We love working with open-minded, kind-hearted people. Here are some who make our work possible.


Our work is with and for the people of Ottawa. When our city engages its people, it competes with the best cities on the planet.

The Team

Laurel Mackenzie, Interim Executive Director

Laurel brings extensive experience in the non-profit sector, having served in health and social services for well over two decades. She has worked to support some of Ottawa’s most vulnerable populations and has given strong leadership to community engagement and community partnership activities. A long-time resident of Ottawa, her outreach has extended across the province and introduced her to many of the challenges that urban and rural communities face, and the various ways in which they come together to seek solutions around local issues. Laurel looks forward to supporting the Synapcity team and the critical role they play in increasing...

Stephane Pressault, Program Manager

Born and raised in Ottawa, Stephane has grown roots in this city and has been passionate about its growth. For several years, Stephane has been an active community organizer and educator in Ottawa and across Canada. He has consulted for various national and local organizations. Stephane specializes in civic literacy education and curriculum design, civic engagement training, and community resilience and capacity building.

Ellie Sabourin, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Ellie is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Carleton University. She is a recent graduate from Mount Allison University '15 and the University of Ottawa '19. She specializes in marketing, communications, and social media planning. Having grown up in Ottawa/Gatineau, she has always felt strong ties to the community. Ellie is most passionate about volunteering and community involvement, she often donates her time to the Ottawa Food Bank and has taken up volunteer positions in Peru, Fiji, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.

The Board

Margot Sunter

Margot Sunter is a high energy, innovative and strategic finance and operations executive. She is the inaugural Chief Operating Officer at GGFL, one of the top 10 accounting firms in Ottawa. In her role as treasurer at Synapcity she brings extensive knowledge in the Not for Profit sector through work and board volunteer experience. Margot believes strongly that business and individuals have social, cultural and environmental responsibilities to their communities and is excited to learn more and support Synapcity’s civic engagement work.

Shirley Westeinde

Shirley Westeinde is a graduate of the Victoria Hospital School of Nursing in London, Ontario and the University of Western Ontario. She was the founder of Westeinde Construction Ltd., with her husband John in 1978. She has received many awards for her leadership and accomplishments, including the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award, the Women’s Business Achievement Award, the B’nai Brith Canada Award of Merit, the Queen’s Diamond and Jubilee Medals, an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Ottawa, an Honorary Degree from Algonquin College and the Order of Canada.

Aaron G. Burry

Aaron is an accomplished bilingual executive who brings a diverse background and proven track record leading large, medium, and small organizations in the private, health and municipal sectors through periods of significant growth, financial challenges, complex change, and transformations. He has an established track record as top performer for well over 2 decades, turns objectives into results by building forward thinking organizations that are responsive, client service driven, transparent, and financially sustainable.

Yancy Craig

Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, Yancy has a long history in the National Capital Region having lived in Ottawa for over 30 years. With a background in public policy, with expertise in social, economic, strategic policy, including social innovation, Yancy brings passion, curiosity and a positive outlook to addressing challenges. Yancy is a great believer in the power of people to make positive change in their communities and looks forward to working with the organization to engage his fellow citizens in making meaningful social change.

Judith Maxwell

Judith Maxwell was the Founding President of Canadian Policy Research Networks [CPRN] and Chair of the Economic Council of Canada. She has worked as a consultant and as a journalist, and has served on the Board of Directors of several large Canadian companies. Since she retired in 2005, she has been involved in the Ottawa community as a volunteer at the Community Foundation of Ottawa and other charities. While at CPRN, Judith was one of the pioneers in deliberative dialogues that give unaffiliated citizens a voice in public policy discussion. That experience convinced her that citizens have a vital role...

Ken Victor

Ken is a partner in the Edgework Leadership Group where he focuses on leadership development and facilitation in the private sector. His involvement with engaged citizens began when he was invited to serve as the lead facilitator for Leadership Ottawa’s nine month leadership journey, an experience that fostered his commitment to support citizen engagement. His experience with organizations has run the gamut from coaching senior executives in storytelling, facilitating policy conversations for think tanks, and hosting innovation charrettes for technology companies. Kens’ involvement with designing leadership development programs has received national awards from both the Canadian and the American Society...

Judy Watling

Judy spent 31 years in the federal public service, where she had the opportunity to work on many different areas of public policy that affect the lives of Canadians. Judy was very fortunate to have the privilege to spend four years at Canadian Policy Research Networks, doing research on public engagement and leading national dialogues with randomly recruited citizens on a variety of public policy issues. All this work helped to shape Judy's strong belief that respectful, meaningful dialogue that engages people with different perspectives, results in better public policies and programs, improves social capital and is necessary for stronger...


Tyler Boyce

Tyler Boyce works as a Public Health Researcher at the University of Ottawa, and as a Communications and Marketing Officer at Stima Sacco Society, contributing innovative project ideas, such as outreach and member education through his production of animated videos. Tyler has also worked as a Development Consultant at Amani Orphanage (Tanzania), and as a Political Analyst for non-profit Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), which specializes in improving the living conditions of rural communities in Africa and Latin America. Today, Tyler is a Board Member of Max Ottawa, and a facilitator at Synapcity.

Rasha B. Kaba

Rasha B. Kaba is a humanitarian worker, a trainer in non-violent communications and third-party neutrality, and is now also a facilitator with Synapcity. A newcomer to Ottawa, and fluent in English and Arabic, Rasha is passionate about building a better life and future in peace, working with conflict, community engagement, and minorities. She has over five years of experience working with a large NGO in Syria, and has strong knowledge of program management, ME, refugee settlement, project management, and more.

Anqi Shen

Anqi Shen is a journalist and digital media professional. She covers higher education for University Affairs magazine and also writes about art, film and social justice. She has an abiding interest in the non-profit sector and is a volunteer board member for Carty House, a first home and helping hand for refugee women in Ottawa, and a member of the Ottawa Art Gallery’s youth advisory council, Départ.

Ariela Summit

Ariela is an enthusiastic Ottawa transplant who loves this city's green space, and values its diversity. She supports new Syrian immigrants with the Ottawa Centre Refugee Resettlement Group, sings in a choir for immigrants and refugees, and leads yoga classes for new Canadians. At the Green Municipal Fund, she works with cities across Canada to lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce water and waste, and promote sustainable land use while providing core services for residents.


James Hanington

James is the CEO of Stiff, an Ottawa-based communications company that serves clients in Canada and across the globe. Having spent seven years heading the Asia office in Shanghai prior to assuming his current role, in 2014 he transformed Stiff from a group of writers into a full-service branding, marketing and communications agency. James has a deep understanding of communications strategy and a strong background in brand experience. He has a keen talent for getting into the minds of clients’ prospective audiences and then creating traditional and digital communications products that excite and motivate those audiences to think and act...

Ingrid Richter

Ingrid has 35 years of experience in leadership development focused on government, non-profit and business settings. She is particularly interested in supporting the development of change agents who are working on social development and change in many different settings. As executive-in-residence at Telfer she develops and delivers leadership programs for a wide variety of clients in the private, non-profit and health and public sector. As a partner in Threshold Associates, she has done many international projects supporting leadership development, multi-stakeholder engagement, organizational learning, and capacity-building.

Suzanne Taschereau

Suzanne Taschereau is a fluently bilingual adult learning and organization development specialist with more than 30 years of experience in public, not for profit and community-based organizations in Canada and in over 20 countries of the developing world. She is animated by a passion for building strong and inclusive communities through learning, dialogue, collective action and leadership development.

Mary Pat MacKinnon

Mary Pat is a seasoned engagement professional, with a large portfolio of projects, dealing with complex issues at the community, regional, national and international levels. She has experience and expertise in management, policy, government affairs, writing, facilitation, and stakeholder, public and community engagement. She writes and presents on the theory and practice of engagement and social change for diverse audiences at home and abroad.

support group

Katherine Graham Senior Advisor to the President and Provost at Carleton University   Ginette Gratton TV Host and Co-Producer, Rogers TV   Eli Fathi Chief Executive Officer, Mindbridge, Ai   Jane Hilderman Executive Director, Samara Canada   Kwende Kefentse Municipal Government, Music and Public Speaking

Ethan Kent Senior Vice President, Project for Public Places   Maureen Molot Co-Founder   Carl Nicholson Executive Director, Catholic Immigration Centre   Robert Plitt Executive Director, Evergreen CityWorks

Dianne Urquhart

Executive Director, Social Planning Council of Ottawa   Jonathan Rose Associate Professor, Queen’s University   Maryam Sheidafar Project Manager Consultant  

Shauna Sylvester

Director of the SFU Centre for Dialogue

Our History

In 2011, a small group of people got together who shared the same vision for Ottawa—a healthy, happy city where people collaborate together, share ideas and take actions to make the city better.

In 2011, a small group of people got together who shared a vision for Ottawa—a healthy, happy city where people collaborate, share ideas and take actions to make the city better. They wanted to inspire progressive dialogue for positive change between disparate groups: the City, its people and civil society. Inspired by a visit to Citizens Academy in Syracuse, US, Manjit Basi and Ken Victor wanted to create something similar for Ottawa. Over coffee, they convened with three other people who became the founders – Caroline Andrew, Maureen Molot and Judith Maxwell. Citizens Academy was born: a non-partisan social enterprise. Its mission: to provide learning resources, tools and an empathetic environment to enable positive, lasting change in Ottawa. And in turn help people of all backgrounds find their voice and channel their energy into improving our city for all. Thanks to the incredible generosity and knowledge philanthropy of volunteers a curriculum was created. In mid-2013, an anonymous donor provided a generous grant through the Community Foundation of Ottawa. Months later, Citizens Academy received a small community grant from the Community Foundation of Ottawa, and a two-year Ontario Trillium Fund grant to run the first ever Civics Boot Camp in Fall 2013. The organization grew. Synapcity In late 2015, Citizens Academy won a re-brand competition and began working with local communications agency, Stiff. The result of which is Synapcity. This new brand aims to reach a wider circle of people within Ottawa, equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their goals for our city—whatever these goals may be.