Shantelle Medel (right) and Ariel Dela Cruz (left) of We Are Burnaby.

Embracing the complexity: pivoting as a practice

November 05, 2021

In 2018, the We Are the World project was awarded $3,000 to found a magazine to showcase seniors' stories of resilience locally and from around the world. Shantelle Medel, one of the students who created the project, wrote about the importance of jumping in soon after winning the award. Three years later, we are pleased to share that the project is still moving forward, though with some changes. We Are The World has some new faces and features, but as their recent story illustrates, if you make listening and pivoting a practice, that can be a good thing.

What lessons have you learned so far?

  • The importance of co-creation and collaboration through building the project with others instead of relying on oneself to come forward with a finished product.

  • Finding the balance between being flexible and being firm to preserve the spirit and vision of the project, given opinions and inputs from others involved.  

  • The value in working with others who have a different working style and lens than you.

  • The significance of tapping into experts in the field for clarity and affirmation.

  • Being aware of time management and competing priorities in our personal lives as we juggle this project amidst school, work and family. 

How did the project evolve through the pandemic? Why is it important to have a project like this be implemented in this “new normal”?

Our original intent was to have a printed collection of stories and artworks that would be distributed throughout the city of Burnaby. Seniors provided input and feedback on early prototypes of the project and the idea of a community magazine to address social isolation experience in the community was well received. 

With the evolving restrictions of the pandemic, we shifted the project to a primarily web-based platform. And though it was originally meant to be a project for seniors, the project itself has also evolved to become an online, living platform for all demographics. We recognized that, particularly now when it is in the best interest of many to be isolated, it is necessary for programs such as this to provide an alternate space for community engagement and connection. 

Tell us about your journey in developing the early stages of this program. What comes next? 

Witnessing this project come to life has been a highlight for both of us during this pandemic. During the early stages of the pandemic, we focused on developing the foundation of the magazine. Recognizing the importance of this project being community-owned, the project became an official program under the Burnaby Neighbourhood House and was retitled to We Are Burnaby.

We work closely with Burnaby Neighbourhood House and their volunteers to gather and recruit stories and artwork and to develop the website, communication and distribution plan. We look forward to seeing everything come together for this project and most importantly, to be able to learn from and admire the talent and resilience of Burnaby community members.

What made you realize that your project was having an impact on someone else?

The Burnaby Neighbourhood House’s impassioned reception of the project was an encouraging sign of its potential to have a positive impact on the community. It began with the program director, Simone Brandl, and her spirited efforts to help set the foundation for the project. As she gradually connected us to other individuals and organizations who were willing to contribute their time, skills, and resources, it became increasingly apparent that others wanted to see this project come to life and believed in its impact for the Burnaby community.

We felt that this project had the opportunity to impact Burnaby community members through our collaborations with other Burnaby-based events (e.g. STRIDE Burnaby Arts Festival, Burnaby Festival of Learning). We have since seen several contributors want to share their art, poetry and stories through We Are Burnaby. 

When you realized that, describe what changed for you?

At the early stages of the program’s development, one of the main concerns we had was with collection of content. We were unsure if the rest of the Burnaby community would be willing to share personal stories or to contribute works of visual art. Our apprehensions waned when we connected with Simone and other individuals who shared similar drive and interest in the project. We also realized that programs and events in the past displayed the incredible artistic and written talents of Burnaby community members. We became excited to build on these existing platforms and further showcase the talented and vibrant community Burnaby is. 

Although we are not residents of Burnaby, we’ve had the opportunity to connect with the community as previous SFU students, through jobs, and other opportunities. Until this project, we did not realize the depth of community connection that was present in Burnaby and manifested through an organization such as the Burnaby Neighbourhood House. It has been energizing, and it helped reignite our purpose and desire to implement this project. Seeing passion and belief amongst Burnaby members has motivated us so much more to see this project through and has made me realize just how much the community embraces the city of Burnaby.

If you had the chance, what would you do differently?

We believe each of the steps we’ve taken, and the many times the project idea has had to shift, have all been necessary to arrive at the point of the project we are currently at. One of the most important shifts we had to make was to adapt the original plan and focus on community-based approaches through collaborations with other local events. 

Any final thoughts?

Visit to view our collection of written and visual arts. 

We are looking to showcase stories and artwork! If you are connected to the Burnaby community in any way (resident, student, work in Burnaby, etc.) and have a story, artwork, photo, or poetry to share, we would love to feature your work. Email for more information. 


Hey, students  – What would you  do with $3,000?

Up to $30,000* is available to fund SFU students who want to work with community partners to create meaningful impact. Register today – all you need is your name and a brief description of your idea.