Sylvia Gawad 

Research, Innovation and Immigration Manager at Placemaking 4G

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Sylvia Gawad, Research, Innovation and Immigration Manager at Placemaking 4G (P4G), is a pillar in her community. Since coming to Canada at 17, she has been focused on mobilizing people, building a collective of visionaries and leaders while deepening the vision of the collective to advance her Nova Scotian community. Her position with Placemaking 4G allows her to do exactly that as she is rolling out a leading innovative employment solution called “Cluster Employment” which is designed to create full time positions by leveraging shared, part-time needs. The concept is employer driven where P4G supports employers if they have a hard time attracting the level of talent they need, only have part-time needs or could use additional support by bringing employers together to create a full-time position. 

Having immigrated to Canada and spending the majority of her adult life in Nova Scotia, graduating from Saint Mary's University with a Bachelor of Science, earning a double major in Biology and Psychology. She further obtained a Masters in Global Health from McMaster University. Sylvia has always embraced her own struggles and seen a personification of her own struggles in the struggles of so many newcomers to Canada. 

At the age of 20, Sylvia started Project 360 a Community Interest Company with the goal of empowering newcomers through entrepreneurship. Project 360 was the first chapter in her ongoing commitment to helping recent refugees and immigrants, and in particular women, integrate and thrive in Canadian society. Since then, Sylvia has worked with countless refugees and immigrants with the singular goal of providing newcomers with opportunities to put their best foot forward.

Sylvia’s work is underpinned by her knowledge and expertise in capacity building, social entrepreneurship, her passion, education and lived experience has set her as a leader in the community. Having travelled to over 50 countries and having worked in 6 countries within diverse organizations and communities. Sylvia has gained a concrete understanding of community-based initiatives. Sylvia’s work exemplifies exactly that, she brings organizations and community members together and works on building capacity around problem identification, economic development, contribution and prosperity.

Sylvia’s role in helping refugees is in invaluable; as she often acts as the primary voice of such people by acting as their translator and providing guidance on every minute detail of the lives of newcomers. She has spent countless mornings volunteering to wake up at 4am helping newcomers prepare for their entrepreneurship initiatives, packaging products, driving around to obtain supplies etc. As a young immigrant woman, Sylvia has walked the talk by carving a life for herself in Canada through hard work and building strong relationships with community stakeholders. 

Her social justice projects have lifted many immigrant women, families and under-served populations. She coordinates events and is frequently called upon to speak on topics of gender equality, entrepreneurship, poverty and immigration. such as at the Elevate International Leadership Conference, Atlantic Immigration Summit and the Atlantic Women’s Forum recently. 

Sylvia has been recognized for her work with the Community Impact Award, and the Award of Excellence in Advancing Immigrant Women. However, her list of achievements and awards are no measure for her energy and passion, and a persistently burning desire to serve the vulnerable and providing a foundation of support for women here in Canada and around the globe.

Sylvia’s story in her own words:

People spend their whole lives trying to figure out their purpose-why they are brought on to this earth and the impact that can be made by them alone. Oftentimes, by the time people figure out this purpose, they feel they are too old, it is too late, or that the world is too big to create an impact. Personally, I do not accept these excuses, and have been striving from a youth to create an impact in each of the many communities to which I belong. Yet the communities for which I feel I can make the biggest impact, a journey and resolution that I began at a young age, has been left unfulfilled.

My interest in advancing the health of girls and women is personal, as an Egyptian national growing up in Libya. Health education, which is almost second nature here in Canada, is lost on many societies in the world, Libya included. Through the eyes of a child in a developing country, my passion developed as I struggled to understand the countless deaths around me, which I was told could have easily been prevented had the proper programs been in place. Child mortality rates were not just numbers on a spreadsheet to me, but friends lost to communicable diseases; sexual health crises were not epidemics in the news, but peers ostracized from the community for controllable and preventable diseases. As I developed empathy and outrage at these growing concerns, I started volunteering and recognized the implications the lack of basic healthcare necessities had, I knew my career and future needed to be to create these programs in communities in a sustainable way that reflects the needs and values of that society. A society, that by virtue of being a woman, had no value. However, by combining my deeply rooted knowledge of secular and sacred Middle Eastern society, and my ability to navigate their value systems, with the opportunity to engage in discussion on a global scale, I would be well equipped to create an impact that will save many children and women from the casual announcements of deaths, to which I became accustomed to hearing at a young age.

Yet I knew that any journey would have its struggles, and in order to create the impact that I had sworn to my childhood self I would create, I had to stay true to that purpose and attempt to effect positive change in every facet of community life in which I was involved. I had to empower myself and allow my unique voice to be heard and the voice of women in my community in NovaScotia. As a woman, and particularly a North African woman, I was continuously silenced. My efforts to advocate for marginalized women were constantly challenged. Through persistence and collaboration in a predominantly male run community, we were able to create a safe environment to allow for more transparency and inclusion of the different societal norms of women from various backgrounds in community organizations. Though I do not credit myself with the whole of that transformation, I do feel that I was able to create an impact on the vibrant community of which I am still so proud to be a part. Because I am a woman, many have doubted my ability to affect the sort of change to health services that I intend to create in my native society. Yet I have been facing adverse situations where doubt was cast on my abilities since I was forced to become fully independent at the age of 17. I have developed a skill set that has allowed me to fully adapt to a society I was unfamiliar with (Canada), and excel in positions whose qualifications I did not meet on paper.

After completing an undergraduate degree in Science, I started a social enterprise, Project 360, to empower immigrant women, while also having a full-time job. The enterprise, run by volunteers and funded by grants and local organizations, was a success. We were able to empower 188 women in the first year and provide jobs to 21 women through entrepreneurship efforts. In addition, it led to the successful launch of a sustainable business that upcycles food donated by a foodbank and made into desserts, jellies and pickles. Although the impact was great, I wanted to have a global impact. I wanted to work on international projects to help girls and women who were extremely vulnerable and living in volatile environments. I was able to find an opportunity to go to Uganda to work with Reach One Touch One, an organization that supports senior citizens and their dependents in the remote village of Kabale and Mukono. I was tasked with creating recommendations for enhancing program development and implementation. For three weeks, I observed newly-created and existing programs and I was shocked by the ineffectiveness and inefficiencies of communication and resource allocation. This experience has given me the knowledge I need to implement a community based health program within different contexts. I was also able to enhance my understanding of implementing global programs; however, I lacked the ability, reach and resources to create an impact in communities that have long struggled with healthcare provision and social dilemmas. This has led me to pursue a Masters of Global Health program that has furthered empower me to continue the journey that I began at a young age.

Upon my return to home here in Nova Scotia, I started a position at the YWCA, a woman organization for women by women. As a newcomer program coordinator, I was tasked with advancing financial literacy among the newcomer population and through the position I was able to get a glimpse of some of the economic struggles of the immigrant communities and immediately realized that financial literacy although powerful, must be coupled with employment support to alleviate the economic disparities in some of the immigrant, the African Nova Scotian and the Indigenous communities. Through my involvement as a board member of the Atlantic Immigration Summit, I was able to connect with the organization I work with currently, Placemaking 4G. The organization which is a social enterprise focuses on retaining and attracting top talent in NS. My role is leading innovative employment solution called “Cluster Employment” which is designed to create full time positions by leveraging shared, part-time needs. The concept is employer driven where P4G supports employers if they have a hard time attracting the level of talent they need, only have part-time needs or could use additional support by bringing employers together to create a full-time position.

Community impact initiatives have always been passions of mine and as a change ambassador in my community, I strongly believe in the power of one person being capable of affecting lives. My ambition is to be able to have the credibility and knowledge to create and influence programs to reducing health disparities being through employment programs or community based initiatives. Growing up in a multicultural environment and traveling the world has opened my eyes to a multitude of the challenges that are common to many societies around the world. I aim to be the voice of the voiceless. From a young age when I voiced my concerns about injustice, I was told that the fire burning inside me to create change would die as I aged. Yet now, more than ever, I feel like I am more passionate and willing to strive and work hard to create an impact starting here in Atlantic Canada.

What are you most proud of professionally? And who or why?

I am proud of the buzz we are creating in Atlantic Canada and having so many organizations see the value of partnerships to create a change.

What’s your vision for Atlantic Canada in 10 years? What’s our biggest opportunity now?

My vision for Atlantic Canada is a place where the narrative is shifted from a have not province to a province with economic prosperity and a strong cultural mosaic. Where vulnerable communities are no longer vulnerable and communities are building capacity within themselves.

What’s your favourite or most read book or podcast? Now or at each of your greatest stages of growth?

The Alchemist for now, it taught me you don't have to go far to seek something, you can do it anywhere.

What’s your deepest learning from this past year? How did/will you apply it?

Understanding that you have to threaten the status quo, bringing a youthful impatience to the world and changing the narrative around NovaScotia. I apply that in my everyday life, in every encounter I have I push for ownership to change the narrative from a have not province to a province full of diversity, culture and a mosaic of powerful cultures that can be economically strong.

Who’s inspired you, directly or indirectly? How have they inspired you?

My deepest inspirations came from Jennifer Gillivan (CEO IWK Foundation), Jennifer came to me when I was 22 yrs, she had come to my work place and we started chatting about women and youth. The conversation was fluid and very powerful, on her way out she gave me her card and she told me to connect with her. 22 year old Sylvia almost lost it when she found she was just casually talking to the CEO of the IWK Foundation. I took Jennifer up on a lunch offer and the first thing she said to me was "What is your why?" and she listened as I tried to navigate university, then supported me with my social enterprise, my application for my masters and with my choice to stay in Atlantic Canada. The best advice she gave me and it sticks with me to this day is "If you are comfortable, you are doing something wrong" - I aspire to be a role model to other women like she was to me. Jennifer didn't just guide me, she literally carved out the way for me by allowing me to be a part of her life and follow in her footsteps (although she would say "Create your own footsteps, because they are unique to you").

What would you have done differently?

NOTHING! You only regret the things you don't do. 

What are the principles you live by?

I am a believer that if you are unhappy do something about it.

Give more than you take.

Learn what to take seriously.


Social entrepreneur, I am an unapologetic advocate for marginalized populations and working families, I am an economic contributor and looking to change the narrative in Atlantic Canada