Lockdown Economy: An Award-Winning Initiative to Help Businesses Suffering During the Pandemic

Lockdown Economy: An Award-Winning Initiative to Help Businesses Suffering During the Pandemic

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Hundreds of entrepreneurs around the world are connecting to support one another during the pandemic. @Lockdown Economy

Hands up if your business has been adversely affected due to the lockdown!

We’re pretty sure many of you would raise your hand or know someone who would identify with this group. It’s no secret that businesses, especially small and medium-sized business owners in particular, have been hurt by the lockdown.

Whether you’ve seen the scars like the empty travel agency down the street or experienced it first hand in your own freelance business, it’s common for owners to feel isolated and in deep need of advice during this time. Enter Julia Skupchenko, a founder of Lockdown Economy, a new, award-winning initiative that is helping businesses in France and around the world.

It all started when Julia and her co-founder Massimo Mercuri noticed how negatively small and medium-sized businesses were affected.

In France alone, some 70 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises said their revenues had declined due to the pandemic, with severe effects.

The numbers get worse. One in five were concerned they might default on loans and have to lay off employees, 28% canceled growth projects, and more than half felt their businesses might not survive longer than 12 months.

These sentiments were shared across Europe, with business owners crying out for help. Thus, Julia and Massimo decided to create the Lockdown Economy. The initiative’s goal is to create a community of business owners and help grow their network. They do this by interviewing affected owners and sharing their stories about how they’ve dealt with the lockdown. Through these stories, other owners can learn tips to help their business, learn how to adapt, and maybe find a potential business partner for the future. It’s like a support group for entrepreneurs where ideas are generated, new products are discovered, and advice is shared.

To fully understand how Lockdown Economy can help our local business partners in France and around the world, INSPIRELLE reached out to co-founder Julia Skupchenko for a frank discussion.

Co-founders of Lockdown Economy Massimo Mercuri and Julia Skupchecko © Lockdown Economy

How did Lockdown Economy come about? 

Lockdown Economy is the grassroots nonprofit initiative launched by the Think Tank AlterContacts in May 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It gives voice to micro-and small-businesses and self-employed professionals and provides them with a forum to share how the pandemic affected their lives, businesses and future. To date, 300 small business owners from 32 countries in 17 different languages have courageously shared their stories with more than 35 thousand viewers.

It all started with an idea and a laptop in a simple apartment in Amsterdam, with no funding, no governmental or other support. And two people who believed it was important. Together with my co-founder Massimo Mercuri, we saw the need for small businesses to get connected during these difficult times.

Before the pandemic, we founded Global Think Tank for Sustainable Development AlterContacts in 2019. We were helping companies to instill the mindset of sustainability and measure their contribution as a service. As a nonprofit stream through events and publications, we were supporting small businesses around the world. With the first lockdown, as many of our fellow entrepreneurs, we lost our clients. And after a short pause, we had to find a new way to continue our mission. The commercial stream did not restore. However, our nonprofit initiative for small businesses found a lot of support.

Over several months our team grew to 90 volunteers. People from 24 different countries were passionate and enthusiastic to help us: students, entrepreneurs, teachers, full-time moms, professionals in-between jobs; women and men; the majority are younger than 30. We all came together remotely on our joint mission. We are still completely grassroots and have no funding. And what we have achieved truly shows the power of unity.

Julia Skupchenko shares her journey during the global disruption of 2020 and the role small businesses and grassroots initiatives can play in building a more sustainable future.

How do you help businesses in trouble?

It’s tough to run a business. It is especially tough to do it on your own. More than 70% of small firms around the world were severely affected by the pandemic. Even if we know the daunting numbers, we do not know what is really happening, what others experience. With no networking, we lose touch with each other. Many small businesses feel isolated and alone.

What are the top three lessons you have learned from entrepreneurs’ journeys?

The red thread that goes from interview to interview is collaboration. There is a wonderful example of how a cooking school in Paris that was, of course, severely hit by the pandemic and not only found ways to stay afloat but also to help its suppliers. Together with a few local businesses they developed joint offerings that did not exist before the pandemic. And through that, all of them can grow, even now.

Jane Bertch, Founder of La Cuisine Paris cooking school, shares her experiences with  Lockdown Economy.

Another important change is to get more local. Think of your neighborhood, community, city. Due to the travel restrictions, many entrepreneurs are rebuilding their offering to really cater to the local community.

And of course, be inventive. There is a great story from a travel agency in Paris that was practically cut off from its customers. But thanks to collaboration, creativity and perseverance they have found a way to develop virtual tours which are very well received with their customers.

Lockdown Economy France explores Travel Business with Dr. Monique Y. Wells, Founder of Black Entrée to Paris tours.

What are some of the biggest obstacles that businesses have had to face and what were some ways they were able to overcome them?

Besides obvious challenges, such as lack of customers and continuous costs (rent and employee salaries), one obstacle that is holding back a lot of businesses is uncertainty. The small business owners have a lot on their plate as it is. The big question is how to adapt so fast? The only way to figure it out is to continue learning from each other to find the most efficient and cost-effective ways to rebuild or revamp our small ventures.

Many small businesses are also struggling with reaching their customers. To help them, we need to think and act as a community.

If you know a small business nearby, support them. Even a small purchase can make a big difference. Tell your friends about them. Remember that people in charge are just people who had a dream to do something nice for you. And that’s why there is that bakery or a cafe, or a yoga class.

Gourmet-to-go at Cafe Constant in Paris during the lockdown. © Anne Bagamery

Covid has created a global pandemic. Has every country’s economy been hit?  Which industries were most impacted by the pandemic?

Unfortunately, in the majority of stories, the impact of the pandemic is negative. Its strength varies from country to country.

As you can imagine, tourism, food & beverage, and anything to do with personal contact (for example, fitness or voice coaching) have been badly affected. Luckily there is a silver-lining because despite the tough conditions, the entrepreneurs we interview from these sectors still find their way to keep going. They put their customers first. They try to see what they CAN do to continue bringing their products, services and more importantly happiness to their clients.

Are women coping as well or badly as male entrepreneurs in this pandemic?

Thanks to the Lockdown Economy, we see many small business owners from all walks of life. We see young and mature; women and men showing resourcefulness, optimism and solidarity. Women are definitely in the lead of this change. We see more stories from female entrepreneurs. They are showing great courage and a lot of positivity despite the tough conditions. Women are more open to ask for help and advice.

As I said, one of the keys for the future is collaboration and women are bringing it forward. So we decided to gather the most inspiring stories from the Lockdown Economy in a book: “Women-entrepreneurs building the new world.”

Recently one of our volunteers did a full series of follow-up interviews with female entrepreneurs from Europe to really learn about their journey through this pandemic. In a couple of months, she will be defending her master’s thesis based on this material, and we will be happy to share it with INSPIRELLE readers.

Digital Parenting Coach Elizabeth Milovidov tells Lockdown Economy France that the confinement taught her to be creative with tools to share and promote her services and products.

What are the goals in the future for this initiative, after the pandemic?

We will continue helping entrepreneurs. Any self-employed professional or micro-and small-business owner can share their story through the Lockdown Economy. The interview is done online and can be in 15 different languages. Now also in French! It will be posted on Youtube so you can use it to promote your business. We do it for free because our goal is to help small businesses overcome the pandemic. To register for the interview, simply fill in this form.

Small business owners can use all the help they can get. And it is very important to involve students and young people in solving the challenges that entrepreneurs have.

From the beginning, we were doing joint programs with universities. Now we have an official program for any school – Lockdown Economy Challenge. It is a fully digital competition where students actively address the current economic crisis and come up with sustainable, innovative and entrepreneurial ideas on how they can help small businesses around the world.

It will prepare young people for their professional life, give them an opportunity to learn by doing. And more importantly, it will provide small business owners with ideas, support and much needed help.

Through the Lockdown Economy, we help small businesses to connect remotely with more entrepreneurs than they have ever known.

It creates a global brainstorm where we can all learn from each other.

We see a great exchange of ideas happening between sectors and geographies on how we can save our businesses and overcome this crisis together.

The initiative is run on citizen journalism. Through the network, Google maps and Facebook pages, our volunteers find small businesses in their cities and countries and conduct interviews in local languages. All interviews are then published on the channel of the Think Tank where any entrepreneur can find the story that fits their needs.

This is the way for small business owners to discover each other. For example, two businesses we interviewed in Paris knew about each other briefly but after watching the interviews they reconnected to see how they can help each other.

Click HERE to discover the entrepreneurs sharing their experiences, challenges and advice to keep their businesses alive during the pandemic.

The United Nations recognized the Lockdown Economy as Acceleration Action towards Sustainable Development Goals.

We also enable our volunteers to grow, learn, become visible, and connect with like-minded young people from around the world. For young people and students, it is truly an opportunity to be exposed to the work life and to make a difference. Right here, right now. For many, we are the first work experience on their CV. Recently, we became the finalist from the Netherlands for the Charlemagne Youth Prize 2021.

Lockdown Economy wants to help your business. Their team welcomes entrepreneurs who want to participate in their initiative to create a global support network. For more info, write to info@altercontacts.org

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