Conference Thought Leaders

Throughout the three-day workshop, 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.

Meet our Thought Leaders

John McKnight

John McKnight 

Co-Director, Asset-Based Community Development Institute

John holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Waterloo, Canada and is 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.


Melanie Goodchild 

Senior Indigenous Research Fellow and Associate

Melanie Goodchild, AnishinaabeKwe, is Moose Clan.  She is from Biigtigong Nishnaabeg and Ketegaunseebee First Nations in northern Ontario.  She has a Master of Arts degree in Sociology and is currently completing her Ph.D. in Social and Ecological Sustainability at the University of Waterloo.  She is the founder and co-director of Turtle Island Gichi Gakinoo’maatiwin, a systems awareness teaching lodge, a project on the Tides Canada Platform.  In her work, she weaves together her unique perspectives of Anishinaabe gikendaasowin (original ways of knowing) with systems thinking and complexity theory to address our society’s most intractable problems.  Melanie believes in the teaching methods of her ancestors, in ‘coming to know’ on the land, and so she supports initiatives that seek to connect people to ceremony, story, art, language and the land.

Melanie is a Research Associate at the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation (WISIR) and a Faculty member of the Academy for Systems Change in the US.  She is a member of the design and delivery team of Getting to Maybe: A Systems Leadership Journey residency program at the Banff Centre and a member of the design and delivery team for Positive Deviants: The Banff Fellowship for Systems Change.  Melanie is a facilitator and advisor to diverse systems transformation projects across Turtle Island and she is an International Women’s Forum (IWF) Fellow alumna (2015/16), an executive leadership program sponsored by Harvard Business School and INSEAD.  She is a proud member of the Iron Butt Association (IBA), riding her motorcycle 1000 miles in 24 hours.  


Jim Diers

Faculty, Asset-Based Community Development Institute

Jim Diers has a passion for getting people engaged with their communities and in the decisions that affect their lives. His work in the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods was recognized with an Innovations Award from the Kennedy School of Government. He was appointed the first director of Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods in 1988 where he served under three mayors over the next 14 years creating what some would say is a miracle of neighbours where he put his passion to work for a direct-action neighbourhood association, a community development corporation, a community foundation, and the nation's largest health care cooperative.

He teaches courses at the University of Washington and serves on the faculty of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute. Jim travels internationally to deliver speeches and presents workshops on neighbours and neighbourhoods. His book, Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way, is available in both English and Chinese editions.


Lisa Attygalle

Consulting Director, Community Engagement

Tamarack learning Centre

Lisa works with cities and organizations to help them meaningfully engage their communities. Over the last six years, her work has focused on creating authentic engagement strategies and training staff teams, teaching and writing about innovative engagement methodologies, designing and facilitating workshops with a focus on raising the voice of the context expert, integrated communications planning, and the use of technology and creativity for engagement. Lisa advocates for simplicity in infrastructure, frameworks and design and loves applying the principles of marketing, advertising, loyalty, and user experience to community initiatives.

Paul Born

Paul Born

Co-CEO Tamarack Institute, Vibrant Communities

Paul is the Co-founder and Co-CEO of the Tamarack Institute and the Founder and Director of Vibrant Communities. He is the author of four books, including two Canadian best sellers. Paul is a global faculty member of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute (ABCD) and a senior fellow of Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social innovators. 

Heather Keam 2

Heather Keam 

Manager, Cities Deepening Community

Tamarack's Vibrant Communities

Heather is happy to be part of the Vibrant Communities team as the Manager of Cities, Cities Deepening Community. Heather brings over 12 years of public health knowledge to this position.

Heather has a passion for helping communities to realize that they are in charge of their future and to take leadership in assessing their own resources and needs. Heather believes that people have choices. They can either sit back and let others determine their future or they can stand up and create their own.

Heather has 13 years of experience generating action at a grassroots level. She loves guiding groups through program planning, implementation and evaluation of local efforts. She has a Bachelor's degree in Health Studies from Brock University, a Graduate Diploma in Nutritional Science from Canberra University, Australia, a Graduate Diploma in Health Promotion from Canadore College and currently working on a Certificate for Knowledge Mobilization. Heather has presented at several provincial, national and international conferences regarding her work on walkable communities and building healthy communities.

Mark Cabaj Square Crop

Mark Cabaj 

President, From Here to There Consulting

Mark’s current focus is on developing practical ways to understand, plan and evaluate efforts to address complex issues (e.g. neighbourhood renewal, poverty and homelessness, community safety, educational achievement and health). He has first-hand knowledge of using evaluation as a policy-maker, philanthropist, and activist, and has played a big role in promoting the emerging practice of developmental evaluation in Canada.

Mark is President of the consulting company From Here to There and an Associate of Tamarack Institute.


Stay posted for additional panel and workshop guests!