Eoin Costello is a digital champion for small business and a leader in the reinvention of communities. We spoke by Zoom and picked up where we left off from our first meeting years ago in Ireland. He started off our conversation by noting that much of built infrastructure reflects the needs of our 19th-century communities.
Costello is the former CEO and Co-Founder of Startup Ireland. He currently leads Digital HQ, an initiative making major positive impact in his hometown of Dun Laoghaire, a town in County Dublin. They share issues and opportunities similar to those of Manchester NH and other communities overshadowed by nearby big city centers. Our Boston and their Dublin have long been a draw to younger people seeking opportunity (pre-covid).
Costello and I first met six years ago in Dublin. I was speaking on a panel about entrepreneurship, technology, investment and communications. My topic was how to go global on a small budget. We were there as part of a larger multi-day event known then as Inspirefest and now called Future Human. We have stayed in touch these many years because our interests of championing small business and communities align with a shared vision of opportunities for our children and the future.
This pandemic can be a game-changer for any community willing to take action.
Costello has some amazing work to his credit. He highlights the conversion of vacant buildings into digital growth hubs and hacks the regeneration of older towns and villages. While Dublin itself goes back to Medieval times, Dun Laoghaire and Manchester NH have 19th century legacies that can preserve artifacts of their industrial past while emerging as revolutionary 21st Century centers of opportunity.
Does Despondency …. Sell more Papers?
I called him up after seeing his question posted online. “Does despondency …. sell more papers?” The question goes well beyond newsprint and encompasses all digital “print” including social media. Indeed, a concentration of focus on bad things negatively affects people and their community. Just look at the revelations around Facebook algorithms. They put emphasis, for financial gain of a very few, on comments and reactions that contain emotions of anger and negativity.
Putting Community Back in Control of Economic Destiny
We have the power to use the digital tools available. We can focus on the opportunities and solutions that exist right where we are now without leaving anyone behind. Solutions-based journalism can focus attention on the path forward. Unemployed, underemployed, job change seekers and veterans have skill sets that can be redeployed to raise up any community in which we all live.
In this Communicast, Costello describes his organization, Digital HQ , as a social enterprise where they “put community back in control of their economic destiny.” Digital campaigns were created to highlight local businesses. They are getting great traction and great engagement. A big key has been the use of technology to tell the story of people and businesses that make up his town of Dun Laoghaire. Their Buy Local initiative reminds people “you don’t have to buy from multinationals that ship to your door. You actually have local small businesses that can respond to all your needs” (and create local jobs).
They market the town as a Digital Remote Hub to attract more digital remote workers and convert vacant retail spaces into high-quality co-working space. Work in town. Spend money in town and create “a virtuous circle” which is similar to what we say and try to do here. (See resources at the end.)
What are the Biggest Challenges?
The biggest challenges for communities both here and over there are similar. The high cost of living as a result of the growing cost of housing and the effects of rapidly scaling inflation have immediate negative impact. Nevertheless, just one person can make a difference. Anyone can get a digital initiative going. Just use your smartphone. You don’t have to make a big investment to start using the tools that are widely available.
Costello rightly says,
“There is a huge democratization of accessibility to the tools to help grow businesses to help communities happening at this moment but the knowledge of how to use them in the right way has been lacking.”
Why Digital-First Communities will win the long game?
“The future can be distributed and local. Thanks to the internet, you can live where you want to live and have a really good quality job, wherever you are.” Eoin Costello
Costello and team are in the process of taking their model national. They look to rebalance away from the 20th-century obsession with cities concentrating more people on top of each other with compromised lifestyles and high costs of living. Here in New Hampshire, USA, we know this and are beneficiaries of natural resources just like they are.
His town is creating the thinking of “digital-first communities.” They follow the model, “do what you can with what you’ve got.” Start developing momentum with your active concerned citizens, use vacant spaces and whatever basic digital knowledge you can gather. These actions along with leaders who share their knowledge, use real-world experiences to teach skills.
Costello and I agreed on the similarities of our opportunities. The tech revolution and global pandemic have given our communities the chance to reexamine most everything.
Optimism is a better way to face the future. We should not be in the reptile fight or flight mode. We owe it to the next generation to tap into the creative part of the brain. The world of technology and AI are eliminating many of the repetitive rote jobs at a faster pace than ever. We need to rely on the creative as we evolve now. The social sector and our jobs crisis are connected.
What do future jobs look like? How do we prepare for them?
Costello believes “many of the jobs in the next 5-10 years will come from social enterprise. Those businesses are helping and re-populating rural areas, setting up digital growth hubs and training people for the next generation of jobs and repurposing.”
The excuse that you don’t know the impact won’t work. Costello ends by talking about the example he used to make it real for his 7-year-old son who wanted to be driven to school rather than ride the bicycles that they regularly use in nice weather. You can hear it in his words in the interview here.
“Every day we have a choice. Jump on the bike and meet people along the way, catchup with schoolmates or we can go in the car.” Eoin then took white paper and held it up to the tail pipe of their car for 30 seconds while running- it was filthy black with soot. “Every time we make the choice to go by car, we are joining all the other people pumping this soot into the atmosphere.”
That’s a strong visual that is difficult to refute. Creatives can lead the way.
“If enough of us are promoting what is possible – amazing things can happen”
- The Manchester Ink Link believes in the fabric of Manchester. New Hampshire has natural resources and infrastructure in place. Entrepreneurs look at aging industrial relics of buildings and abandoned rail lines as huge opportunities for transformation with the ability to attract talent and business networks to rev up community spirit.
- Look no further than Stay Work Play New Hampshire, New Hampshire Tech Alliance, Factory on Willow, Boys and Girls Club, Webster House, Manchester Moves and The Granite State rail trail for that change from inspiration to actualization of what can be.
There are so many more to include that perhaps we also need a better directory.
- From my friend Eoin Costello in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin, Ireland. Here are two valuable videos:
Reinventing Town Centres: Do what you can with what you’ve got. A TEDx talk with relevance for us.
- Digital Led strategies for the regeneration of towns Eoin Costello challenges the narrative that “Small businesses are really struggling… vacant premises are a disaster and for so many towns, digital has destroyed the town” He believes towns are not in terminal decline – but they do need to adjust and reassess their direction.