Our Comms Spotlight for this week is Regina Fonjia Leke. Regina started her career as a Journalist but a decision to focus on the Environment and Sustainable Development beat led her into a successful Communications career. Regina is currently the Country Head of Corporate Communications at leading food and beverage ingredients brand, Olam Food Ingredients (ofi). In this interview, she talks about transitioning from Journalism to Communications while maintaining a consistent focus on impact.
What do you do as Corporate Communications Officer at Ofi?
I manage internal and external communication for ofi Cameroon. Primarily, I am charged with driving a positive company culture amongst the employees and helping them to align with the company’s purpose and values. I share timely information about the company’s initiatives, projects and events and keep employees informed through varied internal communication channels.
Externally, I conceive and execute initiatives that can keep us connected to our stakeholders, especially our farmers and suppliers in our value chain. I also relate with the media for wider communication of our activities when need be. I am the brand ambassador for the group in Cameroon. This essentially means I am responsible for marketing the ofi brand in Cameroon by developing accurate messages and producing gadgets that communicate and maintain ofi’s corporate brand identity.
How did you begin your career in Communications and what are some of the steps you took to grow professionally?
I started off as a journalist. I had my first degree in Journalism and Mass Communication in 2010 and I worked for a national newspaper for two years. While at the newspaper, I realised I had little prospects for growth if I focused only on reporting general news and current affairs. I decided to specialise in Environment and Sustainable development, a domain with huge information gap at the time, given most of my peers focused on sports and politics. That decision changed my life forever.
Under a few months, a prominent environmental NGO leader who had been reading my environmental stories reached out to me, to join his team as Head of Communication. As Head of Communication, I took charge of increasing the visibility of the NGO’s conservation programs on the ground and gave updates to her international funding partners on progress made by the NGO in conserving Cameroon’s rich biodiversity. To beef up my knowledge on Environment and Natural Resource Management, I took a professional post-graduate course on Environmental Journalism and Communication, while at the job.
It was then I understood the challenge relating to environmental management was much bigger and there was need for massive sensitisation. My desire to have Cameroonians adopt more eco-friendly attitudes led me to join Cameroon’s second largest TV Network Canal 2 International in 2016. I anchored the news and equally launched a Program called Planet Rise with the mission to advocate for a better management of the environment. From poor waste management to wildlife conservation, climate change to sustainable agriculture, I interviewed a wide range of experts on how as a nation we could do things differently to protect our natural heritage.
I won an international award and three national awards coupled with international fellowship programs for my environmental advocacy. While working with the TV, I developed communication strategies for multiple organisations and businesses with attention on how to effectively communicate their ESG programs, which today remains a major risk investment yardstick by investors. This is what led me to my current job as the Country Head of Corporate Comms at leading food and beverage ingredients brand, Olam Food Ingredients (ofi). Far beyond internal communications, the key responsibility thrusted on my shoulders is to bring to light the extensive work the company has been putting to make the production and processing of her flagship product cocoa more sustainable.
Can you share a major challenge you encountered in your career journey and how you overcame it?
I have had some challenges here and there, but I always turn challenges to opportunities. So, when I look back at my journey, it is difficult to cite a major challenge. For instance, it was a challenging decision to leave my Journalism job to go back into Corporate Communications because to me, I still had so much to give as far raising awareness on sustainable management of the environment is concerned. But it became easy when I realised I could create so much impact in the domain of sustainable agriculture.
I joined a company that is a reference in supply chain sustainability in Cameroon. A company that is helping thousands of farmers in different regions to produce good quality and sustainable cocoa and working to eradicate deforestation amongst other ills in her supply chains. Mirroring the works of my company and by extension, raising awareness for the adoption of good agricultural practices that can safeguard the environment is very gratifying.
What do you love the most about working in Communications?
Martin Luther King once said, ‘Men often hate each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they don’t know each other, they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate.” I have a firm belief that communication can solve some of the biggest problems we face in the society at large and at the workplace in particular. It is a uniting factor that can connect people, values and purpose.
Being the person to steer such an important aspect of a company is a blessing. There are challenges and sometimes barriers, but finding common ground is a continuous process. Sharing information about different projects, events and company initiatives with my colleagues is what I love most about the job. This is very important as it keeps employees informed, makes them feel valued and helps to boost their engagement levels. Finding ways to connect with our stakeholders, like our farmers who are our primary value drivers, is also a very fun part of the job. But most importantly, being able to drive communication on our sustainability pathway is the most fulfilling part of the job.
What do you do to stay ahead of trends and remain relevant as a Communications professional?
There is a famous quote that says, ‘The skills that brought you here is not what is going to take you there.” This in essence means there is need to constantly reinvent oneself. I take short courses online, exchange with role models and read books for my personal development. I recently took a Course on Corporate ESG and Sustainability which explains amongst other things, the critical role communication must play in relaying ESG practices to attract investors, customers and employees. I also took a course on Persuasive Communication: Building Trust and Influence. Currently, I am on another course sponsored by my company as part of Learning and Development, dubbed ‘Communicating with Impact for Managers.’
For books, I recently completed the book ‘No Excuses’ by Brian Tracy and I am starting ‘The Theory and Practice of Corporate Communication‘ by Alan T. Belasen. I do all this because I am conscious the work world is constantly changing and you need more than your degrees and previous experiences to stay on top of your game.
What advice would you give to your younger professional self?
First, I will give my younger self a pat on the back for realising early enough that to succeed you need to carve a niche for yourself. What marked a turning point in my life is the day I decided to do Journalism differently, by delving into a field many didn’t. I will also advise my younger self to stay focused.
In your career journey, you will meet a lot of people who will not believe in you, this doesn’t matter. What matters is you believing in yourself. You will fail, but don’t be scared, you will learn from your mistakes. Also, I will advise my younger self to be consistent. When you work hard and smart, sometimes you may not get the right pay and reward, but do not give up because it is only by staying true to what you do that will get you the opportunities you truly deserve.