Bisila Bokoko describes her being born in Valencia, Spain as an accident as a result of political unrest in Equatorial Guinea. An occurrence that shaped her journey by being the first black woman to hold the post of the office of the Executive director of the Spain-US chamber of commerce. Her role with selling the best of Valencia to the US gave birth to the accomplished business phenomenon we all know and celebrate today.
Bisila Bokoko is the CEO of Bisila Wines, Bisila Bokoko Embassy Services International and also the founder of the Bisila Bokoko African Literacy Project (BBALP).
Below are excerpts from her interview with Whoot Africa.
We’ve read a lot of things about you in the press. Outside of these, can you share with Whoot Africa a little about who Bisila Bokoko is: the individual, entrepreneur, humanitarian, advocate and phenomenal woman?
I was born in Valencia, Spain, my parents come from Equatorial Guinea. I studied in Spain and in the UK, law and economics. I moved to New York in the year 2000 after obtaining an internship with the government of Valencia promoting business from the region of Valencia in the United States and I obtained a Masters in International Relations at the City College of New York.
In the year 2005, I was appointed as Executive Director of the Spain-US chamber of commerce. My entrepreneur ventures and philanthropic work started in the year 2009.
And now I own a factory of dreams!
What inspires an inspirational woman like Bisila Bokoko?
My children and my deep roots in the continent. I want to be a catalyst to change, contribute to a better world, and to improve the perception of Africa and Africans.
Also, other women and men who have been or are successful. I have tons of role models.
You are the first African woman to hold the position of the Executive Director of the Spain-US chamber of commerce where you helped with facilitating the expansion of Spanish businesses into the US markets; when you look back what was it like being tasked with such a huge responsibility what words come to mind?
First words that come to my mind are satisfaction, pride and commitment, this was my real university in life. I had the best memories of those times and I loved my work at the chamber. I met the most amazing people and I worked on fascinating projects! Working there was like to start a new job every day! It has been my biggest milestone.
Your work at the Spain-US chamber of commerce went on to inspire you to birth two separate and thriving businesses; what are those things that you think set you apart as an achiever and as a woman who was quick in spotting and utilizing her opportunities into living her dream?
To be honest becoming a business woman was not in the plan originally. During those years I feared living without a steady salary and a safe job.
The distance between your fears and your dreams is called action, therefore I acted through that fear. The vertigo feeling when I made the decision to follow my dreams remains intact and now it is my GPS!
When we start complaining and being unhappy with our situation or people that we work with, it is a clear signal that we need to change something. Getting out of the comfort zone is challenging and scary, at the same time when you do it there is no way back!
What I learned in the journey is that I like to feel free in my work, to have my own vision and my way, the chances to do so working for a company and organization are limited so I created my own world.
You took a risk that paid off by starting Bisila wines right in the midst of an economic crisis? Without mincing words and sugar-coating the process and time, what would you say to an upcoming entrepreneur who is thinking of risking it all right now to follow their dreams?
To win hard, you play hard, and the worst that could happen is that you should start over again.
Patience and determination are key to be in business. I failed many times, made big mistakes and I changed directions also! What I know is that the objective is in front of me and no matter how long it takes and how many times I fall down I have total faith in the ending results.
You are a woman who is at the corridors of the pinnacle of her career and still doing amazing things on the humanitarian level. E.g. you are helping women from East Africa to market their fashionable sandals in china, the US and other parts of Africa. Despite your busy schedule why is it so important helping these women, especially at a point when most people in your capacity and status are mostly looking ahead to bigger multimillion dollar deals only?
I believe in the law of abundance. There is enough cake for all of us to eat. Sharing my experience with other women around the world and encouraging them to improve their lives and live their own dreams is not something that I do only for them, I do this for me. It brings me so much joy to make someone’s day better or provide people with inspiration! It is mutually beneficial!
There’s no stopping Bisila Bokoko, as at 2015 you were said to have your eyes on renewable energy? Are you in anyway worried about the amount of work that would go into it, considering this is way out of your comfort zone and unlike anything you have ever done before?
The amount of work that I would have to put into it is exactly what seduce me to make new things! I know that if I want to be successful in any new area it requires extra effort.
Are there any plans for Africa with regards to your renewable energy plans?
Yes, I look at the continent, not just in this particular industry and not immediately because I am in the research process balancing the level of opportunities and documenting myself. I have not arrived yet to a conclusion about the scope in renewable energies in Africa.
Pepsi Co’s CEO, Indra K Noogi sent the business world buzzing in 2014, when she was quoted as saying, “we pretend to have it all, women can’t have it all” – what are your thoughts on the work-life balance from your own experience over the years?
In my own experience, I believe we can have it all. The concept of “all” changes through the years as our priorities and goals keep changing as we evolve and progress as humans. The feeling of having all is a feeling of being grateful and satisfied with all you have. The work-life balance is achievable!
As women, we sometimes put lots of pressure on ourselves, trying to be the perfect daughters, mothers, wives, friends, sisters…. I do the best I can, and I live in the moment. I accept my vulnerabilities and my weaknesses as part of me and It is ok. If we live in guilt and in frustration because we can’t reach all the areas and be at the top, life becomes a battle, a battle with yourself!
The best relationship you have with your own self; the better relationships you manifest around yourself.
You are an internationally celebrated businessperson, CEO and motivational speaker, when you look back at the accolades and recognition; did you ever envisage this would be the life for you?
I am laughing as I read this question…. first time I got a recognition was through Macdella Coopers Foundation in the year 2011 who was the first to acknowledge my work.
My 16 years’ assistant and friend Maria Padilla encouraged me to accept it because I was hesitant about it. Why? I thought that I couldn’t accept any award until I turn 60 years old, and she asked me: “Why would you wait so long? You are doing something now! You deserve it! “
So, she was right, the time is now. It is all we have, the now.
The biggest achievement for me is to leave a legacy and that is something I would love to leave behind me, as a person.
If you had to address a room full of aspiring young business people, what are those things you would like to share with them on making the best of their lives, first as a mother, a businessperson, a successful career woman and an inspiration in the business world?
To make the best of your life you should embrace who you are, not what other people expect from you to be. It is very difficult to identify what you want. There is a difference between who you are, who other people want you to be and who you would like to be.
You can’t be who you would like to be when you don’t know who you are right now. Once you know, accept it, embrace it and love it! Then, you can work towards who you want to be.
Being a good mother starts by being a good daughter. As mothers our work is to love our kids and to offer them guidance and protection. There is not a book of instructions to be a good mother, you can just follow your heart. In my opinion, it is about quality more than quantity. And the happier you are with yourself the better qualities you will be able to share with your children.
As a business person and a career woman, be fearless and go for what you want. Perseverance is very important and you need to enjoy it all the way to the top. Ask for help when it’s needed and for advice. Listen, and do not hand your power over to others. When you want to do something find the reasons why you should do it! People will tell you ” oh, that is difficult! ” that is impossible” ” are you crazy?” when you hear that, change your audience! Time is relative! One step after another and you will arrive to your destination!
Happiness is a state of mind, it’s personal. Your work, your personal life, won’t give you happiness! It’s in you. People from the outside might think ” oh this person is happy!” only you know if you are happy or not.
If you are able to be happy, you will realize that all the time you enjoy your growth process. Your attitude makes a difference! And of course pain is part of the process and some days are difficult, how you deal with that is very important.
Everyone has that one person or group of people whose impact in their lives remain unforgettable, who are those you look up to in the business world and whose impact in your life till date remains a motivation that keeps you going on days when you feel like taking a break from it all?
My parents are the main architects of my life, they both guided me to where I am now.
For my father there is only one way: success.
And there is not dream that is too big. He pushes us to be at our best! Wasn’t always pleasant but effective, yes!
My mother is the one that when I feel like taking a break, she will say, Bisila continue, you can do it! Everything will be ok!
My team over the years helped me so much to build everything around me and they always remained loyal and supportive in the ups and downs! They are amazing!
Your first visit to Africa was at the age of 35, you currently do business in Africa, what has the experience being like and how do you see Africa in terms of growth in the next few decades?
I have an endless love affair with Africa! Doing business in Africa is a process, I am at the early stages and I see progress.
I have a very optimistic vision towards Africa! And I know that the next few decades are very promising.
The International Women’s Day was celebrated around the world last week. Women still complain about unfair remuneration and working conditions, do you think women ask/demand for too many opportunities and constantly compare the playing field to that of the men; rather than proving what they are capable of?
There is room for improvement in women situations around the Globe. We are making progress and I think it is only recent since women have started to work together in alliance towards our goals and supporting each other.
Men’s clubs and associations have been existing for centuries and women have been actively working together starting in the 20th century.
The change we want, is in us, first we need to change ourselves to see the change we want in the world.
Lastly, 30 years from now; what would you want the world to remember Bisila Bokoko for when your name is mentioned around the world?
30 years from now I want to be active! I will still be in my early 70s! Most likely I will be in another re-invention process. I don’t want to be remembered just yet I want to be “in vogue”, current, the “It woman” of the moment!