Growing up Salim had the fortune of being raised by parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts who taught him the value and importance of empathy and kindness. “My parents served their families and community and never asked for anything in return. They never got recognition for their work, nor did they care for it,” Salim shares. “My father sacrificed so much in life to help us and his extended family, and from him I learned the importance of generosity.”
Salim credits his parents, and mother in particular, for nurturing his humanitarian qualities. “My mom is constantly helping those around her, family and strangers alike.” Salim’s mom has a particular soft spot for trash collectors in Beirut who have a difficult time cleaning up the city’s notoriously littered streets. “My mom always bakes for the trash collectors in her neighborhood and makes sure to let them know how appreciated they are. Being a trash collector in Lebanon is a thankless job and it pays little. My mom feels the need to compensate for this. That is just the type of person she is.”
Salim was born in Saudi Arabia and moved to Beirut shortly after the end of the Lebanese Civil War in the early 90’s. Indicative of his ability to see the positive in any situation, Salim calls the compound where he lived in Saudi Arabia his “first Toronto.” This compound was home to hundreds of expatriate families from around the world. “It was like a bus stop. People come and go. No one puts down roots. This fosters a unique aura of acceptance of the diversity that marks this place,” Salim says. “What’s even better about Toronto is that our diversity is more rooted.”
Gated life in Saudi Arabia was a stark contrast from the complex identity politics that plague Lebanon; Salim finds beauty in both worlds.
After completing a degree in International Relations at Oxford University, Salim decided to move to Canada in 2009 to pursue citizenship. Like most newcomers, he struggled with precarious employment but turned to volunteering to gain the “Canadian experience” that everyone expected.
After short stints at the University of Toronto and the Government of Ontario, Salim got his big break in 2013 when he was awarded a Toronto Urban Fellowship with the Toronto municipal government. He has worked for the City of Toronto ever since. He currently works at the City Manager’s office as a Senior Communications Advisor with the Strategic Communications division.
Although his work takes a substantial chunk of his time, volunteering continues to be a big part of Salim’s life and identity. “I do more work outside of my 9 to 5 job,” Salim says. In 2009, as a volunteer and board member with the Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs, Salim helped to expand and raise the profile of the Couchiching Conversations. These conversations were free public events that provided a safe space for challenging discussions on issues that mattered to Canadians. Salim was able to partner with organizations and individuals from across Canada who championed and replicated the model in their own communities.
Moving the community forward is something Salim cherishes as a personal responsibility. “Canada is my home and it’s my job to make it a more socially just and equitable place,” Salim says. As a DiverseCity Fellow with Civic Action, Salim, along with five other city leaders, pitched the idea of investing in an 84-km active living path across Toronto by connecting the city’s extensive trail system. The Pan Am Path, as it came to be known, was unanimously endorsed by Toronto Council and became the largest infrastructure project of the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. In addition to serving as a Director of the Friends of the Pan Am Path, Salim also sits on the board of Apathy is Boring, a youth-led non-partisan charitable organization that uses art and technology to empower youth and increase their civic engagement.
Salim hopes to continue to inspire new Canadians to volunteer in their communities and to seek opportunities where they can share their international experience and diverse identities.