Senior Management Team

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Our people are making it happen.

Our hardworking and dedicated leadership team use their knowledge, skills and networks to guide our operations and deliver important outcomes for the people and communities we serve as well as PWDA’s organisational development.

Chief Executive Officer | Sebastian Zagarella

Photo of Sebastian Zagarella smiling and wearing a dark blazer

Sebastian brings demonstrated success in developing and implementing sustainable strategies, and with building cohesive, effective teams. He has extensive operational experience across corporate, membership and not-for-profit organisations, having held senior roles at UTS College, the NRMA Group of businesses, Qantas and Sydney Airport (Macquarie Airports).

Since December 2022, his strong leadership, stakeholder and communication skills and passion for service excellence support and empowers the PWDA team to deliver their best for PWDA and its membership. As an advocate for people living with HIV and a peer living with HIV for over 20 years, he serves as a Board Director with Positive Life NSW since 2016.

Acting Deputy CEO | Joanne Yates

Joanne Yates wearing a pink blazer

Joanne is committed to working for purpose and has lengthy experience in policy and advocacy, including strategic communications in the non-government sector across diverse and complex policy landscapes including economic development, domestic and family violence, Indigenous economic inclusion, and women’s leadership and gender equality. She has served MPs at the commonwealth and NSW state levels and was the Inaugural C20 Sherpa for the Australian G20. Her passion lies in bringing together people from across government, industry and civil society to advocate for meaningful change to address disadvantage and vulnerability.

Joanne is currently the Chair of the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety and a member/ graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

National Director Individual Advocacy | Ted Jensen

Theodore (Ted) Jensen leads the national PWDA Individual Advocacy Team since late 2022, after leading the Queensland Individual Advocacy team since 2021. His passion for data analysis and database management supports benchmarks and standards for all individual advocacy work, where he monitors patterns and trends in across the individual advocacy landscape.

Prior to moving to Australia to start a family, he initially studied to become an Occupational Therapist in the USA. Ted started with People with Disability Australia as an Individual Advocate in 2019 and has successfully piloted, pioneered and delivered advocacy programs across Queensland. He has worked in the Queensland disability advocacy sector since 2011 with a broad professional experience in private, government and non-profit organisations.

Ted holds a Graduate Certificate in Business (Philanthropy and Non-Profit Studies) from QUT; a Diploma of Disability and a Certificate III in Community Services Work from TAFE; Diploma of Project Management from the Australian College of Training & Employment; and Diplomas of Leadership and Management, and Human Resources Management from First Choice College.

Senior Manager, Disability Housing Advocacy | Sunil Fernand

Photo of Sunil Fernando smiling in front of a bright orange background

Sunil provides leadership to Disability Housing Advocacy Service and Information Line projects and the Disability Advocacy Futures project teams. Sunil has worked for the United Nations Migration Agency and the International Committee of the Red Cross and served as a member of the Sri Lankan National Council for Persons with Disabilities and to the Advisory Committee on Special and Non-Formal Education. With over 18 years of experience in the international Disability Sector, he was the former Country Director for Sightsavers (Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind – UK) in Sri Lanka for over 10 years where he actively contributed to the development of the Sri Lanka national action plans on the Prevention of Avoidable Blindness, Disability, and Employment of Persons with Disability.

Sunil has a PhD from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and brings a strong background and skills in programme management, monitoring and evaluation, report writing, research, resource mobilisation, and communication.

Senior Manager, Individual Advocacy NSW | Jen Ruse

Jen leads a large team of PWDA Individual advocates across NSW including Queanbeyan, Southern Highlands and Southern Tablelands. She credits her focus and passion in disability advocacy to her sister who lives with a disability and long-standing friendships with people with disability. She is a fierce proponent for the full participation of people with disability in the community and is dedicated to the positive impact that disability advocacy has on their lives.

Jen has worked in many roles in the disability sector. Between 2009-2012 she worked for ADAHC, NSW government as a case manager and then into support work in group homes. Jen started in the disability advocacy sector as an individual advocacy with ADACAS in 2012. In 2015 she took a 12-month contract with the NDIA as a plan manager, then in 2016 Jen managed a project for The Summer Foundation and ADACAS linking young people living in nursing homes with the NDIS to assist them to transfer to more suitable accommodation and have access to the support to fully participate in life.  She commenced with PWDA in 2017 as the  NSW regional manager of individual advocacy and NDIS appeals.

Senior Manager, Policy | Giancarlo de Vera

Giancarlo De Vera smiling outdoors wearing a blue sit and orange tie

Giancarlo (they/he) is a passionate advocate for disability, multiculturalism, racial justice, LGBTIQ+ affairs and cultural diversity. He is a trained lawyer, with previous experience in politics, international affairs and diplomacy, including at the United Nations, as well as international development and identifies as LGBTIQ+, queer, non-binary and a person of colour.

Giancarlo is the inaugural Secretary of the Disabled Australian Lawyers Association, Treasurer of the Australian Centre for Disability Law, and former President of the Australian GLBTI Multicultural Council. Giancarlo was named as one of the 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians of 2021 and as one of Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25, a list recognising the social sector’s most influential people in 2022 for their significant and positive impact in Australia and overseas.

Senior Manager, Media and Communications | Anastasia Symons

B&W headshot of Anastasia Symons

Anastasia (she/her) leads a small but mighty team that is dedicated to developing and implementing communication strategies that support PWDA’s advocacy, campaigns and projects, and engagement with its members, the disability community and other stakeholders. 

Anastasia has held senior leadership and communications positions across the not-for-profit sector, where she has successfully combined her love of storytelling and strategic communications to deliver award-winning campaigns and achieve positive social change. She is well-versed in the power of media in shaping public opinion and political decision-making, especially when it amplifies the voices of lived experience.

Anastasia holds a Bachelor of Economics and Social Sciences from the University of Sydney and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

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