06/30/2013 09:26 EDT | Updated 08/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Munira Ravji: Celebrating Canadian Citizenship Beyond Canada Day

Munira Ravji is an independent strategic consultant and project manager with a focus on diversity and inclusion, civic engagement and leadership. A seasoned community builder and communications strategist - Ravji has celebrated her Canadian citizenship on a regular basis by helping organize citizenship ceremonies for new Canadians via the Institute of Canadian Citizenship.

With a vast career spanning over 12 years as an entrepreneur, community animator and partnerships expert, Ravji has also worked within the private, public and not-for profit sectors in the areas of communications, community development, marketing, partnerships, social media, strategic planning, research, fundraising, publicity and events. I caught up with her as she reflects on citizenship, activism and diversity.

Tell us about your involvement with the Thorncliffe Park Citizenship Ceremony Committee.

I sit on a committee with a group of local residents of Thorncliffe Park to organize citizenship ceremonies for new Canadians on behalf of the Institute of Canadian Citizenship (ICC). Our chair, Yousuf Syed, is a deeply committed community builder whom I met on a political campaign in ward 26. Since I feel passionate about supporting newcomers and skilled immigrants he asked me to get involved. The ceremonies are extremely heartfelt and a great reminder to those of us who have our Canadian citizenship of how precious that status is in this country.

My favorite moment is the sigh of relief and look of excitement on the faces of those individuals who have gone through the process and are finally granted full rights as Canadians. The events also include roundtable discussions on what it means to be Canadian facilitated by community leaders, but lead by the new Canadians themselves, and the ceremonies happen in communities across Canada thought out the year.

You recently moderated a panel on behalf of International Women's Day for an auditorium of elementary students. Tell us what was presented and why that's an important audience to you.

I have to admit I was very nervous about this crowd. I mean I've spoken in front of politicians, community leaders, executives, but youth are a different audience altogether. Anything you say can be taken at face value. You have to be genuine and constructive when speaking to them because young people are looking for guidance and are impressionable. Say the wrong thing and you will lose them. All and all I think the message we tried to get across was that youth must be creative in planning for their futures. The panel was a range of women from various professions and cultures from models, to carpenters to lawyers and journalists.

The aim was to show the young women that they are capable of becoming anything they desire if they seize the right opportunities, ask for help and make good long term decisions for themselves. Our message to the young men was that they too are important players in gender equality and advancing women's positions in society, employment and at home. Men's support and solidarity in this issue is vital in addressing the barriers women face and alleviating them. We wanted them to understand that International Women's Day was about them too.

You have been active in politics behind the scenes. How are we moving forward in terms of diversity?

Personally I feel that the lack of diversity (and inclusion) is a challenge everywhere, across all sectors and industries. The great thing about politics is anyone can get involved and there is always a role to play if you are willing to step up. I always encourage people from diverse backgrounds to bring those perspectives to the political arena. I think it's really up to the parties and political recruiters to encourage authentic opportunities for diverse candidates that are embedded and passionate about their communities. And I'm not just talking about ethnic diversity.

People with disabilities, young people, women, aboriginals, are just a few of the groups of individuals that have important insight on how to implement meaningful systemic change. Personally I have always supported candidates that I felt had a strong voice and would make positive change regardless of their party affiliations. I really feel that it's going to take collaboration amongst various groups, parties and institutions to address the lack of diversity in leadership positions politically. What's encouraging is seeing so many women in leadership positions across Canada, but there's a lot more work to do.

Where will you be in five years?

In terms of career, I'm getting more and more excited about diversity and inclusion in the private and public sectors. I would like to continue consulting and supporting employers working with people facing barriers to employment. Ontario is going to be going through some drastic changes in the upcoming years with looming labor challenges especially around entry-level and front-line positions. Meeting requirements like the AODA and other accessibility initiatives will prove to be demanding, but fruitful in the long-term as we become more and more impacted by high levels of retirement and low birth rates. I see myself as a change agent and catalyst in this area.

I would also like to be involved in building the capacity of managers who are often stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to meeting organizational objectives and balancing the needs of their employees. The increase in mental illness and stress amongst staff has put a lot of pressure on organizations and leadership to address these issues with compassion and empathy. It's going to be a huge learning curve for Canadian organizations and I want helps support this transition.

In terms of community work, I want to continue advocating for safe and healthy communities, workplaces and social settings. I think it's going to take more awareness and ingenuity to change some of the rhetoric and deeply rooted racism and discrimination out there. I have found that if you really want to make an impact you need to understand your audience and tailor your messages and ask to them. But all in all it starts with getting these issues on the table and having the people who are affected by them an opportunity to voice the changes they want to see and have a hand in implementing them.