City Councillor. Mother. Leader. Businessperson. Wife. Citizen. Friend. Daughter. Problem solver. Entrepreneur. Expert in how cities work.
Which of these characteristics make Jyoti Gondek the right person to be Calgary’s next mayor?
Turns out—all of them.
Jyoti means “light” in Punjabi. She embodies her name by shedding light on issues and has an innate ability to light up a room. Jyoti has an inclusive and respectful leadership style. When a point needs to be made, she makes it, but only after giving full consideration to all points of view. She’s not afraid to challenge, to ask tough questions, to call out the elephant in the room. She will only do so, however, after seeking input from those around her and without taking her eye off the ultimate goal.
Jyoti believes that Calgary will only achieve its fullest potential through a shared vision and collaboration.
Her curiosity and ability to ask why things are the way they are, has helped create solutions for the problems we face as a growing city. Often, she has found processes and policies exist simply because they have never been questioned. She has come to understand that when we start to probe and chip away at issues, we move forward with improvements that have meaning in our everyday lives.
Jyoti also believes in the power of cross-sector partnerships where businesses, social organizations and educational institutions are connected to local governments. The more we can understand complex issues from all angles, the better we are able to uncover solutions.
Photo by: Sheena Zilinski
Jyoti is a driven community builder and diversity champion, dedicated to lifting others. To get to the root of problems, she probes, builds alliances, and looks at creative ways to solve issues that affect Calgarians’ lives and livelihoods. Jyoti fosters environments that are open, inviting, integrated, cross-cultural, multi-generational and anchored in social connections.
Over the years, Jyoti’s community involvement has taken many different paths, from volunteering on boards with her community association in strategic planning, supporting expansion of the Vivo for Healthier Generations recreation centre, actively participating on the City of Calgary’s Planning Commission, HealthYYC and the Community Representation Framework Task Force.
Jyoti served on the boards of the Urban Land Institute Alberta, Design Talks Institute and Parent Support Association. She has also been integral as an advisor on the National Executive Forum on Public Property and the Calgary Economic Development Commercial Real Estate Committee.
Like many of us, Jyoti chose Calgary as her home, and she’s passionate about making it the best for all of us. Jyoti’s journey to leading one of the world’s top cities hasn’t followed a straight line. Born in the U.K. to Punjabi parents originating from India, Jyoti emigrated with her family at the age of four, settling in Manitoba.
Her father, Jasdev Singh Grewal, trained as a lawyer in India, the U.K. and Canada. Battling prejudice and closed doors as a professional with a turban, he made sacrifices to provide for his family while still practising law. With sadness and resolve, he cut his hair and moved from active practise into a leadership role with Manitoba’s Land Titles Office system. This was the start of their family’s journey throughout the province, where she was often the only visible minority in her class.
Jyoti’s childhood in Manitoba was pretty typical—learning how to skate on a pond, playing basketball, listening to music, and hanging out with friends. At home she spoke Punjabi to retain her mother tongue and dreamed about where her future would take her. By the mid 1980s, she was also witness to Canada’s power of inclusion as more South Asian families made the Prairies their home and her dad returned to wearing his turban.
After graduating from high school in Brandon and earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Manitoba, Jyoti took a position as a policy analyst with Family Services and played team handball with a group of friends that still reunite once a year to reminisce about their athletic prowess. She also found the time to embrace love and married a guitar-playing engineer named Todd.
After the wedding, Jyoti and Todd moved to Alberta, had a short stint in Wainwright, and settled in Calgary where she continued her new career within the Credit Union family in Alberta and Saskatchewan. A few years later, she took a leadership role at Greyhound Canada where she was once again on the road to small communities. She went through a lot of cassettes and CDs in rental vehicles, with audio books for Wuthering Heights and To Kill a Mockingbird balanced with Big Shiny Tunes and Pink Floyd.
At Greyhound, Jyoti learned the importance of meeting people where they live. She was responsible for agents who lived across the prairies, so she logged thousands of kilometres as she traveled to meet each one of them in person. She experienced their world, ate dinner at their houses and asked them: what do you need from me? What does success look like? She listened, took notes and heard their issues. When she returned to headquarters, she negotiated on behalf of the managers and in the process, gained the respect and support of the group that got behind the organization’s strategic objectives like never before.
In 2000, Jyoti’s parents moved from Manitoba to Calgary to be closer to family. After the sudden passing of her father a short time later, Jyoti found herself stepping into his shoes and picking up community work he had started. Carrying on his legacy with others in the South Asian community, they were instrumental in getting Punjabi instituted as a second language option in the Calgary Board of Education, opening up dialogue about the role of culture and religion in public education, and addressing domestic violence.
Photo by: Barbara Blakey O’Brien, Honey Creative
Jyoti’s household consists of her mum (Surjit), Todd, 16-year-old Justice and Smokey
the Dog. Like many Calgarians, Jyoti understands the blessings and challenges of
managing a multi-generational home but wouldn’t have it any other way. At the end
of the day, family has always been a priority, and it’s this experience that makes her a
strong, compassionate and resilient leader.
Throughout her years of formal education, Jyoti focused on using applied research to drive change. She has an undergraduate degree in sociology and criminology, an M.A. in organizational sociology that focused on corporate social responsibility, and a Ph.D. in urban sociology that explored urban-rural struggles in hybrid areas like Rocky View County.
Jyoti was able to convert her training in research methods and critical thinking into a successful consulting practice called Tick. She spent 12 years working with a range of clients in the energy and city-building sectors, helping them understand “what makes you tick” and assisting with evolving their business models to fit a changing regulatory and economic environment.
In 2014, Jyoti was asked to lead the newly formed Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business. In her three years there, she established a program that brought students and professionals together to build strong and prosperous cities. She also examined the challenges facing Calgary’s commercial sector as property values in the core plummeted. She knew then that this issue would be a big one for Calgary. Downtown vacancies at record levels began with declining oil prices, a situation we can now see has been made worse by the pandemic.
Jyoti has dedicated herself to creating better cities that place equal value on people and places. Successful cities understand what citizens need in the spaces you create.
For her insights and efforts in city-building, Jyoti was awarded the Angus Reid Applied Sociology Award (2016), for contributions to sociological practice that serve as a model for working with a community, organization or public service.
Elected as Ward 3 Councillor in 2017, Jyoti uses her experience to highlight that cities are intersection of people and places.
She asks difficult questions about how the City is calculating assessment values and how we can ease the burden vacancies place on all of us. She asks about how we can better collaborate to tackle issues of housing, homelessness and equitable access to economic opportunities for all Calgarians. Jyoti also understands the importance of a council that works together. Her personal motto as a Councillor has been that we work better together as a council when we realize that we’re all human beings just trying to accomplish good things.