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Global Voices, Local Action: Speaker Information

Juan Sebastian Arias (presenter)
Deputy Director of Policy​, Chicago Mayor’s Office, USA
Juan Sebastian Arias currently works for the Office of Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot as a Deputy Director of Policy. There he manages strategic policy and place-based initiatives across housing, neighborhood development and food security – from equitable transit-oriented developments to vacant lots to fair housing. He has over 12 years of experience working to advance racial equity and social justice in cities through policy, research, community engagement, and cross-sector partnerships. He has previously worked with the Metropolitan Planning Council, Enterprise Community Partners, and Living Cities, among other positions.  

A proud Chicago native and son of Ecuadorian immigrants, Juan Sebastian grew up across Avondale, Logan Square and Jefferson Park. He has a bachelor’s degree in Social Studies from Harvard College and a masters’ degree in City Planning from the University of California – Berkeley. He now lives back in Logan Square with his partner and enjoys biking, hiking, visiting family, and playing with his niece and nephew. His preferred pronouns are he/him/his. 

Desislava Ivanova (panelist)
Chief Expert of European Projects, Dupnitsa Municipality, Bulgaria
Desislava Ivanova has experience in the management and coordination of more than 10 projects of the Municipality of Dupnitsa, all implemented under the Operational Programs of the Republic of Bulgaria and co-financed by the European Union. Through these projects, with funding from the European Union and the national budget, important infrastructural and social problems of the Municipality of Dupnitsa have been solved. Desislava has previous experience as a journalist, reporter, and editor-in-chief of a regional daily for Southwestern Bulgaria and editor-in-chief of a regional television network. Among the most important projects she has led are: ‘Home for Everyone’, ‘Establishment of a Center for Family-Type Accommodation in Dupnitsa Municipality’, ‘Preservation and Restoration of Ecosystems of the Transboundary Region by Improving the Quality of River Water and Soils’, and ‘Alternatives for Early Childhood Development’. 


Commissioner Marisa Novara (panelist)
Department of Housing, City of Chicago, USA
Marisa Novara was appointed Commissioner of the Department of Housing (DOH) by Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot in May 2019 and was confirmed by Chicago City Council in June 2019. Believing that housing is a human right, Commissioner Novara directs the City’s efforts to create equitably distributed affordable housing across Chicago’s 77 community areas through policies, development, and legislation. 

Since 2019, Novara has led the department in the creation of policies to ensure that all 50 wards contribute to the city’s affordable housing needs, while also responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Chair of the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Response Team, Novara led the effort to secure 1,200 hotel rooms and 900 additional shelter beds to meet the needs presented by the pandemic. Under her leadership, DOH has managed three rounds of COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grants providing over $100 million of financial and legal support directly to impacted residents and passed the COVID-19 Eviction Protection Ordinance.  

Heather D. Parish (moderator)
Executive Director, The Albert Pick Jr. Fund, Chicago, USA
Heather D. Parish currently serves as Executive Director of The Albert Pick, Jr. Fund, which supports furthering social justice in Chicago’s under-resourced neighborhoods in the areas of Civic Activism, Culture, Education and Health and Human Services. From January 2013 – February 2022, she worked for the Pierce Family Foundation (PFF), which provides general operating and capacity building support for nonprofits that provide housing and support services for people experiencing homelessness. Heather was named Co-Executive Director of the foundation in January 2019 as part of a strategic partnership PFF entered into with the Cuore e Mani Foundation, and in 2022 she became the sole Executive Director. Prior to her work in the philanthropic sector, Heather led a full-time independent consulting practice for over 17 years, working with nonprofits and foundations engaged in housing, community development and capacity building initiatives. Her prior professional experience also includes work as a Public Finance Associate with Prudential Securities Incorporated, as a Senior Consultant with KPMG Peat Marwick’s Government Services Practice, and as a Fiscal and Policy Analyst for the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. Heather holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Master of Public Policy degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where she specialized in Housing, Community Development and Urban Economic Development. 

Since 2019, she has served as a founding board member for AMPT: Advancing Nonprofits, a trailblazing initiative that provides targeted and effective capacity building support through an anti-racism lens for small nonprofits on Chicago’s south and west sides, with priority given to those that are led by and serving Black and Latinx communities. In 2021-22, Heather served as a co-chair for Chicago Funders Together to End Homelessness, a 30+ member funder collaborative. Heather currently holds memberships in the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), Chicago African Americans in Philanthropy (CAAIP), Chicago Women in Philanthropy (CWIP), the Harvard Club of Chicago and the California Alumni Association. She also serves on the following: Chicago Foundation for Women’s Advocacy Committee, Chicago Racial Justice Pooled Fund Steering Committee, Metropolitan Planning Council’s Effective Governance Committee and Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Chicago’s Leadership Advisory Committee. Previously, Heather served as a board member for the Illinois Finance Authority, the Illinois State Board of Investment and the Wieboldt Foundation.   

Drew Williams-Clark (emcee)
Director of Equitable & Sustainable Communities, Metropolitan Planning Council, Chicago, USA
Drew Williams-Clark joined MPC in February of 2022 as Director of Equitable and Sustainable Communities. He is a passionate advocate for advancing racial equity in the pursuit of community development and climate resilience. Drew positions himself as a technical ally to frontline organizations, bringing expertise in climate action planning, water resilience, green stormwater infrastructure, development finance, fair and affordable housing policy, and equitable community partnerships.

Before coming to MPC, Drew oversaw efforts to end urban flooding, equitably finance water infrastructure, and retrofit affordable housing for climate change at the Center for Neighborhood Technology. He has also worked at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Village of Oak Park. Drew lives with his wife, two sons, bicycle, and fishing tackle in Oak Park, IL.