holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Waterloo, Canada and is a Professor Emeritus of Communications Studies and Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. For more than four decades his research and teaching have focused on social service delivery systems, health policy, community organization, neighbourhood policy and the incorporation of labelled people into community life. John leads a group of more than 50 fellows around the world and has mentored the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama.

As a result of a national study of local neighbourhood initiatives, McKnight and his long-time colleague, Jody Kretzmann, created the Asset-Based Community Development strategy for community building. Together, they co-authored the basic guide to asset-based community development, Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Identifying and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets. This book has become one of the nation’s best-selling guides to community development, and the methods it outlines are now utilized worldwide.

McKnight has also written two additional books – The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits (which came out of a widely popular CBC radio Canada series) and, together with co-author Peter Block, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighbourhoods.


De’Amon Harges

Community Organizer, Creator of the Learning Tree

De’Amon Harges is a faculty member of the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) Institute, Community Organizer, Creator of the Learning Tree, chairperson of the Grassroots Grantmakers Association Board, and featured in the new documentary “The Antidote: On Kindness in America” - is a frequent speaker on ABCD in secular and religious groups around the world, and is a layperson at Broadway UMC, Indianapolis, IN. De’Amon's role is to listen and discover the gifts, passions and dreams of citizens in his community, and to find ways to utilize them in order to build community, economy, and mutual “delight.”

The bulk of De’Amon’s work is based on the principles and practices of the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) that brings neighbors and institutions together to discover the power of being a good neighbor. De’Amon builds on what is already present and in place in the neighborhood, using those formally undiscovered assets to connect and empower rather than working only from the community’s needs and deficits.

De’Amon now describes his role on this planet as a social banker. He utilizes the intangible currencies that are cultivated and used by human assets and relationships to build a more abundant community.

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Gil (Guillermo) Penalosa, MBA, PhDhc, CSP

Founder and Chair, 8 80 Cities, Ambassador, World Urban Parks, President, Gil Penalosa & Associates, Creator & host, A Walk in the Park with Gil

Gil Penalosa is passionate about cities for all people. He advises decision makers and communities worldwide on how to create vibrant cities and healthy communities for all, regardless of age, gender, ability and social, economic, or ethnic background. His focus is on the design and use of parks and streets as great public places, as well as the promotion of sustainable mobility: walking, riding bicycles, using public transit, and new use of cars.

Gil is the Founder and Chair of the successful Canadian non-profit organization 8 80 Cities, as well as first Ambassador of World Urban Parks, the international representative body for the city parks, open space and recreation sector. In addition, Gil leads a private international consulting firm - Gil Penalosa & Associates, providing services as an inspirational keynote speaker, instructor of Master Classes and advisor to decision makers. Recently he created Our Third Act, an advocacy group focused on helping older adults live healthier and happier.

Throughout his career, Gil has been a strong advocate for improving city parks, making his first mark in Bogotá, Colombia, where he led the design and construction of over 200 parks - including Simon Bolivar, a 113-hectare park in the heart of the city. His team also initiated the ‘new Ciclovía’ / Open Streets - a program that sees over a million people walk, run, skate and bike along 121 kilometers of Bogotá’s city roads every Sunday of the year, and today is internationally recognized and emulated.

Because of Gil’s unique blend of experience, pragmatism and passion, many cities and organizations worldwide seek his leadership and valuable advice. He has worked in over 350 different cities in all continents.

Gil holds an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where he was selected as one of the “100 Most Inspirational Alumni” in the school’s history. Gil received a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the Faculty of Urban Planning at the prominent Swedish university, SLU. He is a Certified Professional Speaker by the US-NSA. Two years ago, he was in Planetizen’s Top 50 Most Influential Urbanists, and last year received in Australia the World Urban Parks Annual Distinguished Individual Award.

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Ayo Owodunni, MBA

Ayo Owodunni is a trained management consultant and facilitator bringing over 10 years of experience in coaching, training and strategic direction to the table. A certified Diversity & Inclusion Trainer and Life Coach with an MBA in Entrepreneurship, Ayo is a passionate trainer who loves to mix wit, knowledge, and a dose of humour to share great lessons that can lead to growth and transformation.

He is a member of the Institute for Performance and Learning (I4PL) and the Canadian Association of Management Consultants (CMC).


Mary Rowe

President and CEO, Canadian Urban Institute

Mary W. Rowe is a leading urban advocate and civil society trailblazer who has worked in cities and with communities across Canada and the United States. Mary was President of the Canadian platform Ideas That Matter, a convening and publishing program based on the work of renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs, when a mid-career fellowship with the US-based blue moon fund led her to New Orleans. There she worked with national philanthropy, governments and community activists to support rebuilding through micro-investments in neighbourhood projects for seven years in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Prior to joining CUI as President and Chief Executive Officer, Mary lived in New York City and served as Executive Vice President of the Municipal Art Society (MASNYC), one of America’s oldest civic advocacy organizations focused on the built environment.

Mary is a frequent contributor to national and international city-building programs, including UN Habitat, the Massey City Summit, The Art of City Building and the World Urban Forum. She is a frequent media commentator and writer. Under Mary’s leadership, CUI has expanded its work to include an international network from government, industry, community and city-building professions to advance research and collaborate on solutions to some of our greatest urban challenges. This includes Bring Back Main Street, COVID Signposts, CityWatch and CityShare, the engagement of several senior fellows to incubate ground-breaking projects in Canada, and the development of CUI x Local, a series of virtual residencies in cities across Canada, to learn from on-the-ground practitioners about what’s working and what’s not, and to share learnings and build opportunities for collaboration between cities. Mary is also the facilitator of BiCEP—an alliance of senior executives leading some of Canada’s most significant urban regions, for which CUI is the secretariat.

Mary is a Senior Fellow with Shorefast, a national charity focussed on building  community economies, and the creator, executive producer and host of CityTalk, a regular virtual discussion featuring a diverse line-up of leading and emerging voices on the most pressing issues of the day.


Zita Cobb


Zita Cobb

Business leader, Storyteller, Community builder at Fogo Island

In 2021, Zita Cobb was the first social entrepreneur to be inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame. Growing up on Fogo Island, Zita developed a deep belief in the inherent value of place and profound respect for the human ways of knowing that emerge from respectful relationships with nature, culture, and community. After completing high school on Fogo Island, Zita decided to study business in order to understand the global economic systems that had disadvantaged Fogo Island and numerous other small communities – bringing many to the brink of extinction. After completing university in Ottawa, she took on increasingly senior financial roles in the high-tech industry. She is most recognized for her work with JDS Fitel, subsequently, JDS Uniphase, where she contributed to building the company into one of the most successful high-tech innovators in history.

Zita returned home to Fogo Island in the early 2000s and, along with her brothers, Anthony and Alan began to build Shorefast’s initiatives. In 2016, Zita was awarded the Order of Canada in acknowledgement of the work of Shorefast in collaboration with the community of Fogo Island to help secure a more resilient future for this singular rural place. She now dedicates her full time and energies to the active direction and management of Shorefast and our projects on Fogo Island.

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Rudi Wallace


Vice President, Grants & Community Initiatives, Hamilton Community Foundation

Rudi Wallace works as a Vice President of Grants & Community Initiatives at the Hamilton Community Foundation. In this role, Rudi will lead the development, implementation and evaluation of community leadership strategies, grant programs and collaborative partnerships.

Prior to his current role, Rudi worked at the Victoria Foundation, leading a number of key strategic initiatives, serving as the Indigenous partnership lead, and collaborating with numerous organizations and local governments to address a wide range of critical community issues.


Michelle Quintyn

President and CEO, Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes

Michelle Quintyn has served as President and CEO of Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes since 2005 guiding the organization to $47 million in social enterprise revenue and 900 employees, while helping to propel thousands of individuals to overcome barriers, acquire skills and enter the labour market. She led the redevelopment of Covent Garden Market; opening on budget and fully occupied in 1999 when the London Free Press headline declared ‘Civic Project Gone Right’. As founding Executive Director of University Hospital Foundation, she initiated one of the first full-scale hospital development programs in Canada in 1986 leading a volunteer core to raise more than $100 million. As University Hospital Vice President of Development, Michelle played a critical role in the strengthening of London’s health and scientific fabric, co-leading the development of the Centre for the Advancement of Medical Device Technology, and later the evolution of Robarts Research Institute. Michelle also helped launch Edgar and Joe’s Café, Impact Loan, Circles/Bridges out of Poverty, and Innovation Works.

Michelle’s community service is vast including founding the Parkinson’s Society Southwestern Ontario and serving on the Boards of Orchestra London (as chair in 2002), Pillar Non-profit Network, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Fanshawe College Foundation and Goodwill Industries International. Currently she serves on the Fanshawe College Board of Governors, The Canadian Centre for Product Validation and is Chair of Goodwill Industries International, Environmental Sustainability Committee.

Michelle is the recipient of the YMCA Woman of Excellence Award, Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, Chamber of Commerce Business Achievement Award for Environmental Leadership, and numerous design and community relations acknowledgments. She achieved a Bachelor of Science, Occupational Therapy from the University of Toronto and Registered Nursing designation from Ryerson University.

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Emilie de Rosenroll

CEO, South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP); Start-Up CEO, Centre of Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies (COAST)

Emilie de Rosenroll is founding CEO of South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP) and Startup CEO of the Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies (COAST).

With 15 years of senior leadership experience, Emilie is passionate about creating value for stakeholders and society, developing unconventional partnerships, staying curious and focusing on impact. She has helped create key economic development initiatives for Greater Victoria, including the Rising Economy Taskforce, Rising Economy Week and the Indigenous Prosperity Centre. Previously, Emilie was Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Province Association of Regional Development Authorities.

Emilie is a director on the board of Innovate BC, a member of the BC Shipbuilding Advisory Group and a recipient of Business in Vancouver’s Forty Under 40 award. She speaks English, French and Spanish and has worked in different sectors in cities in Canada, U.S., France and Mexico.


Al Day

Al is of the Anowal (Turtle) Clan and his On^yota a:ka (Oneida) name is Lutahawit.
Currently, he sits as Shonuhses, one of nine traditional Chiefs of the On^yota a:ka
Lotiyaneshu (Oneida Nation Council of Chiefs).

He has been married to partner Laurel for fifty- five years and is the father of Paul and
Bryan and has resided at the Oneida Settlement since birth.

Al retired in 2007 and rejoined the workforce in 2008. He is currently employed as the
Executive Director of the N’Amerind Friendship Centre and has been in this positionsince August of 2011. During that time, N’Amerind has seen in grown of staff andprograms. N’Amerind has entered into a number of Memorandums of Understanding andAgreements including the City of London, the London and Middlesex Children’s Aid
Society and the Thames Valley District School Board.

With respect to London Community Foundation, Mr. Day was asked to join the Back toRiver Committee in 2016; following this Al was asked to sit on the LCF Grants
Committee in 2017 and joined the LCF Board in 2019.

Al has been an involved member of the Oneida community in sports and community service
organizations, including over fifty years in leadership positions. He has represented
Oneida and N’Amerind on numerous boards and agencies. Al was instrumental in the
establishment of a number of regional and local organizations whose goals are to
contribute to the well-being of Indigenous Peoples.

He has served as a policy analyst for Indigenous organizations in the United States and Canada, and has participated in negotiations with federal, provincial and state governments in both Canada and the United States.

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Mariam Waliji

Social Enterprise Program Manager and Coach at Pillar Nonprofit Network

Mariam Waliji has a passion for connection – whether it be with people, place, or community. Her studies in evolutionary genetics and ecology sparked questions about how local food systems and restricted access to well-grown food impact society in multifaceted ways; this encouraged her to work towards addressing inequities and barriers to access more broadly in our current systems. Her work as the Social Enterprise Manager & Coach with Pillar Nonprofit Network allows her to reframe the definition of success for social entrepreneurs while creating space to explore what it means to have intentional positive impact in community. Through education, an emphasis on sharing narrative, an understanding of intersectional environmentalism, ongoing personal reflection, and a genuine connection with her community, she aims to encourage growth and resilience in a collaborative economy.


Julie Forrester

Manager of Impact Consulting at Pillar Nonprofit Network

Julie Forrester is a social impact consultant who coaches community organizations, social enterprises and public institutions to deepen and sustain their impact. She specializes in conversations around strategic clarity, financial sustainability and engaging stakeholders. As a graduate of Ivey Business School, with a career in nonprofit and international development, Julie's perspective combines the tools of business with a desire to do good.

Julie is the Manager of Impact Consulting, a social enterprise of Pillar Nonprofit Network that provides consulting and training related to equity & inclusion, strategic planning, business development and nonprofit governance.

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Laura Cunningham-Shpeley

Executive Director for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL)

Laura Cunningham-Shpeley is the Executive Director for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL). For the past 4 years she has worked with a dedicated staff to support 162 Community Leagues across the city and every day she is inspired by the work that Leagues do to connect their neighbours. Previous to her role as Executive Director, Laura was the president of her own Community League with an incredible group of neighbours who made their goal to bring opportunities for greater connection in the community. Laura is a registered social worker, has worked at Health Canada with Indigenous Services Canada and ran her own licensed dayhome when her own kids were young. She is a huge supporter of community work, loves to watch comedy shows with her kids and takes her Covid pup for long walks in Edmonton's river valley.

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Jon Morgan

Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues Board Member

Whitemud East District (K) representative is Jon Morgan. Current President of Heritage Point Community League, Recording Secretary for his sons’ school School Council, community soccer coach, and former President of Montrose Community League Jon Morgan is excited to join the EFCL Board as the District ‘K’ Representative. When not buried in board meetings and volunteering Jon enjoys spending time with his wife and kids watching movies and trying to keep up with them in the virtual worlds of Fortnite and Minecraft. Jon is strongly dedicated to inclusivity, social justice, community, and plans to forever strive towards being a better ally.

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Hailey Claxton

Youth Intern for the Communities Building Youth Futures project in Prince Edward County

Hello! My name is Hailey Claxton, and I am the Youth Intern for the CBYF project in Prince Edward County, at the ROC youth centre. I studied Community and Justice Services at Algonquin College in Ottawa. I will receive my degree in June. I have always had a desire to support youth and their mental health; growing up in Prince Edward County my whole life, I saw first-hand the lack of support available. With the ROC, I am now able to support youth by facilitating programming, lunch programs, and community engagement. I look forward to learning and supporting the community further.

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Sarah Michel

Youth Inclusion Caseworker in Prince Edward County

Hello! My name is Sarah Michel, and I am a Youth Inclusion Caseworker in Prince Edward County, at the ROC youth centre. My background is in Behavioural Psychology, with vast experience working with various populations. With the ROC I work with youth daily in a 1:1 environment, in a case management and counselling capacity. We support youth experiencing mental health challenges, their family dynamics, housing/food insecurity, academic and employment support, etc. Stepping into this role as a Youth Engagement Coordinator I have seen that the need for additional support and services for the youth in the community is vital and look forward to supporting the changes in the County.


Pete Bombaci

Founder/Executive Director of Genwell Project

Pete Bombaci is a visionary business and social change leader who believes that by doing the right thing every day, exceptional results are created. In 2016, Pete launched his passion project, The GenWell Project, a human connection movement that was in the making for over a decade, which has recently become more relevant than ever. The mission of The GenWell Project is to make the world a happier and healthier place by educating people about the importance of face-to-face social connection and inspiring them to take action. During the global pandemic, the awareness and need for a human connection movement is greater than ever before.

Community Leaders

We are thrilled to have local community leaders across London share their stories as they introduce our keynotes. 



Luis Patricio

Luis Patricio is a community activator and sees the bicycle - his main vehicle since 2007 - as a powerful tool for social change. For more than ten years Luis has been involved with social purpose and informal groups. Luis co-created and led initiatives like open street events, guerrilla gardening groups, public space renewal, citizen-led conferences, community art studios, CSA collectives, parklets, bike-to-school and bike-to-work programs. Luis holds a Masters in Urban Management and his current research theme is Urban Literacy. His burning question is: how to enhance and share urban experiences?


Dan Doroshenko

Dan Doroshenko, Chair of the Byron Community Organization. The BCO is a volunteer-run neighbourhood association established in the Fall of 2013 and located in the western part of London. Dan is the current Chair as well as being the spokesperson and representing the group at the Urban League of London. Also a member of the SoHo Community Association in London and the Lambton Shores Community Association in Lambton County.

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Shawna Lewkowitz

Shawna’s work is grounded in community, equity and cities. She has spent over 25 years working in non-profits and public service with a focus on gender, community development and transformative education. She has been on the Board of the Urban League of London for the past five years, currently in the role as Past President. The Urban League’s aim is to build vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable neighbourhoods where everyone belongs. Shawna currently teaches and is the Community Based Learning Coordinator in Social Justice and Peace Studies at King’s University College and is a past NDP federal candidate. She received a Canada 150 and a Leading Women, Leading Girls award for her extensive work in community. Shawna is currently a PhD student at Western Ontario in the Human Environments Analysis Lab (HEAL) in the department of Geography and Environment, where she is researching gendered public spaces in Canada. She is also the proud mother of two teenage daughters, partner to Michael and you will often find her on a run, on her bike or in the woods.


Ksenia Stepkina

Ksenia Stepkina is a Community Builder, who proudly calls Kitsilano home. She is passionate about bringing people together and empowering others to make a difference in their community. She has served as a volunteer with Kitsilano Neighbourhood House, as a seniors’ programs, Neighbourhood Small Grants Committee member, tech support volunteer.

She is the recipient of the Kitsilano Community Hero Award and Larry Hnetka Community Builder Award. She is a member of Tamarack’s Cities Deepening Community membership – receiving support on developing a Kitsilano Neighbourhood Strategy, while jonining as a part of the national network of community development professionals aiming to reduce social isolation and create stronger neighbourhoods.