Naomi Mahaffy


Naomi is a connector, communicator, and inquisitive learner with deep ties to Edmonton, Calgary, and Fort McMurray. Born and raised in Edmonton, and now living in Fort McMurray, she has been engaged in local environmental and social initiatives from a young age.

After completing her graduate studies at McMaster University and spending a few years in Ontario (where she taught undergraduate courses, managed social media for a UN sanitation campaign, and coordinated volunteers for a local environmental organization), Naomi returned to Alberta in 2014. In her four years at the Calgary-based Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST), Naomi developed education materials and mentored and advised organizations seeking to create effective programs and develop their competencies as trainers. Always excited to bridge disciplines and cultures, Naomi loves facilitating opportunities for organizations and individuals to learn from one another’s work.

Naomi spends her free time in Fort McMurray tinkering with her hydroponic vegetable garden, hiking, volunteering, and trying at least one new thing per month.

Contact Naomi: naomi@absiconnect.ca




Aleeya Velji


Founding EDMONTON Fellow

Aleeya Velji is socially permeating, adventure seeking, and constantly evolving. In her mission to be an active citizen and strong advocate for civic engagement, she has tenaciously sought out formative experiences from a range of settings. She worked alongside Dr. Vandana Shiva in rural India plowing fields, picking apples, and planting rice. Simultaneously, she created curriculum materials to integrate sustainable practices into local school communities. In her dynamic history as an educator, Aleeya worked in Regent Park, Toronto’s inner city school community. Here she taught and implemented the "Breaking the Cycle" program for Aboriginal youth. Upon arriving in Edmonton, Aleeya worked within the city’s charter school system teaching French.

As a member of Edmonton's Environmental Advisory Council, she has fostered the growth of community gardens, and has also worked alongside Alberta Ecotrust in supporting local environmental change initiatives. Prior to her role as the Edmonton-based ABSI Connect Fellow, Aleeya gained insight into the private energy sector by supporting union negotiations, implementing a company-wide economic resource planning system, and leading a departmental change management initiative. 

When she’s not researching social innovation, you can find Aleeya on her bike perfecting a BMX stunt, deftly maneuvering her snowboard, hiking through the wilderness, or meticulously planting tomatoes.



Tori on the nub.jpg

Tori is joining ABSI Connect as the Calgary Fellow for the next six months and is keen to: explore how social innovation links to other innovation in Alberta, listen to marginalized voices in our system, connect with social innovators in southern Alberta & remote communities, and find ways to action our findings to date. 

Schooled in economics, steeped in global development, Tori is passionate about bringing together diverse perspectives to find relevant solutions to complex problems. Most recently, that passion translated into coordinating a multi-sector partnership between oil sands corporations, indigenous communities and regional institutions. 

For the past few years, Tori supported social innovation projects in northern Alberta, so she jumped at the opportunity to contribute to social innovation closer to home through the ABSI Connect Fellows. At the same time, Tori is pursuing a Masters degree in organization development, inspired by experience with inter-organizational partnership and systems change. 

In her downtime, you can find Tori cooking a big meal with friends and mixing signature cocktails. Depending on the season, she spends time enjoying the fresh air and freedom of biking, hiking, skating or snowboarding. 

Melissa Herman

Northern Fellow

Focusing on Indigenous innovation

Melissa Herman is indigenous to Treaty 8 territory and provides raw insight and a valuable understanding of the dynamics of rural communities in Northern Alberta. She is a risk taker that is deeply committed to relationship building and is actively involved in supporting innovators at a grassroots level. Melissa’s experience as a reporter and freelance writer gives her the storytelling ability to give equal voices to social innovators from all walks of life. She landscapes solutions that already exist through the lens of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and is confident indigenous communities can benefit from continuing to embrace Traditional Knowledge. Aimed at addiction prevention and recovery, assessing services provided to residential school survivors, victims of physical, sexual and domestic abuse, Melissa’s mission to improve the quality of life in indigenous community is life-long. Melissa positioned herself in the frontline by immersing herself in Fort McMurray’s only ‘wet’ emergency shelter, sharing the stories with innovative thinkers and organizational players in efforts to make troubles non-existent.  

When she isn’t getting lost on her bike in the northern boreal forest, she is haggling at antique stores and checking if there are any used books at the library to add to her hoard of books.  Being a single mother has taught her how to spend the day enjoying the simple things.



Journeyman partner


Annand Ollivierre loves to take a winding path in life! After graduating with a degree in Human Ecology from the University of Alberta, he worked with the Alberta Government to improve Alberta’s health system quality and policy. 

From there, he made a left turn and took a unique opportunity to manage a small independent restaurant.

After a series of fortunate events, he became a head chef and was able to turn a hobby into a career. He worked to connect and support local farmers and producers and show customers that locally sourced ingredients are accessible and delicious. He then  took another left turn, taking on the opportunity with Volunteer Alberta to establish a province-wide internship program connecting  post-secondary students to opportunities in the nonprofit sector.

He is currently the Managing Director at Volunteer Alberta. In this role, he focuses on supporting the nonprofit sector in addressing the complex challenges that organizations face, so that there is increased resilience and improved community wellbeing. It is this mission that has moved him to begin exploring the world of social innovation. As a Journeyman Partner with ABSI Connect, he is working to reveal, engage and support the social innovation capacity in Alberta with a unique focus on rural communities.

He volunteers with the Edmonton Folk Fest, the Edmonton Community Foundation and the University of Alberta Alumni Council. When he’s not at work, Annand is learning the latest dance moves from his two incredible daughters and honouring and supporting his wife in her career as an educator.




Kate Letizia is a native Calgarian and global citizen who is on a lifelong journey to generate positive change with marginalized people and communities throughout the world. Her adventures in change-making have manifested in numerous ways and places throughout the years, taking her to Sweden, Amazonian Peru and the Philippines, where she worked on various projects aimed at reframing waste and dignifying non-conventional lifestyles and forms of employment.

In an effort to re-establish a connection to her Calgary roots, she settled back home a few years ago and found herself initializing and implementing a collaborative homeless management information system across Calgary's System of Care, where she discovered the power of collective impact. Immediately prior to becoming the ABSI Connect Fellow - Calgary, she was engaged in developing out-of-the-box waste management strategies for the City of Calgary, aimed at preventing waste from occurring in the first place. Beyond that, she started a non-profit organization in 2012 called Calgary Can, which is dedicated to valuing and compensating Calgary’s informal recycling population for their environmental and economic contributions.

In her spare time, she can be found walking her dog Gino, taking advantage of Calgary’s new cycle tracks, or arguing about politics with friends at the Kensington Pub.



Lesley holds a BA Honors in Global Politics and Women’s and Gender Studies from Carleton University and a certification in International Microfinance from the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. She is preparing to defend her thesis, “Organizing for Social Policy Change: Child Care Policy Advocacy in Canada” to complete her MA in Political Economy from Carleton.

Lesley’s passion for social innovation developed out of her engagement with issues related to social finance at the Carleton Centre for Community Innovation in Ottawa. She is currently the Program and Research Associate at the Institute for Community Prosperity at Mount Royal University, where she has investigated social innovation through a variety of lenses; of note is her recent work on social enterprise legal structures and the case for a hybrid legal regime for social enterprise in Alberta.