How to take a straight series of events and turn them into a story? Well, one of my clients is the very impressive Victorine Bokengo, a Cameroon-born entrepreneur and philanthropist who has spent the last two decades first studying in France and then running businesses in Germany. Her role now involves bringing together African and European businesses around sustainable development projects in Africa. As a consultant, her key areas of expertise are international business development, international project & event management, and corporate social responsibility (CSR).
We’ll come back to Vicky in more detail in a future blogpost, but for today, let’s just zoom in on her story. Like many (all?) human stories, it’s remarkable. It contains hidden gems and golden nuggets — and the job of the writer is to shine a light on them so that people engage with that story, and then of course take action: reaching out, making deals, doing business in whatever form.
The key is to take the reader straight into the heart of the story.
Here are the facts:
- Vicky’s grandfather was the first ever Cameroonian Ambassador to France after independence.
- Vicky was born in Douala.
- In the summer holidays she worked in her mother’s pharmacy.
- She made some money.
- She invested in powdered milk and sold it to her classmates.
- As a teenager she also sold fashion items and handbags to her friends.
- She thinks business was always in her genes.
All interesting enough facts, of course, but spelled out like that they look rather bald. They need to be sequenced, linked together so that they form a narrative.
And all it takes is choosing one key detail, a portal if you will, that plunges us into the story. From there, the facts themselves are strong enough to take over, enabling us to trust the power of the events
Little did ten-year-old Vicky know, as she earned her pocket money by helping her mother in the pharmacy she owned and ran in Kumba, that an international career in business and entrepreneurship lay ahead. But the notions of excellence, achievement and adventure were already woven into the family fabric, Vicky’s grandfather was the first Cameroonian Ambassador (at the time called Administrateur d’Outre-mer) to France after the country gained its independence in January 1960. Meanwhile, Vicky’s father was one of the pioneers of multi-party rule in Cameroon. From her father’s side, she therefore inherited diplomatic and political savvy, alongside the entrepreneurial spirit of her mother, who to this day continues to run thriving businesses.
But that childhood summer “mini-job”, packaging medications for customers, was about more than helping Maman. Vicky used the money she earned to reinvest in powdered milk, which she then sold to her classmates during lunch breaks when school began. During her teenage years, Vicky went into fashion, purchasing handbags and reselling them to her friends and neighbours: “I guess sales has always been in my genes, something that I love doing”.
Note how it all hangs together now. A little more detail, a few connectors to give it shape, and of course a vital quote from Vicky herself to give it extra oomph.
Suddenly, our list of bullet points has turned into a story. We’re there, watching the young girl hatching her business plans. We’re with her.
And that’s the perfect start to make us want to reach out and learn more…