Zita Cobb, Founder and CEO of The Shorefast Foundation, is an eighth generation Fogo Islander. Until she was ten, she recognized Fogo Island to have an independent minded culture. Zita emphasizes the innate entrepreneurial culture of the islanders and says that up until the mid-late 1960s, “Everything we had, pretty much, we made ourselves.” The entrepreneurial culture was derived from the idea that a fisherman was getting into a boat he made himself, going out into the ocean by himself and dropping the hook in the water. The Island was self sufficient, apart from some resources that came from the outside. She claims, “We were not a capital accumulating society […], it didn’t seem all that necessary”. The Islanders had an embedded knowledge that came from the natural world, and “Every time the wind shifted, the Fogo Islanders knew what that meant; they knew when the tide was turning.”
When Zita turned ten, she believed her life transitioned into the twentieth century with the industrialization of misery, “I saw overnight and lived through, the collapse of the fishery. Generations of knowledge and culture overnight had been rendered useless.” She finished her high school education on Fogo Island and left to study business because she wanted to understand herself what kind of ideology was at play that had threatened the way of life of the Fogo Islanders. She questioned, “Why each nation sent monster boats to catch every last fish, and what is wrong with humans that they think that’s OK?”
After a successful career as the Chief Financial Officer of a publicly traded technology company, she retired, moved into social business activities, and returned to Fogo Island to establish The Shorefast Foundation: home to the Fogo Island Inn; the residency-based Fogo Island Arts Project; the Ocean Ethic Project; and the Geology Initiative Project.
Zita believes that both social and economic sustainability are essential. As long as we live in a world where the prevailing financial system is backed by growth, we are going to continue to cause harm to the people and the planet. Zita says that cultural capital, natural capital and spiritual capital all create something that is sacred when it emerges out of a unique set of circumstances and it cannot be removed from those circumstances. She says, “On the quest for financial return, bad development projects can emerge simply to make money under the guise of development.” She adds, “If we build things that are not sensitive to the ecology and society of the place then we will have hurt cultural capital in the interest of making money.” She believes that the way of finding a better relationship is through sustainability — the balance between financial capital and sacred capital to create, as said by the late Dr. Gill Chin Lim, a global network of intensely local places.
As a well-educated career woman, Zita credits her business skills and vision to growing up on Fogo Island. The undertaking of any project on Fogo Island was motivated by her belief that there is something there that is important and sacred for all of humanity that should not be lost. There began a series of questions and answers in response to how they could participate in the global economy — to not just survive, but to flourish. She said, “It is fine to preach about a better financial system, but why can’t I do it?”
In an effort to use business and technology in the service of place, Zita recalls on her own travels, saying, “I have seen places like the North Coast of Spain; they have done such a great job of holding onto culture and melding culture onto the fabric of their business.” She realized that although Spain is beautiful, it is no more beautiful than Newfoundland and Labrador. It was important to believe in the value of Fogo Island and in turn, invest in it. The profound hospitality on the Island would turn into The Fogo Island Inn, with the fundamental intention to preserve the culture of the island. The Inn is a community asset and 100% of the operating surpluses are reinvested in the Fogo Island Community through The Shorefast Foundation. The Inn has helped the Fogo Island economy by employing Fogo Islanders and supporting local businesses.
In addition to building the Inn, The Shorefast Foundation has created the Ocean Ethic Initiative and a Geology Initiative in order to deepen the knowledge of the geology of the island and of ocean activity. Geologists have continued research from the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s, in addition to conducting their own research. The Ocean Ethic project strives to understand the creatures of the ocean, as well as the chemistry and biology of the ocean. With sustainability in mind, Zita says, “The cod are coming back and as we move and look forward to the return of the commercial fishery, are we going to do it better next time?” In partnership with the Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, they will continue these studies to reinforce knowledge and stewardship of the ocean.
Zita quotes New Zealand Poet, Glenn Colquhoun, acknowledging the past and culture with the poem “The Art of Walking Upright”.
The art of walking upright here
Is the art of using both feet.
One is for holding on.
One is for letting go.
Zita feels that community is derived from the past as well as contributing to the future. The sense of community comes from people feeling connected to those from the past because, “You are a part of them and as we go headstrong into modernity, we let go of holding hands with that, we get a little lost as human beings. There is something joyful about an old building and we need to be more thoughtful that the idea of human community in the way we conduct ourselves.”
Zita’s upbringing on Fogo Island has given her the perspective that everything is connected. She believes that business systems and distribution systems should exist to optimize the wellbeing of community. She elaborates by saying, “I have that community and I know it is possible. I am excited by the 21st century and how we can alter our path as human beings to make a next generation that is more inclusive of community and sustainability.”
A devoted fan, Zita quotes Shumacher when she says, “Every human being should get up in the morning, look at the world, and try to see it as whole.”
For more information about The Shorefast Foundation,
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