Bisila Bokoko is not only fierce and fabulous, she is a lady with a big heart and a passion for the African continent. She is a business woman who wears many hats, but close to her heart is her organization that promotes literacy and knowledge on the continent.
Where are you currently located?
My residence and headquarters are in New York City. I also spend quite a long time traveling between Europe and Africa.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Valencia, Spain. My country of origin is Equatorial Guinea; both of my parents are from the country.
I studied Law in Spain (J.D equivalent). I have an MBA and a Master’s in International Relations.
Please provide a brief description of the Bisila Bokoko African Literacy Project (BBALP)
BBALP is a non-profit, non-partisan international organization headquartered in New York with subsidiaries in Ghana, France, and Spain. The BBALP’s mission is to promote literacy among the African people building well equipped, modern and sustainable efficient libraries with the aim to share the gift of ideas and education with Africa.
Describe your role as the project’s founder and operator
We initially identify locations where we can build each library and then we design the whole project from the scratch or look for partnerships in the different countries we visit. I make sure that the communities are involved and understand that the library is for them. We help to build the library and provide the funds to get the shelves, painting, among other things. We train the librarians, and after three years, we expect the community to embrace the library as theirs and have it up and running. We also create strong relationships with the schools, the education administration and ministers who have always been very supportive of our work. We find the project managers to supervise the whole process and we have had successful outcomes to date.
The Bisila Bokoko African Literacy Project is well known for its sustainable practices. What originally sparked this idea?
The idea of building libraries came to life after a trip I made in 2010 to the continent when I realized how much potential our African communities have, and how difficult it was to access books and proper education. It is true that education is not accessible to everyone in Africa; my view is that through books, we all receive knowledge to educate ourselves and be inspired. We also know that when we provide a library to the community, it shouldn’t be seen purely as a charitable effort. We see it as something that we build together and we help finance at the early stages. We organize each project with the aim that the community will understand its value, take care of it and make it grow. This is our purpose and philosophy.
Which countries can your operations be found?
We have libraries in Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe. We also have corporate partnerships in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, Cameroon and South Africa.
What were you doing before the Bisila Bokoko African Literacy Project?
I always worked as a trade specialist and international business consultant linked to different government agencies in Spain.
What does a typical day running the Bisila Bokoko African Literacy Project look like?
I devote my time running BBALP and BBES (Bisila Bokoko Embassy Services International). Thirty percent of my time goes to BBALP, since with the resources from my work at BBES I allocate funding to my dream, which is my foundation. Part of the work we do involves networking, research, budget revision, strategic planning, all to ensure that we successfully reach our goal of building one library a year (which we have been able to achieve to date).
When you travel to the continent on assignment, how do you typically dress?
I like to dress comfortably and fashionably, promoting African designers when possible. I love Africa fashion and I like to wear clothes by up and coming African designers since I like to help make them known.
Do you have one inspirational story that just fuels your passion even more?
I have the story of a young man, James Bayanai who came to see me in Capetown (South Africa) by bus from Harare, Zimbabwe just to meet me and tell me how much he liked the project and how grateful he would be if I could put a library in his hometown. I admired his determination so much that we decided to hire him as our project manager for a library we recently opened in Chirumanzu. The whole experience has been so smooth and uplifting that we would love to have the same experience in other countries where we plan to open libraries.
2015 is a monumental year as it marks the 5th year anniversary of the Bisila Bokoko African Literacy Project. What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?
Yes, this year is very special for us indeed!!! We have learned so, so much from our past experiences that we now feel more confident and we know what business model works for us best. We plan to celebrate as we are very proud of our accomplishments! Over the next five years we plan to keep spreading through the continent and have more comprehensive and active programs in the libraries, with the assistance of volunteers from the United States and Europe. More to come….
What is the favorite part of your job?
My favorite part is that it doesn’t feel like a job. When you do what you are passionate about, what can be better than that?
Best professional advice you have ever received
I received many professional advise and I learn so much particularly from my team who is deeply involved in my work and are part of the success without doubts. Best advise was: what you do for others you can do it for yourself and you can make it happen! Someone very close to my heart encourage me to do it by my own, then is when I made the jump to think as an entrepreneur and become one.
When in-country on assignment, what are some of your favorite things to do?
To eat local foods, and meet the local people. I love to spend time with the community and learn about their culture and enjoy the gastronomy of the country.
Back in the United States, how do you spend your free time?
With my loved ones. I love to spend time with my family and friends. I enjoy networking and all what New York City has to offer. I love also to spend weekends outside of New York enjoying the outdoors or on the beach.
Are there any other projects you are involved in?
Yes, I am involved in multiple projects in fashion, culture and gastronomy. I am a brand ambassador for some fashion houses. I am an ambassador for the Opera House of Barcelona, and I love to promote culture. I also host a Television show in Spain for gastronomy at Foodie Channel TV. I am invited to speak very often in conferences and I host some business events internationally.
You have traveled the world; which city best describes your personality?
That’s a tough question. I am a cocktail of cultures. I will say my personality is a mix of London, Brazil, New York, Kenya and Paris.
What is your advice for young individuals who are interested in philanthropy and humanitarian work, particularly on the continent?
My advice is to DO IT. Instead of finding the reasons why your project or ideas might not work or become difficult, focus on the reasons why you should do it. And here is when everyone speaks about funding and financials. My point is that every project should start somewhere and step by step. Work with the resources you have and funding might come at the right time. We started with nothing, but we knew we had a mission and we had to perform at our own speed and capacity. There are many things to be done and everything requires time; with effort and determination everything happens! Keep it up!!!
Image: Victor Curant & Adiat Disu Media/Robert Cooper