On Jun. 29, 2021, the City of Waterloo announced their first Director of Indigenous Initiatives, Anti-Racism, Accessibility and Equity.
Sanjay Govindaraj, a registered social worker and psychotherapist with over 20 years experience with the Region of Waterloo, will start his new role on Aug. 16.
Govindaraj acknowledged the wide breadth of expertise that his title requires and the limits of his own experience.
To respond to aspects of the role that he is not an expert on, one of Govindaraj’s first tasks with the City of Waterloo will be to hire for several new roles, including an Indigenous initiatives advocate, an anti-racism and social justice advocate and an accessibility advocate, all of whom will work alongside him.
“I love to lead from behind. That’s my way of working,” Govindaraj said. “I know I’m not an expert on the entire range of portfolios. I will be looking to the [advocacy] team and people who come in with lived experience and expertise.”
Govindaraj drew on his professional experience in human resources and the equity, inclusion and human rights unit with the Region of Waterloo—and in incorporating Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act audits and Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations into his previous roles with the region—as experiences that will help propel him in his new position.
“Between those three positions and myself, I think a small team would help—not just focusing on some of the internal challenges and systemic barriers, but also more externally focused [on] programs and services, and how [they] are creating unnecessary barriers, or how can we make them more inclusive,” Govindaraj said.
“We’ve got to start somewhere,” he said.
He credits his lived experience in India during his formative years and his social work experience for having inspired him to contribute to systemic change.
Having started his career in Mumbai, India, Govindaraj recalled witnessing how injustice, violence and systemic issues can impact the most vulnerable and marginalized portions of the population His experience with the caste system that is still entrenched in Indian society was especially influential.
“Some of my lived experience coming from India, [witnessing] the caste system…it’s a deeply ingrained process,” Govindaraj said. “The [lower castes] can never shift their roles. Every step of the way, it’s so codified. When I moved to Canada, the caste system was not present, but there’s a very different system present where it’s much more invisible.”
Along with hiring for the advocate positions, Govindaraj said his goal will be to evaluate the demands of the community and respond accordingly.
“My first step is to really get a little more into understanding where we currently stand, and a lot of good things that the city may have already worked on, but also looking at where [the] gaps are,” he said.
When it comes to systemic change, Govindaraj said he sees this position as having the potential to be “transformative.”
“The way the city has structured it, this is a permanent team…and it’s also going to be structured within the Chief Administrative Officer’s office, so it does have a lot more ability to respond quickly and work with the council.”
Alyssa is the Editor-in-Chief of The Cord. She is finishing up her final semester in Laurier’s Faculty of Arts, as an English major and Global Studies minor. Alyssa likes pants more than shirts and thinks everyone looks good with a nose piercing.