The coronavirus outbreak has stopped people from congregating physically in groups, but the leaders of an Indianapolis not-for-profit say it’s still important to maintain contact, network, socialize and work for the good of the whole.
So IndyHub—an organization that advocates for and connects young professionals in Indianapolis through volunteer opportunities and social events—announced this week the launch of a free digital gathering series designed to bring community members together, while also helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
IndyHub, working with Leadership Indianapolis, plans to host digital book clubs, panel discussions and virtual meet-ups, essentially replacing traditional event and program schedules with opportunities to convene remotely. The organizations, which are heavily promoting social distancing, intend to continue fostering community while helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re an organization that believes in the power of person-to-person connection, so naturally, this moment presents a unique challenge in our efforts,” IndyHub President Blake Johnson said in a statement. “Indianapolis is a community that sticks together, and we believe by using the amazing digital convening tools at our disposal, we can continue to meaningfully connect people to each other, to opportunities to grow and learn, and to ways they can engage in our city without risking their health or the health of their neighbors, family and friends.”
Already the groups have posted information about a digital book club series, which will run March 25-May 6 and a “Money Talks” event with Peter Dunn, who writes the Pete the Planner personal finance column for IBJ. The latter will take place online at 5:30 p.m., March 24.
IndyHub only announced the overall effort yesterday and has already heard from 100 people who say they want to take part in these virtual events, with more than 35 signing up for the Pete the Planner event. The group plans to start a more aggressive marketing campaign today.
“We think these events will be very popular. We think the book clubs will fill up pretty quickly,” said IndyHub President Blake Johnson.
And IndyHub and Leadership Indianapolis are encouraging other organizations and community leaders to help connect people during a time that can be somewhat isolating. Organizations are encouraged to submit their digital opportunities to IndyHub.
People can visit www.indyhub.org/together to see regularly updated list of opportunities, resources and updates from IndyHub as well as opportunities to submit an organization’s gatherings.
“Social distancing does not equal civic disengagement. While we may not be able to convene for conversations and programs in the ways we normally do, we can certainly continue providing opportunities for people to learn more about the city, the experiences of their fellow community members, and to engage as community leaders during this time,” said Leadership Indianapolis CEO Rebecca Hutton.
The types of virtual gatherings being conducted by Indy Hub “keeps relationships going for people doing business together. It does keep you and your business top of mind,” said Linda Jackson, principal of local communications firm JXN PR.
While communications professionals say maintaining some type of face-to-face communication is vital for businesses and various groups, it’s about more than just driving business, Jackson said.
“Communication keeps us connected and is more important than ever. There’s a certain peace that comes from knowing we’re all in this together, and letting others know you’re thinking about them, whether that results in business or not,” Jackson told IBJ. “I believe that keeping those relationships intact and showing true compassion will pay dividends in the future. Besides, it’s the right thing to do.”
Executives at Borshoff, one of Indianapolis’ largest advertising and public relations firm, have been impressed with how quickly—and creatively local businesses and groups have adapted to the new remote work reality forced on us by the spread of the coronavirus.
“These types of meetings have obviously become a lot more critical in the last two weeks, and we’ve been impressed by the creativity we’re seeing,” said Borshoff owner Jennifer Young Dzwonar, an expert in external communications. “We’re impressed with how fast people and groups have moved to these virtual meet-ups and it’s only going to get better.”
While a lot of communication still happens via text, email and phone, Dzwonar said there’s simply no substitute for face-to-face interaction. That type of contact is especially important during stressful times, she added.
“What people are trying to do while they’re staying home is to have some real human interaction,” Dzwonar told IBJ. “Nothing compares to having some sort of eye contact and to really see and hear how somebody is doing. It’s one thing to get a text or email to ask ‘how are you?’ That type of communication by its nature forces a really quick response. But these virtual meetings really cause people to speak so much more openly.”
Ironically, added Borshoff Executive Strategy Director Meg Marra, the very technologies that have been criticized for keeping people physically apart and isolated “are now being used as a vital tool to bring us together. You really have to applaud IndyHub for jumping in with this type of initiative and for other groups who are doing the same. These are the things that will keep us going.”