Zita Cobb, Shorefast Community Economies Pilot

Community Development Through Local Economies

In 2021, the Victoria Foundation partnered with the South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP) as part of the Shorefast Community Economies Pilot, a multi-community, nationwide project focused on unleashing the power of place to help local communities thrive.

Strengthening Community Economies

Shorefast’s origin story begins on Fogo Island, a remote community off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The community gained international recognition by developing a community-based tourism model that promotes economic sustainability while strengthening the island’s natural and cultural resources. Zita Cobb, Shorefast’s Founder and CEO and the first social entrepreneur to be inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame, initiated the Shorefast Community Economies Pilot to help strengthen other communities.

“Central to our approach,” explained Cobb, “was the 2019 book The Third Pillar by economist Raghuram Rajan. Rajan makes the case that the three pillars that support society are government, markets, and community, and that they are out of balance. Specifically, he argues that the community pillar has been neglected and weakened. He posits that until we see community as an integral part of resilience, the economic system will continue to fail us.”

When the economy in a local community doesn’t work, the community is undermined in its ability to provide a place to live with dignity. — Zita Cobb, social entrepreneur

For over a year, Fogo Island was connected to Victoria through the Victoria Foundation and SIPP, participating in the pilot project with Prince Edward County, Hamilton, and London, Ontario. The five communities discussed their experiences, successes, and challenges to help them learn to build and strengthen a community economy through place-based economic development best practices.

Emilie de Rosenroll, Founding CEO of SIPP, shared, “The project was a bottom-up approach to learning how community economies are organized, the challenges they share, and the common ways of collectively creating action to overcome barriers and rise to meet opportunities.”

Launched during the pandemic, the cohort quickly found opportunities to leverage their learnings from the pilot project.

From Relief to Recovery

“Within a couple of weeks of the pandemic,” explained de Rosenroll, “we put together the Rising Economy Task Force with 120 stakeholders across all of the driving sectors of our economy. We had ocean and marine, the Indigenous economy, the inclusive economy, retail, restaurants, transportation, and tourism — and more — and we asked those committees to reach out within their sectors to find out how we can move quickly to build resilience. They responded with 160 recommendations.”

The task force created an impact criteria to select the top initiatives: they had to have the most broad impact regionally, they had to be the most inclusive of all population segments, and they had to be reasonably undertaken within 18 months. The Indigenous Prosperity Centre was one of the projects that met the criteria and was selected for development.

Indigenous Prosperity Centre

SIPP has been committed to their Indigenous partners and their self-directed economic development, but the pandemic significantly changed the dynamic, leading to the creation of the Indigenous Prosperity Centre (IPC).

The Centre promotes Indigenous-led prosperity tactics, innovation, and meaningful partnerships based on a values-driven approach to attaining shared community economic prosperity. The Centre will also support collaboration around shared economic priorities of the 10 South Island Nations, and have a strong initial focus on the ocean and marine industries where conservation meets economic development.

The Shorefast Pilot focused on learning and supporting the development of the IPC with funding from the Victoria Foundation and Shorefast Foundation. Shorefast plans to leverage the learnings from the IPC to share with a broader audience across the country in future iterations of the Community Economies program.

Building a Resilient, Innovative, Sustainable and Equitable Economy

SIPP has earned global recognition for their work supporting the local economy, receiving two gold and one silver Excellence in Economic Development awards in 2021 from the International Economic Development Council.

The Balance of Trade

Community cannot thrive in a vacuum. Local companies need exports to bring new dollars into the local economy to create the ripples required to avoid stagnation. But to be sustainable, local communities need to be engaged and have the structures, knowledge, capital, and skills to develop place-based economies that leverage the strengths of the community. As well, looking at the quality of economic growth, not just the quantity, ensures a good balance of civic institutions, municipal governments, and local businesses working together to create a space to live with dignity.

“The local economy,” finished Cobb, “is the underpinning of the very thing that is the building block of society, which is place-based communities.”