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Behind the Circle for Democratic Solidarity

    Ben Rowswell - Convenor and Founder 

Ben served as Canada’s Ambassador to Venezuela from 2014 to 2017. This capped a 25-year career as a professional diplomat including assignments in Canada’s embassies to Egypt, to the United States, and in Canada’s Permanent Mission to the UN. He served as Canada’s first diplomatic envoy to Baghdad, Iraq, after the fall of Saddam Hussein from 2003 to 2005, as Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan and as head of the NATO Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar between 2008 and 2010.

As a practitioner of international relations, Ben’s thematic interest has been in human rights and democracy. He founded the Democracy Unit at Global Affairs Canada and worked closely with human rights activists in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Ambassador to Venezuela, Ben was an outspoken advocate of the restoration of the popular sovereignty of Venezuelans after the suspension of constitutional order in early 2017.

These experiences abroad awakened an interest in the role of citizens in our own democracy. In Ottawa, Ben supported the Cabinet process as a member of the Privy Council Office during the tenure of Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper, experiences that exposed him to the far-reaching impact that public opinion has on decision-making at the highest levels of government.


  Elena Villabona Palomero - Research Coordinator

Elena is a dedicated Research Coordinator at the Circle for Democratic Solidarity in Toronto, specializing in data analysis and community engagement. Since May 2024, she has led the Remembering Project, advocating for historical justice and Indigenous rights.

With a background supporting refugees and asylum-seekers at Student Action for Refugees (STAR) in Cardiff, Wales, Elena is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. Her undergraduate dissertation on the memorialization of the Korean 'comfort women' reflects her passion for human rights and the politics of memory.

Elena's work focuses on the intersection of human rights and global security, aiming to advance international justice and address crimes against humanity while fostering inclusive communities and promoting historical justice.


  Crystal Butler - Communications Coordinator

Crystal is a versatile professional currently serving as the Communications Coordinator at the Circle for Democratic Solidarity, contributing to the organization's outreach and engagement efforts to effectively mobilize volunteers to support Indigenous social issues.

Crystal has contributed to the fundraising efforts of various charities including 'Doctors Without Borders (MSF)' and 'CAMH.' She is currently pursing a Master's of Global Affairs at the esteemed Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. 

She has academic and professional interests in international development, community innovation, and social impact initiatives. Her vast experience in the non-profit sector and fundraising allows her to offer professional insights into community and stakeholder engagement as well as event coordination. 

Our Origins

The Circle for Democratic Solidarity originates from a partnership between the Canadian International Council (CIC) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) Canada. Acting as a platform for citizens to engage in discussions on international issues, the CIC helps define Canada's place in the world. Correspondingly, KAS is a German political foundation that promotes freedom and liberty, peace, and justice through civic education in more than 120 countries. In Canada, they seek to intensify political cooperation between Germany and Canada in order to strengthen transatlantic relations and address common global challenges.

This partnership operated under the name of RODA, Renewing Our Democratic Alliance. 

Since then, Canadian and German proponents and practitioners of democracy have made common cause in applying the values that unite us to shared challenges at home and in global affairs.

The culmination of the RODA project in 2022 was a decision to create a new, permanent organization to facilitate mutual learning between liberal, inclusive democracies.  The Circle for Democratic Solidarity was created in June 2023.


From left to right: Paper Author Dr. Craig Damian Smith, Canadian Senator Ratna Omidvar, Convenor Ben Rowswell, Chargée d'Affaires Mme Isabelle Poupart, Ambassador (ret.) Jeremy Kinsman at a CIC and KAS conference on refugee resettlement at the Canadian Embassy to Germany in September 2022. 

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  • Ben Rowswell
    published this page in Who We Are 2024-06-11 14:33:14 -0400