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‘It offers hope’

Memorial researchers devise lessons from Shorefast to aid rural communities

By Susan White

Researchers at Memorial University have uncovered lessons for success in social enterprise that may help communities across Newfoundland and Labrador become more resilient.

The research was undertaken in partnership with Shorefast on Fogo Island. Led by Dr. Natalie Slawinski, an associate professor at the Faculty of Business Administration, the team recently shared the results of their study at a workshop with community leaders from across the province.

“One of the things our research team decided early on is that we would place a strong emphasis on knowledge dissemination to practitioners in addition to academic publications,” said Dr. Slawinski. “We wanted to take the findings from our research and use them as a starting point to have a conversation with community leaders.”

Building resilient communities

The research was conducted as part of a project called Building Resilient Rural Communities through Social Entrepreneurship: Learnings from Shorefast on Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, which was funded through a Partnership Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Shorefast was started as a charitable organization in 2006 by siblings Zita, Alan and Anthony Cobb with the aim of building economic and cultural resilience on Fogo Island.

It runs three social businesses — Fogo Island Inn, Fogo Island Shop and Fogo Island Fish — that reinvest surpluses into the communities on Fogo Island.

“There were clear indicators that Shorefast-owned businesses have been really important to the GDP of Fogo Island.” — Dr. Natalie Slawinski

Since then, Shorefast has grown to employ more than 200 people and its enterprises now account for more than 20 per cent of Fogo Island’s non-governmental gross domestic product (GDP).

“There were clear indicators that Shorefast-owned businesses have been really important to the GDP of Fogo Island, so there you have evidence that social enterprise can contribute meaningfully to a community’s economy,” Dr. Slawinski said.

The workshop, Building Social Enterprises for Rural Community Development, was held Nov. 15-17 on Fogo Island. A public forum held that same weekend by the Harris Centre, called Memorial Presents, showcased the research, while the workshop aimed to share ideas with community leaders in a collaborative setting.

“We wanted to learn from the community champions and to see how much of what we learned on Fogo Island is in fact applicable to other communities, and how we can extend our understanding of community resilience across Newfoundland and Labrador by learning from these community champions,” Dr. Slawinski said.

Place-based model of development

The research team identified five lessons from Shorefast’s success that the researchers are sharing using the acronym “P.L.A.C.E.,” which stands for:

  1. Promote community champions;
  2. Link insiders and outsiders to share knowledge and build expertise;
  3. Assess local capacities;
  4. Convey compelling narratives that build morale and support community development; and
  5. Engage both/and thinking, which brings together seemingly contradictory goals, such as community and business objectives, rather than forcing a choice between them.

“Why Fogo Island is important for other communities is because it offers hope,” Dr. Slawinski said. “Fogo Island, like many other communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, was really suffering from out-migration, brain drain and loss of hope since the cod moratorium. Shorefast injected a new energy into Fogo Island.”

While Shorefast’s model of using an internationally renowned, high-end inn to support social and cultural community projects may not be feasible in other communities, Dr. Slawinski says the principles underlying the model may be useful to communities elsewhere in the province.

“I think community leaders can inject their own energy and engage in smaller scale, but very impactful, projects and initiatives in their communities. You can look at the learnings and use those as guiding principles for what you as a community champion can do in your particular community given your own specific challenges.”

The bigger picture

Sheila Fitzgerald, mayor of Roddickton-Bide Arm, agrees, saying the workshop was an “eye-opening experience.”

Sheila Fitzgerald during a discussion at the Fogo Island workshop.
Sheila Fitzgerald, centre, at the Fogo Island workshop.
Photo: Bojan Furst

“We sometimes get so caught up in the day-to-day operational business — keeping the lights on, potholes filled in, water chlorinated and so on — that we don’t get an opportunity to step back and look at the whole picture and see what potential is out there,” she said.

“If little Fogo Island can do it, then so can we. They were just a fishing community . . . but they maximized their inherent beauty and [used] their isolation to their advantage.”

“If little Fogo Island can do it, then so can we.”— Sheila Fitzgerald

Didier Naulleau, mayor of Pinware in Labrador, says one of the biggest insights he gained from the workshop was an understanding that he, and his community, are not alone. He says all rural communities face similar challenges, including younger generations leaving for education and employment, seasonal industries, small populations, isolation and inadequate tourism infrastructure.

“I was surprised [to hear] the growing interest in regional governance,” he said. “While it was evident that it is needed, there is still a stigma that one community will take all and others will take none.

“The workshop offered me the opportunity to meet with a lot of people, hear their challenges and their possible ideas to develop a plan to solve them,” he added.

Encouraging message for communities

Amanda Cull runs a mixed farming operation in Bonavista and says she was encouraged by the message that the lessons from Shorefast’s success can be applied elsewhere.

“I have heard it said several times: ‘We don’t have a Zita Cobb,’ which I think is just silly,” she said. “If we have the dedication to see an idea from concept to fruition, we can accomplish amazing things in our own communities. We all have people who can incite change and inspire others.”

“If we have the dedication to see an idea from concept to fruition, we can accomplish amazing things in our own communities.” Amanda Cull

Dr. Slawinski’s work is one of several projects that grew out of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Memorial and Shorefast from 2013-15. The MOU was intended to support the development of research projects, community and public engagement initiatives and collaborative partnerships.

The research team also included Dr. Blair Winsor and Dr. John Schouten from the business faculty, Dr. Mark Stoddart from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Wendy Smith from the University of Delaware, and Diane Hodgins from Shorefast.

The workshop was delivered in partnership with Shorefast, the Harris Centre and Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation.

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