Zita Cobb is co-founder and CEO of the Shorefast Foundation, a registered Canadian charity, and founder and Innkeeper of the Fogo Island Inn. Growing up on Fogo Island, a remote fishing community off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, Zita developed a deep belief in the inherent value of place and a profound respect for the human ways of knowing that emerge from respectful relationships with nature, culture and community. After the collapse of Fogo Island’s cod fishery in the latter decades of the 20th century, Zita decided to study business in order to understand the global economic systems that had disadvantaged Fogo Island and numerous other small communities — bringing many to the brink of extinction.
Zita’s university education and business career drew her away from Fogo Island to the high-tech industry, where she took on increasingly senior executive financial positions. She is most recognized for her work with JDS Fitel, subsequently JDS Uniphase, where she contributed to building the company into one of the most successful high-tech innovators in history.
Zita’s business career gave her the opportunity to travel the globe and she witnessed first-hand that Fogo Island was not the only rural community in peril. Feeling compelled to take action for the sake of her home and similar places worldwide, Zita retired from her business career in 2001 and returned to Fogo Island where the population had fallen from the 5,500 of her youth to 2,500. Recognizing that traditional charity in the form of monetary handouts would not contribute to long-term cultural, social and economic resiliency for Fogo Island, Zita’s goal was to leverage an initial investment to create culturally-rich, community-owned economic assets.
In pursuit of this objective, Zita and her brothers Anthony and Alan established the Shorefast Foundation, a registered charity of Canada with an integrated approach that employs business-minded means to achieve social ends. Shorefast’s most significant projects to date are the Fogo Island Inn, Fogo Island Arts, the Fogo Island Shop and Fogo Island Fish. Fogo Island Inn is an award-winning, 29-suite luxury property that operates as social business, meaning all surpluses from the operation of the Inn are reinvested in the local community. Emerging from the belief that art is a way of knowing, innovating, and belonging, Fogo Island Arts was created as a residency-based contemporary art venue for artists, filmmakers, writers, musicians, curators, designers, and thinkers from around the world. Selected artists are invited to present their work in exhibitions at the Fogo Island Gallery, which is located in the Fogo Island Inn.
Zita now dedicates her full time and energies to Shorefast and Fogo Island. She believes that the key to resilience for rural communities lies in the specificity of place: rediscovering intellectual heritage and cultural wisdom and fostering the talent, knowledge and abundance of possibility that already exist naturally in our communities. She remains guided by her belief that nature and culture are the two great garments of human life, and that business and technology are the two great tools that can and should serve them. Zita enjoys working with like-minded innovators to repurpose the Fogo Island model of social investment for different places and collaborating with others to help shape vibrant and contemporary 21st century rural communities. In 2016, Zita was awarded the Order of Canada in acknowledgement of the work of Shorefast Foundation in collaboration with the community of Fogo Island to help secure a more resilient future for this singular rural place.