Our Speakers

This year, our team is delighted to welcome the eight incredible speakers and two performers joining us for our TEDxMcGill “Climbing Ladders” Conference. Get to know the diverse backgrounds and stories of our speakers and performers.

Anita Nowak

Anita Nowak, PhD is an empathy researcher. She teaches Social Entrepreneurship and Leadership at McGill and was awarded Best Professor of the Year in 2014. As a certified coach, she helps HNWIs and their families achieve philanthropic dreams through intergenerational values-alignment. She also mentors aspiring social innovators and advises social impact organizations. Her first book, The Empaths Strike Back, will be published in 2019. www.anitanowak.com

Her talk will be centered around the idea “Millennials and GenZ deserve Empathy and Allyship”. The description of her talk is as follows:

At the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution, the world is besieged by crises. Climate change. Refugee migrations. Rising wealth inequality. Fascist-leaning populism. Erosion of mental health. No wonder Millennials and GenZs are scared – and angry.

Based on a decade of observations in her classroom, Anita Nowak makes the heartfelt case that today’s youth need our empathy and allyship.


Oren Hodes

Oren Hodes is an entrepreneur with a strong desire to empower people. His childhood was split between vibrant Manhattan and the lively ski-town Mont-Tremblant, before landing in the beautiful city of Montreal. A passion for athletics led Oren to compete in several sports, eventually pursuing his Division 1 college basketball career in Quebec. At McGill, Oren is the founder of the McGill Sports Management Club, and active supporter of the Movember Foundation as chair of Movember McGill and member of Movember Quebec’s committee. To balance his academic focus in Finance & Strategy, Oren is trilingual and spent a semester abroad in Barcelona. He remains an avid learner who loves to travel and dream about innovative solutions to real-world issues. Upon graduation from McGill’s Class of 2019, Oren will return to New York City to launch his career in management consulting at Accenture.

Oren challenges everyone to strengthen the skill and build the small habits that lead to successful, fulfilling lives. By sharing his personal story and 3-step approach that helped him, Oren raises the idea that mental health should be a regular conversation for everyone and a skill worth developing, whether one is facing life’s various challenges or building off momentum to reach higher goals.

Oren looks forward to being inspired by the other speakers, sharing his story, and meeting like-minded people who share his passion for learning.

Feel free to reach out to Oren via email: orenhodes@gmail.com


Eleni Bakopanos

The Honourable Eleni Bakopanos, PC, is presently serving on the Executive committee and the Board of Directors of Equal Voice, a national multi-partisan organization whose mission is to promote more women to elected office. She is also a founding member and serves as Vice-President of the Quebec chapter of Equal Voice/A Voix Egales.

Eleni Bakopanos was the first Greek-born woman to be elected to the House of Commons and served for 13 years as the Member of Parliament for Saint-Denis and Ahuntsic. Ms. Bakopanos served as Assistant Deputy Speaker and as Parliamentary Secretary to a number of Ministers, including Justice, Human Resources, Skills Development and Social Development. She chaired a number of parliamentary committees including Citizenship and Immigration as well Human Rights. In July 2004, Ms. Bakopanos was sworn-in by the Governor-General of Canada as a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada. After leaving politics, she served as special advisor for caucus to the Honourable Stéphane Dion, Leader of the Official Opposition. She is the past President of the Women’s Commission of the Liberal Party of Canada (Quebec) and worked to ensure parity in the Trudeau cabinet and all federal government nominations. Prior to entering politics at the federal level, Ms. Bakopanos was a senior policy advisor for the Quebec Liberal government. She was also a candidate in the electoral district of Cremazie for the Liberal Party of Quebec.

Ms. Bakopanos serves on numerous Board of Directors, including past President of the McGill Women’s Alumnae Association and is presently Co-Chair of the McGill Leadership Advisory Committee of the MAA. At McGill University, she also held the position of Senior Director for Government Relations. In addition, she serves on a number of non-governmental and not-for-profit Boards including the Basic Income Network of Canada, the YWCA Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, PINK In the City (raises funds for breast cancer), the Canadian Initiative for Lesbos-Smile of the Child( in aid of refugee children and Greek children at risk on the Greek island of Lesbos) and has served as Vice-President of the Montreal Council of Women, as well as a number of organizations in the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal.

Presently, she is working on the international level with a number of non-governmental organizations, including the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society.

Ms. Bakopanos holds a Bachelor of Arts with honors in political science and history from McGill University, where she also studied law. She is married and is the mother of two daughters.


Nayem Alam

Nayem Alam, Founder of Speak Up, one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20, Governor General Award recipient and World Economic Forum’s Global Shaper is best known as a driven, young social entrepreneur and a slam poet who’s in a continuous pursuit of making an impact on the world with the power of voice. Raised in the neighbourhood of Little Burgundy, he is currently 21 years old majoring in Electrical Engineering, with a minor in Software Engineering at McGill University.

Nayem’s talk will surround his realization of living life to its fullest stemming from being a victim of bullying at an early age. Nayem’s talk surrounds the notion of living life to its fullest. While chasing happiness, we end up getting the total opposite. Sometimes we’re unsatisfied with unexpected outcomes and at one point of our lives we face an existential crisis that make us feel empty inside. How do we craft our purpose, how can we give life a meaning?

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Madhukar Pai

Prof Madhukar Pai, MD, PhD, FCAHS is a Canada Research Chair in Epidemiology & Global Health at McGill University, Montreal. He is the Director of McGill Global Health Programs, and Director of the McGill International TB Centre.

Madhu Pai did his medical training and community medicine residency in Vellore, India. He completed his PhD in epidemiology at UC Berkeley, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the UCSF.

Madhu serves on the STAG-TB committee of WHO, Geneva; Scientific Advisory Committee of FIND, Geneva; and Access Advisory Committee of TB Alliance, New York. He serves as the Chair of the Public-Private Mix (PPM) Working Group of the Stop TB Partnership. He is on the editorial boards of Lancet Infectious Diseases, PLoS Medicine, and BMJ Global Health, among others.

Madhu’s research is mainly focused on improving the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis, especially in high-burden countries like India and South Africa. His research is supported by grant funding from the Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and Canadian Institutes of Health Research. He has more than 300 publications. He is recipient of the Union Scientific Prize, Chanchlani Global Health Research Award, Haile T. Debas Prize, and David Johnston Faculty & Staff Award. He is a member of the Royal Society of Canada, and a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.


Susanna Zaraysky

Susanna is a polyglot, speaking eight languages. She is originally from the former Soviet Union and currently resides in California. At age 29, Susanna found out that she was partially blind and could not see in three-dimensional depth (3D). She had been born with strabismus (crossed-eyed) and amblyopia (lazy eye) and had two operations to straighten her eyes. Her talk is about how she rewired her brain to see in more depth and detail and awoke to a new world.

Susanna is the author of Language is Music (translated into Spanish, Portuguese and Russian), Travel Happy, Budget Low and One-Eyed Princess (about her vision journey). She is the co-producer of the documentary, Saved by Language. She gave a TEDx talk in 2014 about Saving Endangered Languages with Music. She has been featured on the BBC, CNN, the Guardian, Los Angeles Times and the CBS and NBC television networks in the US.

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Harmata Aboubakar (Performer)

Harmata Aboubakar is a 20-year-old student from Montreal. She is a published author, an award-winning spoken word poet and an undergrad at McGill University. She has been performing poetry and writing poems ever since she has been introduced to this artform in 2014. Since then, she has performed at various Open Mic events and competed in many competitions, including Quebec’s first ever intercollegiate Slam Poetry competition. Outside of performances, Harmata is involved with many organizations; She is a Jack.Org speaker (Canada-wide organization for mental health awareness), and a McGill ACCE Team educator (Ambassador for Campus and Community Engagement). All in all, she is very passionate about having a positive impact on society, learning new things, advocating for important causes, public speaking, having meaningful discussions, as well as helping and educating others.

She looks forward to learning about the great new ideas that will be brought up in each of the various TEDx Talks. She is excited to discover the many ways the theme of “Climbing Ladders” has been interpreted by each speaker. She also looks forward to meeting new people, having insightful discussions with members of my community, as well as demonstrating the importance of self-expression through her spoken word performance.

To Harmata, “Climbing Ladders” means overcoming obstacles in one’s life, growing as a person and mounting towards one’s goals despite the encountered hardships. Hence, through her spoken word poetry performance, and my personal experiences, she will demonstrate how various means of self-expression, including poetry, can help one climb ladders and overcome adversities in life.

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Lucia De Luca (Performer)

Lucia De Luca is a third year Bachelor of Education student and spoken word poet. Born and raised in Montreal, she is looking forward to honouring her grandmother and Italian background in her performance of "If I Spoke Better Italian". About five years ago, Lucia was inspired to start writing and performing poetry after seeing Sarah Kay's TedTalk, "If I should have a daughter". In addition to writing poetry, Lucia enjoys solo travel, works in recreation programs for people with intellectual disabilities, and has an article called "Imagination in the Rational Classroom" published in The Journal of School & Society.

To Lucia, our ability to climb ladders is influenced by the opportunities we are given and the opportunities we reach out and ask for: the second part is more important, as it is the one we have control over.

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Emilie Nicolas

Emilie Nicolas is an anthropologist, human rights advocate, and consultant based in Montreal, Canada. She sits on the boards of the Broadbent Institute, an important progressive think-tank, and the Quebec Women’s Federation, the largest feminist organization in Canada. An active bridge-builder, Emilie co-founded Québec inclusif in 2013, and has since initiated a broad civil society coalition for equality and against systemic racism in Quebec. Her work has been published in several journals, magazines and newspapers, and she is a frequent media commentator, analyst and public speaker on human rights issues. She has contributed to building equity practices in various organizations in Canada and internationally.

Emilie is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, where she researched the role of a shared language in the connections between Quebec and Haiti. She holds a MA in Comparative Literature from the same university.