Alumni Profile | Tanya DeMello

Toni de Mello

Winner of the 2011 Faculty of Arts Young Alumni Award. This award recognizes Waterloo Arts alumni who have made outstanding contributions to their professional field and in community and public service.

Tanya (Toni) graduated from the University of Waterloo with a BA in Honors Economics and Political Science in 2002. She is a human rights lawyer, civic leader and activist. She was valedictorian of her graduating class at the University of Waterloo. She then worked for two years as a Management Consultant with Ontario Power Generation and a year with Deloitte and Touche. At Deloitte, she travelled extensively, working in Mexico, Spain and all over the US.

Using her business and finance background that she acquired from the University of Waterloo and her work as a consultant, she co-founded two non-profit organizations in Toronto. One, Toronto Volunteer Bridge, sought to connect young professionals with flexible and easy volunteer opportunities. Another, the World Youth Centre, was a social entrepreneurship training programme for international students with ideas to change their communities. She realized that she wanted to work full time public service and saw herself as someone who could leverage her business background in the realm of social entrepreneurship.

Accordingly, she undertook a Master in Public Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School in Princeton University. This experience has profoundly changed her. When she arrived at Princeton, she immediately founded the Woodrow Wilson Workers (WWW), aimed at engaging graduate students in flexible community service opportunities in New Jersey and New York. However, she was stunned at the very beginning of her first year at WWS with the tragedy left by Hurricane Katrina. The images of victims and survivors deeply troubled her and compelled her to initiate a trip with some fellow students to do relief work in New Orleans during the fall break. It was on this trip that she felt called to work in emergency relief and specifically in rebuilding of communities that have been shattered - by natural disaster, war or other catastrophes. That spring, she initiated a similar relief trip to Kashmir, in the area that was hardest hit by the earthquake. As a result, she was awarded the Princeton International Student Award in 2006 in honor of her efforts.

Toni then undertook a summer internship, where she worked in peace building through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. After this internship, she spent six months in Senegal, working in Emergency Relief through the UN World Food Programme (WFP) at their regional office. There, she worked in the promotion of WFP’s main programs in the region, specifically advocating for initiatives aimed at improving nutrition levels in the 18 West African countries covered by the regional office. She then spent the next six months in Colombia, South America, working in a UNHCR Field Office where she worked directly with the displaced population in the area and led a Needs Assessment that she later used to advocate for the rights of the displaced in the region and to convince the local government to fulfil its obligations to protect and support them.

Toni holds a law degree from McGill University and is a human rights lawyer in Toronto working as the Director of Human Rights at Ryerson University currently, after working in a similar role for three years at the University of Toronto. Toni advises the executive, faculty, staff and students on issues of discrimination, harassment and sexual violences and manages all concerns, complaints and investigations on these issues in the university.

In 2015, Toni ran for federal office and well...she lost. However, she remains incredibly active and engaged in civic life.

Toni obtained an Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree in Applied Studies, International Trade Specialization and Economics Co-op from the University of Waterloo in 2002.