• Joe Davis and David Downs

Stories of hope, optimism and humanity in the face of adversity

North Shore identities co-author book documenting inspiring stories during Covid-19 period

It’s no secret that this Covid-19 period has been tough. For people personally and business-wise. This unprecedented period for New Zealand (and the World) caused fear, hardship, and loss. Two local North Shore identities – Joe Davis and David Downs – have written a book, titled Silver Linings, that is a collection of stories from across New Zealand, showing how Kiwis responded when the going got tough through this period. Channel Mag’s Aidan Bennett sat down with Joe Davis to talk about Silver Linings.

Joe Davis is a person with unbelievable energy. I have known him for some years and his enthusiasm has always been infectious. His family moved to the Shore at age 11 and he went to Kristin School. He has always been involved in the community. For over 20 years he has been heavily involved in Coastguard North Shore, having been a leader in that organisation and in the process clocking up more hours as a volunteer Coastguard skipper there than anyone else. He has also had key roles nationally with Coastguard. In his professional life Joe has gathered extensive experience across both commercial and non-profit leadership, innovation, strategy and transformation. He is the co-founder of Nanogirl Labs with Dr Michelle Dickinson (Nanogirl). Michelle and Joe are also husband and wife.
Joe was the driver behind the Silver Linings book. Nanogirl Labs lost a full 18-month work calendar over a few days before the Covid-19 level four lockdown. Joe and Michelle could have closed their doors and headed home. Instead, they made a choice to change direction and four days later launched a brand-new, entirely online learning program for families. They tripled their staff as the lockdown loomed, took on new premises, built a full production studio and went to market. They now have thousands of subscribers across 127 countries around the world, and are still growing.
“Prior to Covid we were going to tour the world on the back of the full work calendar we had in front of us,” explains Joe Davis. “We really did have two choices. Try and ride the storm or be bold. We chose the later. Covid lockdown forced change at a pace like never before. During lockdown we actually geared up. We quickly established our video facility and a completely new digital platform. Michelle and I worked tirelessly in our bubble from the new office and the rest of our team worked remotely from their bubbles. Zoom meetings were constant and distance ceased to become a problem. We had 1000 subscribers within four days and had reached 340,000 kids within six weeks.”
“During this period our team at Nanogirl Labs would kick off the day with a team call. The whole team, wherever they happened to be in the world. Each day one member was asked to share something they had discovered since we last shared. On the last day of lockdown it was our social media manager’s turn to share. She shared that she had just heard that her dad had just become engaged to his partner. They had spent lockdown together on Waiheke Island and realised they didn’t want anything different than those five or so weeks together. So her dad proposed on the last day of lockdown. Our team celebrated their family joy and it was then that we realised there must be so many of these incredible stories of hope, optimism and humanity during the Covid lockdown period that could to be told. By the end of that team call we’d decided to write the book and dedicate it to Chris and Wendy from Waiheke."
The seed for Silver Linings was laid. Joe rang Devonport local David Downs who had also responded to the Covid lockdown challenges with a desire to help local businesses. He came on board as the co-author and encouragement also came from publishers Penguin and Callaghan Innovation.
The day that PM Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand was going into the level four lockdown David Downs was at Manuka Cafe, in his home patch of Devonport, thinking about the impact on business. He wondered how small businesses like Manuka would be able to survive with cashflow all of a sudden at zero. His solution was for them to sell vouchers online.
“I normally buy something from a cafe once or twice a week.” explains David Downs in the Silver Linings book. “So if I just kept doing that in lockdown, they’d have some cashflow."
He quickly realised that most of these businesses just didn’t have the IT systems or expertise to develop the ability to sell online vouchers. So David, with a background in IT, built them a website. Within five days he had over 100 cafes on the platform. David was spending 10 hours a day on the project and needed help. He got that from a range of people. The initiative morphed from SOS Cafe to be SOS Business, with more businesses coming on board from outside the cafe sector. The site was rebuilt by the new helpers on the Shopify platform and five weeks in sales had exceeded $1 million – with 17 volunteers on board. The initiative obviously slowed once lockdown was over but the SOS Business system has sold $2 million worth of vouchers for over 2500 small businesses.
Silver Linings tells incredible stories of hope and optimism. How businesses innovated and found new ways to create value, communities came together in new ways online, and families reconnected through time spent together. The book is a collection of those stories from across Aotearoa. It shows how New Zealand – and New Zealanders – respond when the going gets tough.
Not to do things by halves’, the Silver Linings co-authors then went on to host a Ted-Talk style one day live event at Auckland’s ASB Theatre in late March this year that was supported by Vodafone, Xero, BNZ, Stuff and Callaghan Innovation. Presenters from the books were able to tell their stories of business innovation and human triumph at this event.
Silver Linings is a very high quality 272 page case-bound hard cover book. The foreword is provided by Vic Crone, CEO of Callaghan Innovation. The stories of hope, optimism and humanity are told within nine chapters – Pivots and Pirouettes; Stepping Up; Personal Impacts; One Door Closes…; Leading from the Front; Community Spirit; Unexpected Upsides; Passing the Time; Battling the Virus.

Silver Linings is a must read. It can be purchased at all good books stores or online at www.silverlinings.nz