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How Zita Cobb Built a Thriving Community Through Place-Based Economic Development

Mar 21, 2023

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“The systems we’ve invented have gotten us here. We need to tweak and reshape those systems.” Social entrepreneur Zita Cobb believes that in order to make progress on our impact goals, we must reorient and consider the assets available to us. Our current systems, she argues, are not working. “We need to have an understanding of what we are optimizing for and what it is we’re trying to accomplish.”

An innovator in place-based economic development, Cobb is recognized for her visionary leadership in developing a model of community economic development derived from nature and culture. A native of Fogo Island, located off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, Cobb is the founder and CEO of registered charity Shorefast and the Innkeeper of the award-winning Fogo Island Inn.

Cobb made waves for her revitalization of Fogo Island’s struggling economy following the industrialization and ultimate collapse of Fogo Island’s fisheries, the island’s only industry. By utilizing the island’s assets — such as its residents and natural resources — she diversified the economy and positioned the island as a desired global destination.

Ahead of her keynote address at the 2023 Sorenson Impact Summit, we interviewed Cobb about her success with place-based economic development. She shared her unique perspective on the importance of place, how asset-based community development creates thriving economies, and why a paradigm shift in how we think about impact, capital, and the economy is imperative. Explore highlights from the interview below or read the full interview on Forbes here.

On the importance of asset-based community development:
“Asset-based community development is essential to every place…Development is about uplifting the inherent assets of a place. How do we create an economic system that actually develops inherent assets? We have to change our language…We talk about money as if it is an asset. It’s exactly the wrong way around. Money is a resource that should be deployed in the proper development of our assets.”

How the impact investing community can create a more sustainable future:
“The change that needs to happen cannot be done by any one person, any one place, or any one sector…The biggest problem we actually have is that we don’t have the collaborative structures to work on the problems even if we could agree on what they are…If we can sit around the table together…and decide to work together in the best interest of places and the economies of places, I think things will start to get done. But it can only be done together.”

Her advice for future impact leaders:
“The systems we’ve invented have gotten us here. We need to tweak and reshape those systems. It’s about orienting. Don’t do anything unless you’re oriented on what it is you’re trying to do. Ask, what are the assets? What has inherent value?”

Read the full interview on Forbes: Zita Cobb On Why ‘Place’ Is Our Most Important Economic Gift