What started with a Tweet has become a Columbus hackathon movement to help others amid a global pandemic. Can't Stop Columbus is now 700 volunteers strong.

It was the night of March 15 that Gov. Mike DeWine ordered bars and restaurants to close in the hope of slowing the spread of the coronavirus. That dramatic decision made the gravity of the health crisis really sink in for Jordan Davis, the director of Smart Columbus. Knowing businesses, and therefore people, would be impacted by those shutdowns, she decided to put out a call via Tweet for what, at the time, she thought would be a few days of virtual hackathons to come up with solutions for people in need.

A few days turned into what’s now a six-months-strong movement known as Can’t Stop Columbus that’s implemented dozens of projects to improve the lives of Central Ohioans.

“Within 24 hours (of the Tweet), the amount of energy and people—it was clear that one weekend wasn’t going to [be enough],” Davis says. “We had to figure out how to build a virtual community overnight essentially to facilitate collaboration among strangers.”

This piece of thought leadership is part of 11 Moonshot Ideas to Move the Columbus Region Forward: A Future 50 project.

THE IDEAS

The need for a civic renaissance • The private sector should fight inequity • Closing the digital divide • Driving equity by funding women-owned businesses • Designing a more equitable region • Using data to guide public policy • Customer-centricity in social services • A radical recalibration of education • ISO: Ambassadors for science • Finding true work-life balance post-Covid • Reimagining community-police relations • Why we did this project

There are now more than 700 volunteers at Can’t Stop Columbus who work on 56 teams. The group, best known for its Curbside Concerts series to help people dealing with social isolation, has 12 impact areas: the arts; local business; behavioral health; voting and public health information; social services; anti-racism; critical supplies; economic recovery; the digital divide; education and child care; food and hunger; and physical health and wellness.

More than 50 projects have launched, thousands of facemasks have been donated, hundreds of concerts have been performed and more than 22,000 meals have been delivered. Several organizations have lent support, including Nationwide Insurance, COSI, YMCA and the Columbus College of Art & Design. Several members of Columbus CEO magazine’s Future 50 class also are involved in the group and are donating time and talent from their companies to bring projects to fruition.

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Brad Griffith, the president of web design firm Buckeye Interactive, connected with Davis through Future 50 and decided to get involved in the group. “She took the initiative to make sure Covid didn’t sideline all the social-good projects that had been planned,” he says.

In addition to the challenges presented by Covid-19, many people got involved with the group to take part in the anti-racism movement, he says. He’s dedicated one of his interns to Can’t Stop Columbus and says there’s plenty of room for additional support from the business community.

“(Companies can) help support an initiative like this with skilled volunteering,” he says. “Traditional volunteer work … those things are beneficial.” More beneficial, he says, is providing developers as volunteers to help design software, apps and websites.

Davis, too, believes there’s a big opportunity for businesses that want to build connections to the community through the group, which she wants to keep going. Its website, in fact, says, “We’re just getting started.”

We—the private sector—not only have the ability but the responsibility to shape our communities and decide what we want our city to look like. This vision of Columbus cannot be achieved without us.

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.