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Fogo Island Inn: Social Enterprise Sets the Pace For a New Vision of Place

Fogo Island Inn is an initiative of Shorefast, a registered Canadian charity established to build economic and cultural resilience on Fogo Island, a remote fishing community off the coast of Newfoundland. Shorefast employs business-minded means to achieve social ends. In the mid-twentieth century, factory overfishing by international trawlers caused a dramatic decline in commercial cod stocks off the coast of Newfoundland, eventually leading to a moratorium on cod fishing in 1992. The Inn was created as a secondary leg to the island’s fishing economy leveraging the island’s natural assets of hospitality and fabrication. From concept to creation, all facets of the business are tethered to local community, which has led the Inn to become a cultural and economic engine for Fogo Island.

A 2017 recipient of the Trico Foundation’s Social EnterPrize award, Fogo Island Inn has become a leading example in place-based economic development. Through the continued success of Shorefast’s work in securing a sustainable and resilient future for Fogo Island, the organization is broadening its ambitions to help other places strengthen their economic potential. We had the wonderful chance to connect with Executive Vice President of Shorefast, Diane Hodgins, to hear their newest updates.

Diane says:

“In terms of growth, the main challenge we’ve had is coming back from COVID. Newfoundland closed the border to travel for 16 months, so you couldn’t enter or leave the province. And for a province that’s highly reliant on the tourism, it was a hammer to the industry.
A win for us is finally securing key staffing back that we lost during COVID. We had a big challenge coming out of COVID and are continuing to re-gain our footing. Our real “growth” is our continued investment in the community despite this revenue shock, bringing businesses back online and opening some new – building back from this incredibly challenging time is the win.”

Diane explains that they are building Fogo Island as a brand and as a destination on the higher end of the travel market:

“We are moving into our global competitive set of properties and are very excited about joining Relais & Châteaux, a global network dedicated to exceptional hospitality and cuisine. We’ve had significant growth as we get better known around the world and are excited to welcome more guests this year.”

Beyond their successful hospitality business, Shorefast has also opened other social enterprises in woodworking, textiles, a fish business, and an ice cream shop. They have also moved deeper into construction management. Diane says:

“We continue to grow because our work is economic development. Providing employment opportunity and any way we can invest in culture and local knowledge; that’s where we see the spin off in our businesses on Fogo Island.”
Photo by Jeremy Harnum

Fogo Island Inn has some new promotions coming in through their Workshops business and an amazing partnership with Christopher Farr Cloth, an internationally recognized leader in textile. The custom designs featured at Fogo Island Inn are now moving into a retail consumer offering for wallpaper and fabrics. Further links to the collaboration story can be found here: https://www.veranda.com/outdoor-garden/a60314515/fogo-island-craft/ & https://www.azuremagazine.com/article/christopher-farr-cloth-fogo-island-workshops-collection/  

Photo by Chris Horwood courtesy of Christopher Farr Cloth

The biggest shift since we last spoke to Shorefast is the increase of interest from the public. Diane says:

“We are sincerely appreciative of the publicity and the recognition that we received from Trico around our focus on place specific economic development, which is a really different approach to how we operate and how we invest in cultural and knowledge assets. We’ve had a lot of other communities come to us and say, ‘We want to start a hotel, or how do we start? Where did you guys begin this work?’”

Over COVID, Shorefast ran a pilot project in coordination with four other communities across the country to identify common levers that are critical to success for deepening the impact of place-based economic development. The four focus areas that came out of that work were (1) attracting & retaining financial capital, (2) accessing & leveraging local data, (3) creating architectures for collaboration, and (4) building local capacity. Resources from this initiative can be found on Shorefast’s website here:  https://shorefast.org/work/community-economies/ with the final report link here: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://shorefast.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Shorefast_Community-Economies-Pilot.pdf  

Diane explains:

“From that [the pilot], we confirmed common themes across these four places. Now, we would like to offer tool sets, programming and learning opportunities to deeper engage. We are building out a network of like-minded communities that are interested in this place specific economic development approach.”

Shorefast is launching a Place-Based Economies Centre that will house opportunities for stakeholders from business, government and community to learn, share, and connect on how to operate with a place-centric focus in economic development. Diane says:

“We are seeking funding to share this knowledge beyond the shores of Fogo Island. One of the key initiatives we are keen to roll out is a pilot for our Economic Nutrition Certification process working with small and medium enterprises in other places. Understanding ‘where the money goes’ is a critical element of economic planning, and we are hopeful this toolset can help all become more informed about the impact of their purchasing and procurement decisions”.  Link to Shorefast Economic Nutrition Page here:  https://shorefast.org/work/economic-nutrition/

Fogo Island is grappling with the bigger idea of place. Diane explains a lot of what they are finding when they get into this conversation is that the world is no longer oriented around the places we live:

“We as humans live in a place yet a lot of our world has become very digital. The ultimate repercussions of systems amplified by technology land in our daily lives – the places where we work, where we sleep at night, where we send our kids to school, etc.
We haven’t yet figured out how to build systems that optimize for place. I think the challenge is we are an enormous country of different sized, wonderfully unique places – and so we operate at all these different scales. As we become more “digitally networked”, there is a push for systems and operating models that are the same – creating bigger scale and consolidation for our economic engines managed from afar.  Technology amplifies this capacity. This shift risks homogenizing so much of what makes us the vibrant country of unique places that we are.  We need to put the importance place – and optimizing for place -back in our economic thinking.”

Diane concludes:

“From our experience on Fogo Island and continued work with other communities across Canada, we are building a network to help bring more economic momentum to more places.”
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