Nfld. & Labrador

Zita Cobb's 'social entrepreneurship' recognized with honorary degree

Zita Cobb, the businesswoman who has drawn the eyes of the design world to the upscale inn she built on her native Fogo Island, has been honoured by Memorial University for her work in building a sustainable rural economy.

Zita Cobb honoured at Memorial University

7 years ago
Duration 1:55
Fogo Island Inn founder speaks to graduating students

Zita Cobb, the businesswoman who has drawn the eyes of the design world to the upscale inn she built on her native Fogo Island, has been honoured by Memorial University for her work on building a sustainable rural economy. 

Cobb received an honorary degree of doctor of laws during convocation ceremonies this week in recognition of the "social entrepreneurship" she has pursued on Fogo Island. 

Cobb left Joe Batt's Arm, one of the communities on the island, in 1975 to pursue a business degree and career that put her in the swell of the technology boom, enriching her enough to retire and launch — with her brother Tony — the Shorefast Foundation on Fogo Island more than a decade ago.

The centrepiece of her work is the Fogo Island Inn, a striking series of buildings that lure guests from around the world, and which immerse visitors in the deep traditions of that corner of Newfoundland.

Cobb told graduating students that she learned a great deal from the time when she decided to sponsor scholarships for local students, in the name of her parents — both of whom could neither read or write.

"Nothing pleased me more than the thought that I could help young people to get a university education," she said.

"How little I knew then what impact those scholarships would have on my own life."

Cobb related an early encounter she had with a local parent, who worried that the scholarships would — as they did — lead young people to promising careers, albeit far from Fogo Island.

"You are just paying our kids to leave," she said she was told. "She was of course right."

But then the mother presented a challenge: "You look smart enough. Can't you do something to make jobs here?"

The Shorefast Foundation has since created 100 jobs, and is a leading employer on Fogo Island. In addition to Fogo Island Inn, which has been featured in magazines worldwide since it opened, Shorefast hires local artisans to make furniture and goods.

Shane O'Dea, Memorial's public orator, praised Cobb as a "woman who has led from the margin, who has made our northern shore the model for all Newfoundland."

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