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On Storms, Blueprints and Collaboration: Re-Code, Post-secondary and the Pandemic

by: Paula Sahyoun, Social Innovation Fellow

It’s undeniably eerie to reflect and think that just a month ago the world was going about 2020 with a business as usual stance. Since then, we have seen our ways of living completely upended with a new reality that came in as swiftly as a spring storm. 

Sometimes this storm felt more like a hurricane. Entire campuses switched to an online format within a fortnight . In some places, staff faced layoffs,hiring freezes and pay cuts. Convocations, conferences, and placements got canceled, grading switched to pass / fail, residences closed, and students were displaced. 

We have been drawing inspiration from Canadian post secondary presidents and administrators leading through these challenging times. In the words of Simon Fraser University’s President and Vice-Chancellor Andrew Petter:

Feelings of helplessness and apprehension are natural accompaniments to any natural disaster. But so too is our capacity for benevolence and calm.

It hasn’t been easy of course, as institutions find themselves needing to make immediate decisions and navigate their campuses through turbulent, uncertain and uncharted waters with no clear end in sight. 

Post Secondary Institutions have proven themselves to be resilient and empathetic community partners and anchor institutions. We’ve seen countless pan-Canadian examples of colleges and universities putting all hands on deck and keeping united during this period of physical distancing while listening and responding to community needs. Schools have converted facilities into clinics, created temporary housing for frontline workers, donated personal protective equipment, ramped up innovative research and increased student learning, financial and digital mental health supports.

What have we been doing?

Here at Re-Code we have been trying to respond, support and amplify the immediate innovative and empathic responses to the pandemic, while planning for the longer-term rebuilding and recovery.

Chad, Paula and Kelly on Zoom
Chad, Paula and Kelly on Zoom

Since the beginning of March the Re-Code team has been working from home, canceled or made virtual all in person convenings, and we have reached out to our partners and grantees about reviewing granting requirements and to check in on how they are doing.



  • The Canadian Map the System Finals which were previously set to be held in Montréal from May 7th-9th has been re-imagined virtually. Through the MTS Challenge, students deeply learn, research and present a problem using a systems thinking approach. This lens is a practical and insightful tool to use when faced with a challenging problem. 
  • Our annual Canada Day event planned to take place before the AshokaU Exchange has now been redesigned into a lightly facilitated online experience. The Exchange brings together changemakers from higher education institutions across the globe to share experiences on post-secondary as a vehicle for social impact..
  • In 2017 the McConnell Foundation and Simon Fraser University hosted a President’s Roundtable on Social Infrastructure. An important report was commissioned for the event and can be seen here.  In commemoration of its 3 year anniversary, Re-Code invited university presidents to participate in a Roundtable on the Value of Community Engagement in May 2020. Originally scheduled for Vancouver, it will now be virtual. This dialogue has taken on an increased importance as universities are leaning into their increasingly crucial and indispensable role in responding to COVID-19.

Strategic Planning

  • We have converted our strategic planning guidelines into a distilled decision making tool to help guide senior leaders and changemakers in making decisions with a social purpose lens during the crisis. Click here to see the tool. Your feedback is welcome, please email
  • We are looking into conducting a feasibility study into creating a cross-institutional resource and learning collaborative for sharing and building from common curricula. 


Here are some of the resources that we have been checking regularly: 

In an era of social and physical distancing, connection and trust-based relationships are key staples to stockpile in any successful transition recipe. We are coming to work every day empowered with a renewed sense of empathy, flexibility and solidarity. We are stronger together and we truly believe in the power of institutional collaboration and the sharing of experiences, successes and celebrations.

In the words of activist and novelist Arundhati Roy’s:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

One month ago today nobody would have been able to foresee where we stand now. What we do now will define us and impact the sector for years to come – we are effectively writing our own blueprint. How can we do better?

Paula, Kelly and Chad

Apr 13, 2020 | Tags: , , ,