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.

Deputy CEO | Carolyn Hodge

Photo of Carolyn Hodge looking into the camera. She wears earrings and a scarf.

Carolyn has over 12 years of policy and advocacy experience in the community sector across disability, housing, older people, mental health, domestic and family violence, and women. She brings a strong background dealing with media across print, radio and television. Carolyn holds a Bachelor of Social Science with a sociology major and social policy sub-major.
Passionate about producing better outcomes for people with disability, she has been Chair of the Disability Network Forum (NCOSS) and has considerable experience in policy development, and a high level of knowledge of human rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD).
In previous roles, Carolyn has also worked within, and managed a National Disability Advocacy Program (NDAP) funded service, been a former member of the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (EWON) Board, and has supported CEOs with business development, strategic planning, governance policies, evaluation frameworks and the development of successful grant applications.

Director of Communications & Strategic Projects | Lizzy Fowler

Lizzy is an executive leader with more than 15 years’ experience driving impact through strategic communications, marketing and customer experience across both not-for-profit and corporate organisations.
A talented communications professional, Lizzy is passionate about inclusion and accessible communications, as well as representation of women in leadership roles.
Lizzy brings a wealth of understanding of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), as well as demonstrated experience adopting human centred and co-design approaches to impart real impact. Lizzy was an integral part of the award-winning ‘My Home’ project, which worked to improve access to the NDIS and sustainable tenancies for individuals with disability experiencing homelessness.
Lizzy holds an Honours degree from Durham University as well as a postgraduate diploma in Marketing from Cambridge Marketing College. Lizzy is currently studying for a Diploma in Leadership and Management.

Senior Manager, Disability Housing Advocacy | Sunil Fernando

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.

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.

Acting Queensland Manager, Individual Advocacy NSW | Luke Gale

Luke leads the Queensland Individual Advocacy Team with more than thirteen years of individual and group advocacy experience with PWDA. In 2009, he set up and managed PWDA’s regional individual advocacy program in Bundaberg QLD, managing PWDA advocates across the Bundaberg and Hervey Bay regions. Luke enjoys working with clients to develop their self-advocacy skills and navigating their options according to their preference and needs under human rights principles.
Luke is currently completing an accessible version of the LUFT (Launceston Urban Fringe Trail), spanning 96km of accessible urban fitness trails while also developing and mapping other accessible urban fitness tracks. He was a former national ranked competitive shooter competing across Australia and his passion is modified cars and drag racing.

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.

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