Leadership Victoria Recognizes 2020’s Inspiring Changemakers

Each year, Leadership Victoria celebrates community leadership and recognizes people who have made a lasting contribution to the communities that make up Greater Victoria. Here are this year's recipients of the 2020 Victoria Community Leadership Awards.

Devesh Bharadwaj
Devesh Bharadwaj, CEO of Pani Energy. Photo by Jeffrey Bosdet/Douglas magazine

Leadership Victoria’s recipients of the 2020 Victoria Community Leadership Awards (VCLAs) include artists, community builders, educators and activists.

Health & Wellness – Dr. Charlotte Loppie

Dr. Charlotte Loppie, Indigenous Mentorship Network of the Pacific Northwest

A world-renowned and respected Indigenous educator, Dr. Loppie leads and educates many Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars through mentorship. Believing that every leader is a teacher, and everyone is a learner, she centres the priorities of Indigenous peoples while respecting their own leadership and ability to self-determine.

For more than 20 years, Dr. Loppie has worked with Indigenous communities to address issues around indigenous community health and wellness, with a focus on community-led initiatives. As one of Canada’s leading scholars in the field, she has also worked as a researcher and policy maker in the areas of sexual and reproductive health, sexual diversity, sex trade work, HIV/AIDS, the construction of female sexuality and the cultural determinants of health. She currently heads up the Indigenous Mentorship Network of the Pacific Northwest (IMNPN) which includes over 160 indigenous scholars and peer mentors, allies, Elders, staff and students from 40 partner organizations.

Innovative Science & Technology – Devesh Bharadwaj

Devesh is an entrepreneur, engineer, and the CEO of Pani Energy, an award-winning tech company based in Victoria that provides digital solutions to make clean water cheaper and more sustainable to produce.

In the short time he has lived in the area, Devesh has been recognized as Douglas magazine’s 10 to Watch Awards for his leadership and achievements in the local and international tech scene. He was also tapped as “the future of British Columbia” by leaders at all of the province’s biggest universities. Devesh believes his leadership style emanates from being emotionally invested in the problem at hand and that trust plays a key role in a company like his that is expanding so fast. He leads by example and has fostered a corporate culture that is both motivated and driven by curiosity to solve problems that have a positive impact on our community – and beyond.

Belonging & Engagement – Chris Pollock

Rev. Chris Pollock, Mustard Seed Street Church and Food Bank

As hospitality pastor of the Mustard Seed Street Church and Food Bank for almost 20 years, Chris gives his all in the service of those who need it most. Drawing on the lessons of those who have gone before him, he does so humbly and passionately, offering comfort to all who turn to him and the Mustard Seed Street Church for support and comfort.

Chris also finds ways to enhance the services offered by the church, including: “The Urban Hermit”, an open mic night for his community; “Beyond the Streets”, which includes hikes and outdoor adventures for the community; and “Street Café,” offering a date-night experience to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Along with his Mustard Seed team members, Chris celebrates the “wins,” offers support through the tough times and is the driving force behind playful team-building events like beach days.

Flourishing Safe Environments – Emma-Jane Burian

Emma Jane-Burian, Our Earth Our Future

As the founder and lead organizer of Our Earth Our Future, Emma-Jane has seen her movement grow from a handful of students to a massive rally in Victoria in September 2019 of more than 20,000 people calling for change in the way that governments approach climate change and environmental degradation.

Emma Jane continues to inspire our youth to channel their energies into lobbying for real action and amplifying their message on climate change. Emma-Jane’s upbeat personality and collaborative approach allow her to focus on what is do-able, and thus inspiring others to bring about positive change. Emma-Jane is a member of the Victoria Mayor’s Youth Council, through which she helped organize a Day of Culture and “Meatless Mondays.” She is also a regional organizer for Climate Strike Canada.

Healthy Standard of Living – Sheldon Feener

Sheldon Fennerwill tell you that as a leader he wants to be out with his team every day, not stuck behind his desk as executive director of The Salvation Army Addiction & Rehabilitation Centre in Victoria. His leadership style is simple; hire kind, talented people and support their ideas. Major Sheldon is a lifelong advocate for those struggling with homelessness, poverty and addiction, with an intimate understanding that homelessness is much more than a simple housing issue.

His inherent belief that all people deserve love, respect and dignity are exemplified daily in his work enriching the lives of others — particularly the vulnerable and those less able to help themselves. Among the community programs he has established are those that serve the needs of individuals affected by trauma, substance use, brain injury, homelessness, poverty and mental illness. In many instances, these programs have led to safely, affordably and permanently housing more than 170 men since his appointment to his current post in 2017.

Lifelong Learning – Lisa Mercure

Lisa works at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC), supporting Indigenous Elders and delivering cultural programs for the urban Indigenous community. As a result of her work over 130 Elders are now connected hosting language clubs, mentoring participants or leading advisory tables.

Through the language programs she has developed, Lisa has created space for fluent speakers to pass along the teachings of the Elders through an Urban Indigenous Language Hub. Currently, 8 speakers run 5 different Indigenous language classes as part of the ‘hub. Lisa provides technical support to Elders on the City of Victoria’s Senior Task Force, Saanich Older Persons and in engaging New Canadians, helping them all to determine what they want to do. As a leader, Lisa believes it is important to remain humble and to understand and to learn from those she serves. To everyone she encounters, Lisa inspires by how she walks as a leader, and as an Indigenous woman.

Thriving Children and Youth – Christine Hewitt

Christine believes that leadership is learned from the ground up and requires abilities of inclusivity, creativity and a charitable character. Viewing her job as executive director of CFAX’s Santas Anonymous as a lifestyle has made it easier for Christine to incorporate her natural compassion and respect for change. She is equally at ease working with Board members, community and corporate partners and the more than 400 Santas Anonymous volunteers.

Christine’s influential leadership has transformed the organization from a Christmas-based charity to a year-round source of support for families throughout the region of Greater Victoria and the Gulf Islands. Among her many achievements, Christine has been instrumental in establishing the Christmas Giving Network (made up of over 8 local agencies), resulting in a reduction of 16 per cent service duplication in our region.

Arts & Culture – Charles Elliott

Charlies Elliot, artist

Charles Elliot uses the art passed down to him by his ancestors to connect people to his indigenous culture. For more than four decades, he has been creating traditional utilitarian, ceremonial and contemporary Coast Salish designs and works of art. Through his work, Charles expresses an unwavering commitment to the visual language of his own people. He teaches the history of Coast Salish art in schools and post-secondary institutions throughout the Greater Victoria region and mentors established and emerging artists alike.

His style of leadership has allowed him to have conversations about reconciliation between Indigenous nations and faith communities, leading in part to St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria commissioning Charles to carve a new altar. Other commissions include carving The Queen’s Baton for the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria and a talking stick presented to the late Nelson Mandela. Charles is a member of the Order of British Columbia and of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

Getting Started in Our Community – Amarjit Bhalla

Amarjit has worked with newcomers and refugees in Victoria for 35 years, and 20 of those at the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS). As the volunteer coordinator at VIRCS, Amarjit has the lead in the creation and growth of programs that will serve the needs of the immigrant and refugee community in Greater Victoria. She goes out of her way to bring people together and works hard to provide the hospitality and community necessary to maximum impact.

Amarjit has been described as determined, thoughtful, creative, resourceful, resilient, collaborative and compassionate. In addition to creating and implementing new programs for newcomers, she also maintains the partnerships between communities, organizations and industries that are necessary to help them thrive. As a respected leader, she underscores the importance of valuing everyone’s abilities and to learning together. And to all who are fortunate to know Amarjit, the greeting is always the same – “I value you.”

Extending Reconciliation – Carey Newman

Carey Newman, whose traditional name is Hayalthkin’geme, is a multidisciplinary Indigenous artist, master carver filmmaker, author and public speaker. As a leader he demonstrates his ability to bring together community members from different backgrounds through specific activities. An example of this has been the creation of The Witness Blanket, which deals with the subject of Truth and Reconciliation and is made up of items collected from residential schools, government buildings and churches across Canada.

Carey believes in collective responsibility, learning from the past and creating art based on accumulated knowledge, experiences and traditions, a belief he carries forward in his role as the Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest in the department of Visual Arts at the University of Victoria. He also works with young and at-risk populations, where carving is central for Indigenous people and for whom this kind of activity is considered a responsibility. Throughout his work, Carey believes the process has to model the goal.

Outstanding Leadership Award – Carissa Ropponen

Carissa was a participant in Leadership Victoria’s 2019/2020 Community Leadership Program. In her professional life she is the manager of Resource Development and Communications at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, a feminist organization committed to ending sexualized violence through healing, education and prevention. Carissa chose to participate in LV’s leadership program because she was looking for hands-on professional development experience so she could take her leadership skills to a higher level. She also wanted to build self-confidence and increase her ability to communicate clearly in order to lead with vision and provide more effective support to her staff team.

Carissa believes that the way we rise to meet challenges is key to strong leadership. She also believes in the power of tenacity as being key to solving difficult problems. Carissa has been described as someone who allows others space to offer their thoughts and is respectful in her responses.


The 2020 VCLA recipients will be celebrated at a gala event in the fall of 2020. Leadership Victoria is a community-based, voluntary organization committed to developing, supporting, recognizing and honouring outstanding community leaders.