The Important Lesson COVID-19 Has Taught Us
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is how fundamental our local businesses are. One of the effects of the crisis is that we are increasingly becoming a more closed-off society and, as such, it has never been more crucial to take care of our own local resources and businesses. Local businesses are the backbone of many small cities and villages but the shutting down of borders has led to many businesses closing down and people scrambling to find other alternatives to sustain themselves and stay above water. In these trying times, continuing to support local business owners helps the community financially and socially, and this will in turn help the economy in the long run. This is what the Apeldoorn LONKT Project is all about.
An Idea That Became a Premonition
But before dwelling more on the LONKT project, let us digress to the topic of how this project first came about. In 2018, Apeldoorns Business Collectief (ABC) (a do-and-think tank that connects and creates connections between entrepreneurs and organisations in Apeldoorn), noticed that many of their professional members who live in Apeldoorn were working as consultants to businesses outside Apeldoorn. But ironically, many of the businesses in Apeldoorn were getting outside consultants to manage their businesses. As if guided by a premonition of the coming pandemic, ABC then decided to form a partnership with other businesses for the sole purpose of promoting local firms in the Apeldoorn region.
This partnership, the LONKT (Lokaal Ondernemend Naar een Krachtige Toekomst - Locally Enterprising Towards a Powerful Future) project aims to do this by connecting ZZPs (the Dutch acronym for self-employed professionals or freelancers) and SMEs, and widening their entrepreneurial networks and other collaboration. The partners who are actively participating in the LONKT project are Aventus, VNO-NCWMidden, MKB Midden, Owens Corning and Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences. This partnership, led by ABC chairman Trix Schipper-Hop and funded by the province of Gelderland, was formally launched on March 28, 2018. If the outcome is positive, it will be rolled out to other municipalities in Gelderland including Zutpen and Harderwijk.
Wittenborg Heads the Analysis Team
For this initiative, six work packages will be carried out during a four-year process. Each partner is responsible for a work package or contributes to one or more work packages. Wittenborg is represented by its CEO, Maggie Feng, Dr Nicolet Theunissen, Senior Scientist and former Head of Research at Wittenborg and Sanne De Jong. They are part of the analysis team which is responsible for providing insight into the effects of local collaboration and business on the economic climate in Apeldoorn.
As explained by Theunissen in an interview, the research is carried out in three phases. The first phase was completed in 2019 and a report has already been presented. It involved the administration of questionnaires to a compact sample of target groups, mainly companies, freelancers and umbrella organisations in Apeldoorn. According to Theunissen, the first phase revealed some surprising results. It showed that many participants are keen to increase the share of local business and are open to means that facilitate introduction and findability. Despite a slight delay in the progress of the project due to the corona crisis, the other work packages are gaining momentum and interventions have been developed that will stimulate local businesses. The second phase of the project is in motion and the next set of questionnaires will be administered in late summer and will involve more businesses and participants. The third and final phase is expected to be completed at the end of 2021.
Doing Business Locally Is More Important Now Than Before
When asked what was her opinion on why doing business locally is more important now than before, Wittenborg CEO Maggie Feng said, “This pandemic has given us a lot of challenges accompanied with many restrictions. The restrictions on travelling has prevented some of us to carry out business in the old way. We have been spending a lot more time at home, in the direct neighborhood. The advantage of knowing people and businesses locally does provide advantages and sometimes business opportunities. I believe that the past period has made some of us think and re-think.” Her opinion is supported by Theunissen, who said that having local business partners not only saves you the trouble of travelling outside Apeldoorn and far afield, but also, healthwise, it reduces your chance of getting infected or infecting others with this virus. Furthermore, less travelling for business meetings will cut fuel consumption and lower one’s carbon footprint. She added that promoting local businesses could also mean doing business with your own neighbours and this can strengthen friendships as you have a chance of getting to know each other better.
Diversity in Business
While patronage from local businesses creates more local wealth and jobs in that community, the issue of whether there is enough diversity and talent in that community comes into question. To answer this, Theunissen, who has lived in three diffferent parts of the Netherlands (Noord-Brabant, Utrecht and Apeldoorn), said that indeed diversity is very important in businesses, but she believes that even the Dutch have different cultures in different areas in their small country, and thus they get exposed to diverse cultures, which helps them to broaden their views about life and doing business. Furthermore, she believes that Apeldoorn is not lacking in people from different races, cultures and religions, and these help to bring in new ideas, perspectives and innovations in businesses. Feng agreed that there is already quite a lot of diversity in the Apeldoorn business community. However, she feels that there could be more, and doing business locally does not mean internationalisation and globalisation will disappear as there are many business opportunities out there; we just have to keep on searching for relevant and inclusive solutions, services and products. While diverse talents may not be difficult to find, restricting one’s business in one city may not be suitable for every company.
'Apeldoorn LONKT is by us, for all of us.' Trix Schipper-Hop
With this pandemic still looming over us, let us start supporting the Apeldoorn LONKT project by buying from and selling to locally owned businesses, and retain the economic wealth within our own community. Keep that sense of camaraderie among friends, relatives and neighbours and strengthen our bond within our community. After all, as mentioned by Schipper-Hop during the kick-off, “Apeldoorn LONKT is by us, for all of us”.
If you would like to be part of this project, you can register at lonkt.nl or contact ABC or any of the partners in the project.
by Hanna Abdelwahab
©Wittenborg University Press