Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus, spearheads effort that taps into innovation and creativity to help Columbus face ongoing COVID-19 challenges

An effort that started with a tweet has become a movement to lift Central Ohio out of the coronavirus doldrums.

Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus, was among the first to tap into the zeitgeist the evening of March 15, as COVID-19 began to shut down life as we knew it. That’s how Can’t Stop CBUS was born.

“Thinking out loud... @SmartCbus and @InnovateOhio should quickly organize a virtual hackathon to crowdsource technology and/or policy solutions that address the challenges people are facing in this time. Thoughts!?!”

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Davis recalls seeing the writing on the wall. Columbus would have to band together to get through the challenging period ahead. She, a handful of tech community and corporate leaders, and hundreds of volunteers have pushed the idea storm into a fully built series of projects, some of which may live long after the coronavirus crisis has passed. The “mothership”—cantstopcolumbus.com—now is home base for 15 projects, with more every week.

There’s the Curbside Concerts effort, where you can send a musician to serenade a lonely lock-in—and the artist is paid with a grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council.

There’s We Feed Cbus, providing restaurants with funds to feed frontline workers and the food-insecure, and a project supporting the Mid-Ohio Food Collective as it faces record demand.

There’s a repository of resources for people making homemade masks with donated materials, helping others stay fit or find employment, tools to help solve the digital divide between students of different income levels, and the list keeps growing.

Davis says what’s happening under the hood, though, is what’s most impressive.

“We’ve evolved from let’s set up a process to get as many people driving towards impact as possible,” Davis says. “We’ve now created a process to convert ideas into projects, get people onboarded, and track success.”

The process can support 30 projects, sharing services like marketing—all through volunteerism.

Experts in project flow such as Open Columbus will focus on going beyond minimum viable product, providing mentoring and process support to get products deployed. More than 20 organizations from the Mid-Ohio Food Collective to TechLife Columbus, BLK Hack and COhatch are marshaling resources. Measurement Resources is helping track impact. Nationwide’s innovation team has pitched in to support some projects, such as one linking parents and teachers with online tools to support home learning.

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A Slack channel plugs volunteers into projects, and more than 1,000 have signed on. “What we’re saying about our process is we have a fundamental belief that everything is solvable. We can rally as a community to confront these challenges, and the answers might be complex. Someone couldn’t sleep thinking about this or that problem, and we’ve all said yes, let’s see what we can do.”

Smart Columbus, she says, has always been around to solve problems. Davis says the process created in less than a month could create new community solutions long-term. “There’s something very powerful about what’s happening right now,” she says. “It should be a muscle we use in good times as well as bad. There will always be a need.”

Cynthia Bent Findlay is a freelance writer.