Sarah Hunter is an HBA ’23 candidate pursing a dual degree and is a member of the sustainability certificate.
The Shorefast Foundation: “Building economic resiliency through social responsibility”
When it feels as though all beautiful places and cultures have been used by corporations to syphon off economic returns to far away investors, the Fogo Island Inn stands as the last tourist destination embraced by its community.
Last week, Ivey HBA students completing their sustainability certificates had the privilege of meeting with Zita Cobb, founder and CEO of Shorefast. Cobb, an 8th generation Fogo Islander and Innkeeper of the Fogo Island Inn has dedicated her life to revitalizing the economy and culture of the island she grew up on. Under the Shorefast foundation, Cobb established an artist in residency programme and three social businesses (Fogo Island Inn, The Woodshop on Fogo Island, and Fogo Island Fish), bringing new life to the economy of her island.
What makes Cobb’s approach to business ground-breaking is her belief that the residents of Fogo Island should see and feel the benefit of new business ventures. Before opening the Inn, every Fogo Islander was invited to stay a night. Local assets and culture were repurposed to offer visitors accurate depictions of the Island’s history. Lastly, in an island of just over 2,000 people, nearly 10% are employed by the Inn.
To clearly and quickly communicate economic transparency to the residents of Fogo Island, Cobb pioneered Economic Nutrition. Economic Nutrition follows the format of a traditional Nutrition Facts page and displays who benefits from the Inn’s revenues in percentage form.
Community Builds Resiliency
What I’ve taken from this call is a strengthened appreciation for the power of community. Having been isolated from others for over a year, there is a yearning for the togetherness and support that makes the value of Shorefast seem clearer. When tourism was absolutely closed during pandemic shutdowns, Cobb hired as many workers as possible to repaint everything at the inn. One woman plans to switch careers to painting as a result. Of those unfortunately laid off, some have chosen to start their own businesses on Fogo Island. There was a desire to grow the Fogo economy even in the face of a pandemic. Despite these severe economic challenges, it demonstrates just how well Cobb achieved her initial goal of revitalizing the island. She took a place devastated by the collapse of the cod fishing industry and helped a greater community make it vibrant again.
Joseph De Sousa is an HBA ’22 candidate pursing a dual degree and is a member of the sustainability certificate.
Community Member: The role I never applied for, yet a challenge I will accept
“You can’t do something without it touching someone.”
These were the profound words from Zita Cobb, a successful high-tech executive turned charity CEO and community development thought leader. Cobb was a guest speaker alongside Natalie Slawinski and Valerie Howes at the HBA Sustainability Certificate Live Case Event where students were shared the inspiring story of Fogo Island. This island, off the north shore of Newfoundland, is the community that Cobb has dedicated her life toward.
Agents of Positive Community Change
Cobb shared her vast experience with her charity Shorefast which works to bring her community together by using local culture and local ownership models to catalyze economic development. Communities, in her words, are defined by their physical location, and oftentimes, by this disposition, we do not get to pick our neighbours. So, even if we disagree with those who share a community with us, Cobb expressed the imperative of finding shared values to embrace the skills and knowledge contained to provide for one another.
Slawinski, an esteemed professor and long-time researcher of Cobb’s work on Fogo Island, also helped equip students with actionable insights into not only what Cobb did to revitalize Fogo Island but how Cobb promoted the local culture and economy harmoniously. Now, us students can take these lessons and contextually apply them elsewhere.
Responding to the Job Invitation
As an HBA student, picking up a coffee before class, walking through the park, or going to the mall all have an impact on the community and local economy I live within. So, with these implications, I am predisposed with a role I cannot decline, being a community member. This title challenges me to embrace friction with those around me and to help contribute to a community in a way that strengthens it.
From Cobb and Slawinski’s messages, I should not only contribute sustainable development in my professional roles within my career, but I should also do so in every small action as a citizen. Supporting a local business, listening to my neighbour’s lived experience, and improving communal spaces are all small ways to help stimulate positive change to strengthen my community. As learned, a community is only as supportive as its individual members, so it is my duty in my role as a community member is to respond to the invitation of community and create the same invitation for others to contribute as well.