The world wasn’t shaped by wallflowers – it was shaped by women like Sevaun Palvetzian

Updated: Oct 17, 2019

Say her name; know her story. We ask phenomenal women to narrate the story of their lives in five chapters. They name each chapter and explain why each chapter is named the way it is, allowing them to share their story in their own words, and showcase their milestones, hardships, and decisions along the way.

Well, I finally know I want to be when I grow up. It’s no longer a marine biologist (I hate the smell of fish) or a fashion designer (couture is ugly – there I said it) or a secret CSIS agent (my parents read this, so I can’t expand on why this one is no longer an option for me). Nope, when I grow up, I want to be Sevaun Palvetzian. As an executive, a mother, daughter and friend, Sevaun is kind, warm, smart, confident and an all-around commander of respect. Seriously, people pay attention to her the way I pay attention to my waiter every time he walks out from the kitchen with a plate of calamari that might be mine.

Sevaun grew up in Cambridge, Ontario in a Canadian-Armenian family, three sisters and a brother; a supportive family unit that continues to act as an anchor in her life to this day. “We grew up in a family where you were expected to have a voice,” she remembers, “our parents raised us to have a brain and have a voice – and use both.”

Sevaun Palvetzian is the CEO of CivicAction, a non-partisan civic engagement organization that tackles some of the most complex challenges that exist within cities across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Areas.

From the age of nine, Sevaun thought she would go to law school, become a lawyer and maybe even a judge one day. That changed on her first day of university though, when she sat in on her first politics lecture and realized it was boring af and she couldn’t spend her whole life discussing the working definition of mens rea and actus reus. Ahhhh poly sci… Turning bright eyed university students off of going to law school since time immemorial. Good to know it wasn’t just me!!

After graduating, she went to Washington DC for what was supposed to be a four month internship and ended up staying for years. The lessons that her parents had instilled in Sevaun and her siblings as kids stuck with her as she entered the world of politics and governance, especially as a young woman in a city filled with extremely powerful men.

“It was always going to be more important what came out of our mouth than the shade of lipstick that went atop it”.

Sevaun met some of the most influential people in the world during her time in DC.

She recalls run-ins with the likes of people like Senator John McCain and Condoleezza Rice (remember when they were considered to be controversial?! Wow. Good times.), but those who were most influential in her life at the time were not necessarily the faces that frequented CNN and FOX News (thank goodness).

Mentorship has always been central to Sevaun’s personal and professional life. “That’s a privilege, right? To have role models in our life. I just took that for granted for many years growing up – that everybody had that, and the reality is many don’t”.

Thank you, Sevaun, for providing FLIK’s proof of concept!!! This is exactly what we’re trying to improve for you, ladies!!!

She still doesn’t ever make a significant decision in her life without first floating it past those who she’s lucky enough to have as mentors and sounding boards; not because she isn’t sure of herself, but because the people we hold closest to us are those who help facilitate the shaping of who we become.

“Having a thought in your head, but not being confident enough to get it done, doesn’t shape the world”.

This is the confidence gap that Sevaun (and FLIK) hopes to help close for young women and girls. Which brings me to the other reason I want to be her when I grow up: her ability to be a kickass CEO while simultaneously prioritizing her most important role of being a mom to two young daughters. Dinner table conversations in Sevaun’s house involve her girls debating various important issues that she handles at CivicAction. Brb, I need to save this idea in my Notes for future parenting strategies!! No mom and dad, you are not becoming grandparents any time soon.

She does this because of how important it is for everyone, particularly young women, to be able to find their voice. “That ability to hold your own at a table - especially as a woman - is what you’re going to need at some point in your career”, and Sevaun has started her girls young. They also have a mom who literally embodies strength in pretty much every aspect of her life.

In her role as CEO of CivicAction, Sevaun uses her smarts and her generosity to make cities and communities better places for everyone to live. She tackles real challenges that our elected officials either can’t or won’t address. And by real challenges, I do not mean pretending to lower the price of beer to $1.

See this powerhouse in action for yourself by watching the videos above.

Written by: Hannah Geiser

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