Q&A with Zita Cobb

2016-2017 Issue 1

IMG_3947 editHearing Zita Cobb’s life journey, you may wonder if she’s lived nine lives: born on a remote Island off Newfoundland without electricity or running water, she attended university in Ottawa, began her career in Alberta, traveled through Africa, then worked in the technology sector and retired with the title of CFO for fiber optics giant JDS Uniphase. She spent four years sailing the world then returned to her birthplace, Fogo Island, NL, where she and her brothers Tony and Alan launched the charitable Shorefast Foundation. Since 2003, their initiative has helped to transform the tiny community through university scholarships, social businesses, heritage and fisheries projects, and support for local artisans.

And she’s not done yet. On June 8 Ms. Cobb received an honorary doctorate from McGill as a pioneering social entrepreneur. Here, she shares her journey in her own words:


Why do you think you were chosen to receive an honorary doctorate from McGill University’s School of Continuing Studies?

The School of Continuing Studies is diverse in terms of its students as well as the programs it offers. But as human beings, we all have one thing in common: community. We live in communities, or we long for community. My work for the last decade and a half has had to do with community, as I have worked to help ensure economic and cultural resiliency for my home community of Fogo Island, including looking for pathways for the island to belong to the global world. To quote the late professor Gill-Chin Lim, we are “creating a global network of intensely local places.”


How has education shaped your journey?

Education gives you a kind of rigour and discipline that prepares you for the professional world. The completion of a degree, certificate, or program is a signal to the world that you can adhere to something and complete it. In my life, my Bachelor of Commerce helped me get my foot in the door of the business world. Education helps you to get your footing on that first crucial rung of the ladder.


Many of our students are newcomers to Canada or looking to transition to a new career. You may be able to relate to that, as you yourself have had several transitions in your personal and professional life. Do you have any advice of those who are currently find themselves in similar circumstances?

As you navigate life’s journeys and transitions, focus on your gifts. Every human being has specific failings, and every human being has specific gifts. We all build a better life when we shape it based on our gifts rather than our failings. And as my old boss would say, “if they throw you out the door, come back in through the window!”


What do you hope those attending convocation will take away from the convocation ceremony?

I hope that they will feel a sense of belonging to a group that shared a specific journey together. I hope they will share in the recognition of this important milestone which reminds us that we are human… together.


What advice do you have for those seeking to make a positive impact on the world?

Passion comes from action. Not the other way around. Get involved in your communities and you will find your passion.


What do you hope those in attendance will take away from your story?

Positive beats negative every time.

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