In News | By Valerie Howes | June 2, 2021
Zita Cobb Becomes First Social Entrepreneur Honoured by Canadian Business Hall of Fame
On May 27, 2021, our Innkeeper, Zita Cobb, broke new ground as the first social entrepreneur to be inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.
This honour recognizes top Canadian business leaders for their lifetime achievements and contributions to their communities and country. For Zita, it pays testimony to her commitment to the people of Fogo Island—one of Canada’s oldest settlements and the place she called home until age 16.
Growing up in a large fishing family and tight-knit community in outport Newfoundland, Zita Cobb led what she described as “a rich life.” As a child, she developed a profound respect for nature, culture, and community.
But in the late 1960s, when the traditional inshore fishery collapsed after large industrial vessels overfished North Atlantic cod to the brink of extinction, Zita called it “the defining event of my life.”
In an interview after her induction into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame, she recalled that her father “couldn’t understand where those monster ships came from [..] and why they’d fish day and night.” He did not understand economic logic — at that time, there was a barter system for trading fish for other essential goods—but he had a deep understanding of ecological matters and was concerned about the lack of foresight in fishing on such an unsustainable scale. Then finally, Zita’s father figured it out: He told his daughter, “I think they’re turning fish into money.” After that, he insisted Zita go on to study business and figure out how the money system worked. “Otherwise,” her father said, “it’s going to eat everything we love.”
As Zita concluded, those were “big lessons for a small child.”
She went on to study business at Carleton and then have a prominent international career in high tech. But in the early 2000s, Zita felt the draw of home. She left the industry to found Shorefast, on Fogo Island, with her brothers Alan and Tony.
Through this registered charity and its social businesses, the most internationally renowned of which is Fogo Island Inn, she has worked steadfastly alongside Fogo Islanders to revitalize the local economy, carry deep-rooted cultural traditions and ways of knowing into modern times, and conserve native wildlife and ecosystems.
At the induction gala, Zita expressed her gratitude to the people of Fogo Island: “I want to thank Fogo Islanders, the people who have stood for centuries—and continue to stand—as stewards of a place.” she said, adding, “Place is our most important gift.”
And in a special address to young people, Zita praised the “mindset for positive change” in our business leaders of the future:
“You understand that business and technology are human inventions that can be used in the service of people and planet, in service of dignity for all people. You see the urgency and you are propelling the market to change. You recognize that platitudes, greenwashing and social washing are not only things that lack integrity, but they slow down genuine progress.
In these times marked by the climate crisis and the economically unpredictable and socially isolating effects of the global pandemic, more than ever, these shifts are necessary, and they inspire hope.
Watch the video below to learn more about Zita’s story and her vision for ways of doing business that respect natural resources and preserve human dignity.