Areas of Focus: Democratic Participation; Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access; International Relations

Athavarn is a facilitator working alongside communities to advance social and economic justice. 

He has worked on diverse engagement projects such as a global co-design lab for human rights defenders, a master plan for the Toronto Islands, and most recently, a series of local conversations across the country with communities impacted by poverty.

He holds a degree in sociology from the University of Ottawa, is a Loran Scholar and was previously a board member for Amnesty International Canada and Sherbourne Health.

Athavarn (pronounced aah-tha-vin) is an ancient Tamil word meaning “like the sun.” His name has a silent r for good luck. Athavarn loves food, hiking, gaming, sci-fi, tarot, his friends, his family and his community.

What is your role at the Centre for Dialogue?

As Special Projects Manager, I’m helping the Centre for Dialogue respond to unique dialogue opportunities such as the Burnaby Community Assembly and Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue. I support project delivery, external relations and applying an equity and justice lens to various projects.

What does dialogue mean to you?

For me, dialogue is a space where nuance can emerge. Each person involved in a dialogue is complex. Woven through them are their likes, dislikes, fears, aspirations, memories, traumas, ancestry and social locations, forming the lens they use to both express and understand. When people can bring their whole selves into a conversation—and it’s important to say that it’s a difficult thing to do—we’re able to understand the nuances of their experience, creating for an even richer conversation.

What is a common assumption you'd like to demystify?

A common misconception is that emotion has no place in dialogue. We tend to hold rationality and clarity on a pedestal, but people are messy. We can’t always separate our emotions from our ideas. For many communities, engaging with political systems comes with the need to confront histories of trauma that can span generations. Meaningful dialogue can make space for people to be with the anger, fear and discomfort that often comes with exchanging new ideas. Letting people feel unclear and lost as they work through an issue can sometimes be a good thing.

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