As we sit at home watching our hair grow uncut, we’re deluged with ideas for how to rebuild a fairer, kinder world once life on earth returns to normal.
Let me add this idea:
Talk to Zita Cobb.
She was born 62 years ago in Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island. Her parents couldn’t read or write. At age 5, she got TB and was shipped off to the san, her first experience with an infectious disease.
But against many odds, she made it to and through Carleton University in Ottawa and started to work for a tiny tech company after getting her CA.
Eventually, it grew to become JDS Uniphase and Zita grew to be its CFO and Chief Strategy Officer– and the third highest-paid woman in America. In one year alone, she engineered 42 takeovers.
As someone said, Zita Cobb is smart, worked hard, grew rich, gave back.
It’s the ‘gave back’ part we can learn from in creating a fairer, kinder, more equal land. The arc of zillionaire philanthropy is all the vogue these days. But even in this heady company, Zita stands apart.
Six years ago, she spent $40 million to build a 29-room hotel, the Fogo Island Inn, that’s won every award a hotel can dream of. Guests pay well over $1,000 a night to stay there and eat its Newfoundland Cuisine. Architectural Digest has called it “One of the 10 Most Daring Buildings in the World”, and a Bloomberg headline blares “The Most Remote and Magical Hotel on Earth.”
But the Inn is just a supporting player. The real star is the community of Fogo Island itself, its 2,500 people and how they have built on the engine that Zita created with the Shorefast Foundation, which owns the Inn.
Shorefast is already breathing new life into what was frankly a dying island on the edge of nowhere. And if COVID-19 strikes America as badly as experts predict, Canada might find itself a stricken land on the edge of nowhere – but with somewhere to turn.
Because Zita Cobb has created an idea of the world that’s at odds with most of the world, and certainly contrary to the communities most of us hail from. It’s about how to change our relationship with the world – and it holds lessons not just for small places engulfed by big forces everywhere, but for all our places brought up short by conventional thinking.
As Zita says and as all of us are learning so painfully now: “We exist in relationship to the whole. The whole planet. The whole of humanity. The whole of existence. It is our job to find ways to belong to the whole while upholding the specificity of people and place.”
Now that sounds nice. But…..really?
Well, one morning at breakfast I introduced one friend to another and somehow the conversation turned to Zita and Fogo. My first friend had just got back from the Inn with his wife and daughter. My other was skeptical of our rave reviews, and especially our Narnia-like claims for Fogo and its people.
So, my first friend leaned over to him and said: “You and I are lucky. We’ve been able to stay at some amazing hotels around the world. But Fogo is the only one where, when we got home, I picked up the phone and called the front desk and told them we were safe.”
Zita Cobb credits her confidence from her recovery from tuberculosis which she carried into her adult life — and it turns out into the lives of many many others.
So if your mind is turning to how we’re going to build a better way to live, why don’t you donate the next 90 minutes of this day to the rest of your days?
Here’s Zita to show and tell you how it can work. She appears at 20:00.