Ascend Canada > Ascend Canada Fall Conference 2019

Ascend Canada Fall Conference 2019

Be Bold. Be Different. Be You

Ascend Canada’s 8th Annual Fall Conference is a one-day professional development event celebrating the theme for this year – Be Bold. Be Different. Be You. The conference brings together a diverse mix of influential thought leaders to discuss on a variety of topics ranging from leadership, inclusivity and workplace diversity.

What’s new this year? Based on your feedback, we’ve added more speakers from technology rganizations such as Google and Uber Eats. In addition, you can get up close and personal with senior executives at Ascend Café in a very small group setting.

The conference aims to inspire you to be a leader by channeling bold ideas that enrich our communities and organizations. The conference will feature an executive panel discussion with Poonam Singh, Managing Partner – Risk Advisory, Deloitte, Brian Lee, Chief Auditor, CIBC, and Kevin Strain, CFO, Sun Life.

Why you need to attend:

  •  Hear from global executive and leaders from Google, Uber, Deloitte, CIBC, and Sun Life
  •  Boost your career and knowledge with seven workshops offered on key topics such as:
    • How to stand out, take credit, and become a highly engaging leader
    • Applying design thinking
    • Improving communication skills
    • Unlocking leadership potential
    • The latest in fintech and innovation
  •  Learn new strategies on driving inclusion and employee engagement that are based on findings from a joint Catalyst and Ascend Canada research project
  •  Build your professional network

Seats are limited! Registration ends on Monday September 10th, 2019.

Ascend Canada members may be eligible for discount. Email us at toronto.events@ascendleadership.ca from your work email to secure your code. List of Sponsors.

Date: Friday, September 20, 2019
Location:  Royal York Hotel, Canadian Room 2nd Floor, 100 Front St. W, Toronto

Cost:   $300 Full-day Ticket – 8:30 am to 6:30 pm
$100 Evening Ticket – 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm

Ascend Canada Fall Conference - Agenda

8:15 am        Registration (Full-day Ticket holders)
9:00 am       Opening Remarks
9:15 am        Spotlight Speaker – Natasha Walji, Director, Tech, Government, Entertainment & Telecom, Google Canada
9:45 am        Emotional Tax in Canada: How empowering workplaces can retain visible minorities

                           Tanya van Biesen, Executive Director, Canada, Catalyst
                           Miyo Yamashita, Chief Strategy Officer, MindBridge Ai; Co-Chair, Chief Inclusion Officer Forum

10:30 am      Ascend Workshops – Session 1
11:45 am       Lunch & Fireside Chat 
                            Dan Park, CEO, Clutch, Ex GM & Head of Uber Eats, Canada

                            Awi Sinha, Partner, McCarthy Tétrault LLP
1:30 pm        Ascend Workshops – Session 2
3:00 pm        Ascend Workshops – Session 3  / Ascend Café (Limited seats available)


Evening Agenda
4:30 pm       Registration
5:30 pm       President’s Remarks
5:40 pm       Executive Panel
                            Poonam Singh, Managing Partner, Risk Advisory Deloitte
                            Brian Lee, Chief Auditor, CIBC
                            Kevin Strain, CFO, Sun Life
6:20 pm        Closing Remarks
6:45 pm        Networking

*Please note that the Full Day ticket includes admission to both the day and evening conference segments

Ascend Canada Fall Conference - Workshops

Stop being overlooked! How to stand out, take credit, and become a highly engaging leader that inspires others.

A 2017 Ascend report The Illusion of Asian Success concluded that Asian professionals were least likely of all racial groups to advance into management and executive levels. Learn how Edmund Chien broke that norm to become a highly sought-after mentor and coach to people of all cultural backgrounds.

Edmund Chien, President, Flow Cap Advisory Inc.

Edmund has 15 years of experience advising high net worth investors in the areas of wealth management and business development. He’s been licensed as an Investment Advisor in both private equity and with BMO Nesbitt Burns. In addition to those experiences, Ed has also been insurance licensed and has built a practice at Sun Life Financial in their career sales force. Ed learned a lot of those principles through the Canadian Armed Forces Leadership school in CFB Petawawa and has close to 10 years of experience in the Canadian Military, serving as a paratrooper, infanteer, combat medic, and boot camp instructor. In addition to his military training, Ed holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Ryerson Theatre School. It is through arts training that one learns the pinnacles of communication which is high-level soft skills and emotional intelligence training. Today, Ed serves as the president of Asians Without Borders (AWB) which helps executives in the Asian community develop soft skills and gain leadership training. Ed’s other charitable work includes serving on the committee of the ROM Young Patron’s Circle, mentoring military veterans transitioning into the workforce, and supporting veteran organizations such as Canada Company, True Patriot Love, and Treble Victor.

Be Bold, Be Different, and Be You – Unlock Leadership Potential.

Imagine a workplace where everyone came to work with the knowledge and excitement, that today and everyday, I can be bold and free to speak my mind about my work and I can be my true authentic self? In this workshop we will demystify what psychological safety is and is not, and why it matters so much in the modern workplace.

Alex Draper, Founder & President, DX Learning Solutions

Alex started life as a school teacher in the UK, studying for a degree in Education at Bristol. After some time, teaching, he decided adult education was his passion and joined ProfitAbility Business Simulations, with headquarters in Oxford, UK. For 13 years he successfully built their business in EMEA and then the Americas, designing, delivering, and consulting with many of the Fortune 500 to help build their leaders’ leadership skills. Alex founded DX Learning in 2015. DX Learning works with CEOs and executives to design and deliver world-class leadership development programs to support culture transformations. He is now a leading force in disrupting the leadership development industry with science-based methodologies that drive leadership self-awareness to solve employee engagement and retention challenges and has delivered programs in the Americas and EMEA.

Priyanka Mehandiratta, Director of Learning, DX Learning Solutions

Priyanka cares about people. This has been made evident by a seasoned career as a trusted partner in the world of talent management for 15+ years. Transitioning into the world of leadership development was a no-brainer.  Priyanka embodies distinct business acumen that mirrors the valuable communication skills and kindness that are central to her teachings and trainings. As a lifelong learner and change agent, Priyanka’s role as the Director of Learning for DX Learning has solidified her commitment to building teams and businesses that seek to make a positive impact. A Certified Training and Facilitation Professional and MBA Graduate she has, in addition to receiving numerous Super Achiever awards, also been accredited by former colleagues as ‘the go-to person from a coaching & learning perspective whose experience has granted her solid trust from her team as well as from clients.

Agile Demystified

What’s all this talk and buzz about Agile? And what does this mean for your workplace and beyond? In this session you’ll learn about how working in Agile can empower and engage teams, drive focus on the customer and deliver value early and often.

Alyza Keshavjee, AVP Agile Transformation, Manulife

Alyza is collaborative, curious and customer-obsessed and leads the Agile Transformation at Manulife Canada. She is a strategic leader with 10+ years of experience executing cross-functional initiatives that deliver sustainable value to customers, employees and shareholders and is passionate about building high-performing teams. Alyza holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and HBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business. Outside of her professional life, Alyza loves cooking up a storm and spending time on a patio.

Samir Abu Ghosh, Agile Coach, Manulife

Samir is specialized in Agile coaching, program and project management and has more than 15 years of consulting and IT experience serving high profile clients in the public and private sectors. He is passionate about helping teams to deliver successful projects and delighting customers with value driven solutions. Outside of his professional life, Samir loves spending quality time with the family, biking and watching movies.

Women of Influence in FinTech

 Fintech – how leaders are disrupting the industry with brilliant ideas and experiences. Join our panel featuring Eva Wong, Keren Moynihan, and Iliana Oris Valiente as they share their stories on breaking the barriers within the financial, entrepreneur, and tech space. Stephania Varalli, from the organization Women of Influence, will moderate the panel and provide our delegates with an invaluable and engaging experience.

Keren Moynihan, Co-founder, Boss Insights

Keren is Co-founder and CEO of Boss Insights, an AI company that predicts private company performance in real-time. With a diverse background as a commercial banker, wealth manager and founder of a triple bottom line startup, Keren is a regular speaker and mentor and has been featured at Thrive Global, Dx3, and TechTO. She is an advocate for efficiency in private markets, data privacy, and creating AI that unites rather than divides society. Keren is often quoted as saying, “Data is the Achilles heel of bias. If you don’t kill your bias, you’re going to miss out on the next big thing.”

Iliana Oris Valiente, Managing Director, Canada Innovation Strategy Lead & Canada Blockchain Lead, Accenture

Iliana, CPA, CA, CBP (Certified Bitcoin Professional) is a Managing Director at Accenture where she oversees both the Canada Innovation Hub and the Canadian blockchain practice, working with clients to support their strategic transformation journeys leveraging the latest emerging technologies. Iliana is widely credited for being a blockchain trailblazer, and was named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the industry by Coindesk in 2017. A published author and sought-after speaker, she’s presented at a number of North American and European conferences and events.

Eva Wong, Co-founder & COO, Borrowell

Eva is Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Borrowell, a fintech company that helps people make great decisions about credit. Borrowell is one of Canada’s largest fintech companies, with more than a million members, and offers free credit score and report monitoring, an automated credit coach tools and AI-driven financial product recommendations. Eva was named one of the Standout 35 on the global Women in FinTech Powerlist, and was a finalist for EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year. She was named one of 20 tech start-up founders to follow by Twitter Canada and serves on the advisory board of the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

Stephania Varalli, Co-CEO of Women of Influence

As Co-CEO of Women of Influence, Stephania is able to dedicate her time to her passions: creating opportunities for women in the workplace, and using storytelling to drive change. Beginning her career in marketing and advertising, Stephania transitioned to an entrepreneurial life, helping to build Sweetspot.ca, Canada’s #1 site for women. Following the sale of the company to Rogers, she embarked on a freelancing career that took the concept of remote office to a global level. She and her partner took over Women of Influence in 2015, and are excited to be guiding the company through its 25th year.

Innovators Panel – Professionals in Non-conventional role

Innovation is about changing the way we think and implementing something new that adds value.  Learn from three professionals who will share their   remarkable success stories as entrepreneurs and business leaders, and how innovation helped them achieve their goals and succeed in the workplace.

 Jahanzaib Ansari, Chief Executive Officer, Knockri

Jahanzaib is a leader in Transformative HR Technology and is the Co-founder and CEO of Knockri. An Artificially Intelligent Video based Soft Skills assessment tool that diminishes unconscious bias and short lists the best fit talent to interview. Knockri works with fortune 500’s such as IBM and helps Transform their Talent Acquisition function into a competitive advantage. Jahanzaib serves on the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Equality & Inclusion and is invited to share his thoughts on A.I., Future of Work, Unconscious Bias, and Diversity at major events internationally. In 2018, he was named among 22 of Canada’s most promising young HR professionals by HRD Magazine, recognized as Innovator of the Year by Ascend Canada (YEAR) and named to the Forbes Technology Council.

Larry Lau, Founder of Eighty8 Ventures

Larry Lau is a serial entrepreneur and investor of early-stage startups. In 2014, Larry was named a Finalist for Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Ontario and the following year, was awarded Canada’s Top Under 30 Pan-Asian Leader by Ascend & RBC. Having built and successfully exited one of Canada’s leading eCommerce agencies, Larry now dedicates his time in building working with operators to launch new startups across various industries including but not limited to software, healthcare, consumer packaged goods, and more. In addition to founding new businesses, Larry is also an investor and advisor to several fast-growing startups based in Toronto, Vancouver, and Los Angeles. Born and raised in London, Larry is an alumnus of the city’s three major post-secondary institutions: University of Western Ontario (BA Psychology), Fanshawe College (Graduate Program – Marketing Management) and Ivey Business School (Executive MBA).

Moderator: Azam Husain, Manager, TD

Azam Husain currently works in TD Credit Cards, developing acquisition strategy and assisting in planning activities.  A collaborative and inquisitive individual, he is naturally drawn to problem solving and thinking about big picture solutions.  Azam has experience supporting Retail, Phone, and Digital channels; Canadian Banking Operations; and multiple product groups.

Upskilling Your Presentation Skills

Establishing yourself to be a compelling and assertive speaker is vital in the workplace. How does your body language affect how others portray and perceive you? What about your ability to clearly and confidently articulate your message, in small and large groups? Join this workshop to improve your effective communication skills and take that next step to be an engaging speaker.

Jodi Wright, Director, Strategy and Transformation Services, RBC

Jodi joined RBC in 2008 and has held a wide variety of roles across multiple bank platforms. Until recently, Jodi spent 5 years at RBC Global Asset Management, where she brought her passion for financial planning and successful long-term investing to advisors and clients across Canada, as a public speaker and leader of an advisor enablement team. She also led RBC Global Asset Management’s Women and Investing strategy, speaking to hundreds of women nationwide about unique financial challenges and opportunities they face. As of May, however, Jodi moved into a Director role with RBC’s Strategy and Transformation Services team.  In this new position, she now leads a team of internal consultants on project-based portfolio work across the RBC enterprise. Jodi has a Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill University and is a designated Personal Financial Planner. She is a sports enthusiast, and lives in Toronto with her husband and their two young children.

Art of the Possible: Applying Design Thinking

Ever wondered what Design Thinking is really about? In this session you’ll learn about the basics of design thinking through a presentation and group activities. Learn when to apply design thinking, the steps involved in the process and the value that it brings when it comes to problem solving.

Robert Tu, Manager of UX, PwC

Robert specializes in data visualization with an emphasis on user interface development and user experience design. His experience includes understanding client requirements, employing design methodologies and processes to develop relevant and aesthetically impactful solutions. He has worked with various high profile clients in the past including Scotiabank, TD, TELUS, Adidas, ROM, and OCADU. To augment his capabilities as a designer, he draws on his previous experience as an engineer and business development manager to better understand client design issues and challenges.

Ascend Fall Conference - Speakers

Spotlight Speaker

Natasha Walji

Director for Tech, Government, Entertainment & Telecom, Google Canada

Natasha has been at Google for ~10 years, and prior to Google was at McKinsey for 4.5 years and a software developer for 4 years. At Google, she has held local & global roles in Strategy, Operations, Finance and Sales in New York and Toronto. Natasha serves on the board of Ronald McDonald House Canada. She holds a BSc. in Computer Science from the University of Victoria, an MBA from Yale University and a Masters in Sustainability Leadership from the University of Cambridge. Natasha was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network in 2016.

Executive Panel

Brian Lee

Chief Auditor, CIBC

Brian is Chief Auditor, CIBC and is a member of the Operating Committee (OpCo). Brian is responsible for independently and impartially ensuring that CIBC’s internal controls for risk management and governance processes are functioning effectively. Prior to leading Internal Audit Brian was Chief Financial Officer, CIBC FirstCaribbean responsible for the entire Caribbean region. He previously served as Senior Vice President in Finance at CIBC, which he joined in 2001. Brian is a highly-trained accounting professional. Brian holds a Master of Accounting degree from the University of Waterloo in Canada and is also a Chartered Accountant/Certified Public Accountant. Prior to joining CIBC, Brian articled with the accounting firm Arthur Andersen. Outside of Business, Brian enjoys anything that will get him outdoors such as cycling, skiing, golfing, diving and deep sea fishing.

Kevin D. Strain

Executive Vice-President & Chief Financial Officer, Sun Life Financial

Kevin D. Strain is Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer of Sun Life. Appointed in 2017, he is responsible for Sun Life’s worldwide Finance, Taxation, Capital and Investor Relations, Enterprise Services and Corporate Development.Kevin joined Sun Life in 2002 and has since held several senior roles, including Vice-President of Investor Relations for Sun Life’s Corporate Office, and Senior Vice-President of Sun Life’s Individual Insurance and Investments division in Canada. Prior to his current role, Kevin was President, Sun Life Asia where he was responsible for Sun Life’s interests in Asia, including identifying opportunities for growth in the region and managing the company’s relationships with its partners. Kevin is a Chartered Accountant and holds a Master of Accounting degree from the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Poonam Singh

Managing Partner, Risk Advisory, Deloitte

Poonam leads Deloitte’s Risk Consulting business in Canada. As the Managing Partner of the Risk Advisory Practice, she is responsible for setting the strategy and vision for the practice, leading 135 partners and over 1,200 people and driving our growth to remain the most dominant risk consulting practice in the country. In her 19 years of consulting experience, Poonam has led several large transformation and cost reduction projects particularly in Finance, Risk, Internal Audit, Compliance and Supply Chain functions. Historically, Poonam also ledDeloitte’s Toronto practice for Risk Advisory and also founded and led the firm’s Cost Recovery practice for our Energy and Resources practice globally. Poonam has had several senior roles over the course of her career including the Canadian Lead Client Services Partner on one of the largest integrated Oil and Gas company globally and the Canadian Risk Leader for some of our largest Oil and Gas clients. Poonam is a tireless champion for gender diversity in leadership. She served on the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Council from 2006-2010. She currently represents Canada on our global Women in Leadership council for Risk Advisory with a goal to accelerate development of women at all levels and drive gender parity at the leadership level. Over the years, Poonam has championed and sponsored several women to our partnership. For the first time in history, under her leadership, the new Risk Advisory Executive will have gender parity and 35% representation of visible minorities. Over the years, Poonam has volunteered her time to coach, mentor and recruit new immigrants to Canada. In 2015 and 2016, Poonam launched a formal internship program for new immigrants in our practice to provide work experience to those with skills in finance and consulting. Poonam has a passion for building inclusive and high performance teams. Her brand is synonymous with innovating, incubating and commercializing new risk-related solutions and a relentless focus on addressing the most complex risk issues facing our clients.


Royal York Hotel 100 Front Street West Canadian Room, 2nd Floor Toronto M5J 1E3 Canada


September 20, 2019
08:30 AM