07/29/2013 05:43 EDT | Updated 09/28/2013 05:12 EDT

Mina Mawani: From Refugee to CivicAction Leader

Mina Mawani is an exemplary civic leader based in Toronto. She has been an avid volunteer in the community and an exceptional leader for many local and international organizations. I recently spoke to Mawani about her early years as a refugee and how she learned to become more resilient.

Mina Mawani is an exemplary civic leader based in Toronto. She has been an avid volunteer in the community and an exceptional leader for many local and international organizations. I recently spoke to Mawani about her early years as a refugee and how she learned to become more resilient as a result.

Tell us about your long journey to Canada.

In the early 1970s, Idi Amin, the President of Uganda, expelled the South Asian community and gave them 90 days to leave the country. We were sent to a refugee camp in Vienna, Austria and we spent one year there before being granted residency in Canada.

My parents settled in Thunder Bay, Ontario, worked two jobs, and made significant sacrifices to ensure that their five children would be successful. Although we struggled financially, our parents nurtured and cared for each one of us (and others in the community) and we learned to be resilient. We encouraged each other to be strong, confident and to always work hard to achieve our goals.

You have been an avid volunteer (for example, with Women's College Hospital, U.N. Women National Committee) for a long time. Tell me a bit more about that.

I have always been engaged in giving back to the community. I believe that all individuals should participate in causes that they are truly passionate about. We are part of our societies, and I believe we all have a responsibility to care for each other, to help those in need and to ensure that those organizations that exist for the betterment of the public good, not only exist, but thrive. They can only do this if we as individuals step up and contribute to these causes. I also believe that a moral and ethical framework must form the foundation of all our decisions.

You have had a rich professional journey with leading organizations, like Aga Khan Council and PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as the Province of Ontario. You are now with the CivicAction. Share with us some of the highlights of your professional journey.

Whether analyzing the staffing and operational implications of large-scale mergers, helping the province adopt an entirely new model of hospital funding, or working with a non-profit to embrace new ways of thinking about the programs they deliver, there has been one recurring theme throughout my career -- that of being a "change facilitator."

In each of the positions I held, I learned from everyone around me. KPMG, PwC and the MOHLTC provided me with opportunities to develop my leadership skills. Working in the private sector and then switching to the public sector equipped me with the tools I needed to embrace different perspectives and allowed me to gain a better understanding of how differing views can lead to bold and innovative thinking.

Working at The Aga Khan Council for Canada was an incredible experience for me. I developed a deep sense of empathy for the work of His Highness the Aga Khan who has been concerned with improving the quality of life of communities and societies in the developing world. This empathy has developed into a deep desire to make our world a better place for all of us to live in. I believe that differences among people enrich society and help build strong foundations for the future.

Tell me about CivicAction?

CivicAction is all about making the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area the best that it can possibly be. We do this by bringing together senior executives and rising leaders from all sectors together to launch transformative and non-partisan campaigns, programs, and organizations. While the issues we face may change over time, we're building on a decade of successful collaborations and we are guided by a bold vision of a strong, fair, and prosperous Toronto region.

Our current areas of focus include accelerating the development of our regional transportation network (, enhancing economic performance, and fostering greater inclusion and resilience through initiatives like DiverseCity and the Race to Reduce.

In order to see this region succeed, we need to ensure that our city-building leadership is diverse and representative of all communities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Our DiverseCity Fellows program enables 25 rising city-builders to broaden their networks, deepen their understanding of issues facing the region, and enhance their ability to collaborate across different sectors.

What drew you to CivicAction?

CivicAction's vision resonates deeply with me. I believe strongly in consultation, collaboration, and creatively bringing diverse people together to understand the issues facing our communities. I believe pluralism strengthens society when there is open and constant dialogue and willingness to compromise.

There are many young people -- especially immigrants -- who may want to follow in your footsteps. What advice do you have for them?

Education has always been a priority in our family. My advice to the youth is to ensure that they seek higher education because we live in a very competitive world. I really believe that we have to find our passion and once we do that, we have to use that passion and education to get involved with the issues in our communities. Always take initiative and take every opportunity to learn and grow. Ensure that you set some clear goals and find two or three people who can mentor and guide you throughout your career and provide access to opportunities.

Where do you see yourself in the next decade?

In the next decade, I see myself making a significant contribution to the well-being of civil society. I'm not sure what the future holds for me but I am excited about continuing my leadership journey by engaging in the issues facing our communities. I plan on continuously developing myself, learning from others and building strong relationships by engaging with others in constructive dialogue. We need to ensure those generations benefit from what we have achieved today.

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