PROFILE: Eunice Kilonzo, a multi-faceted storyteller leading teams to excellence
By Patience Nyange and Esther Kiragu
Eunice Kilonzo is a nine time-award winning storyteller and journalist with extensive hands-on experience in organisational communications and media management across various sectors such as health, science, environment, technology, financial services and development.
Her career journey in the Media and Communications industry started in high school, where she was involved in writing and public speaking. She kept her passion for paper and pen alive even while at the University of Nairobi, where she pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, Communications and Literature.
Eunice Kilonzo honed her writing skills by contributing to various campus newsletters and publications. Her efforts did not go unrewarded as she earned a three-month Communications internship at the Koinonia Media Center as a first-year student! This was a stepping-stone to yet other seven-month media internship at PATH, a global team of innovators working to accelerate health equity.
At PATH, Eunice Kilonzo was attached to the G-PANGE youth program during her second-year in campus. This was her entry into health communications, a field Eunice is passionate about and known for.
Her love for writing opened yet another opportunity in 2013 by the time she did her final paper. “I had an offer to join the Nation Media Group Media Lab program. Embracing humble beginnings with zeal and zest, I started as a cub reporter and advanced to become a health beat reporter, then Senior Health Journalist.
“By the time I left four years later, I was committed to putting great health stories from across the country and the world – on the front pages. I am proud that during my time, this was possible,” she says.
Transitioning from the newsroom
Eunice Kilonzo’s desire to advance her career as a health journalist irked her curiosity to read countless research papers. But one thing was evident when she called up scientists, she could feel them struggle to express themselves.
She saw the opportunity to support health researchers and scientists to tell their stories. This is how she joined the African Population and Health Center in mid-2017 as a Communications Officer. Determined to excel, Eunice worked with over 250 PhD researchers across the continent to help them amplify their work.
“My work involved reading a lot of science and medical research and then unpacking it into simple to understand content,” she says. While at APHC, Eunice Kilonzo did an Executive Certificate in Global Health Diplomacy at the Graduate Institute, Geneve. This course broadened her perspective on global health.
Eunice Kilonzo was not settled yet. Three years later, her desired to diversify her writing skills pushed her to apply for a short-term consultancy at the UN Environment Program (UNEP). She was tasked to write and produce social media content about coral reefs!
“If I was to become a multi-faceted storyteller, I had to do something different, and this was it. UNEP offered multicultural experiences, appreciation of multilateralism and of life below water,” she says and adds, afterwards, I got yet another chance to join Safaricom PLC as a Manager, Content Generation. This is where I currently work.
Please talk to us about how these have shaped your career.
I am here because of the mentorship and support by some of my seniors along my career journey. As a way of giving back, I am now mentoring ten young women on matters careers, jobs and personal branding. I am also a mentor at the Global Give Back Circle, a long-distance mentorship program in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation.
This, you must do. Invest in your relationships and be very intentional with who is in your circles. If a network does not serve or support you in the way, you would like, either amend it or leave it. But, do not be the sponge in your network; what value are you adding? Take stock as often as you can.
• Career risks
“Take risks! Curious to try out a new job in a new country? Yes, please do. You will learn. You will grow. Almost all my career moves have been risks. I always tell myself: go where the story leads you.
Be prudent, do your homework and research (through your networks etc.) and then make a move. One of my mentees is on her way to Amsterdam for a communications job. Is she scared? Yes. But is she qualified and going all the same!” So feel the fear and do it anyway.
• (Change) Getting out of your comfort zone
If it’s comfortable (unless it’s a pair of shoes or pants), you are not growing. Re-invent yourself as much as possible. Beyond health journalism/communications, I think of myself as a multimedia storyteller. Next time, I may be Eunice, the global content strategist.
• Continuous learning
The skills and experiences that got you here won’t take you there. Lookup for new courses, save up and sign up. As a communicator, being skilled in diverse disciplines offers you a helicopter view of interconnected issues. Also, on learning, it is okay not to know. There is no shame in that. We all don’t know everything.
What’s the best work-related advice you’ve ever received that you applied and has borne tremendous results?
Jaindi Kisero, a veteran writer and journalist, once told us during a Media Lab class while at Nation Media Group: “As a journalist, you must be capable of having the thoughts of an expert and the words of a gossip.” This helps me a lot when I struggle to tell complex stories. I pause and ask: how would a gossip column tell this story?
You are in a management role as the Manager, Content Generation at Safaricom PLC. What does the role mean for you and other young women who look up to you? Any leadership lessons that you’ve learnt so far?
I love to tell stories, and this role accords me that opportunity and more. I get very excited when I get a chance to brainstorm potential stories and then think of creative ways to use multimedia content to serve that purpose. As a Manager, I have picked up three key leadership lessons to date: Teamwork, excellence and curiosity.
• On teamwork, while I can shoot videos and photos and probably record podcasts, I am part of a team with people whose skill in these areas are much better than mine. Therefore, teamwork allows each individual to contribute in a way that complements all our shortcomings. Working as a team is really similar to how a system works. When all parts do their specialised work, then the benefit for the whole is much more significant than when, say, the eye tries to do what the ear is well-designed for.
• Excellence is all about quality: it has to be outstanding and excellent. As communicators, we are judged not only for what we produce but also for how we produce it. This reality has taught me to pursue quality over quantity consistently. Check out a platform that I am very proud of; Safaricom Newsroom, which produces great multimedia content.
• Finally, my role entails finding the story, telling it and getting it out there. Therefore, curiosity is such a critical skill to have. A leader, I believe, has to stay curious. The impulse to seek new information, experiences and explore novel possibilities is inherently human. I have discovered, when I am curious, I tend to view tough situations more creatively.
I always have a message to all my mentees: “There are no shortcuts in life. Society may trick you into thinking there are, but you have to put in the work. Do your very best. Be a team player, pursue excellence and stay curious.”
If you were to choose two most important values to you that you live by and that shape the way you work and live, what would they be and why?
Service and commitment are the two most important values that I live by and shape how I work and live.
• Service: Pour yourself in all that you do. Serve as though you are serving God. I go all out in all that I do. Be it at work, my friendships, mentorship, marriage, family and to my country.
• Commitment: Always keep your word. If I say I will do something or deliver something, I ensure I see the end of it. When I put my mind to something, I stay committed till the end.
How do you describe yourself, and how do others describe you?
I describe myself as curious, a passionate storyteller and a problem-solver. I think my friends and family will more or less say the same thing too. There are almost no surprises about me.
You have a super busy life, do you ever unplug from work?
Yes, women need to unplug and recharge. And everyone needs to do so. This is where my djembe story comes in. I play the drum. I have a very musical mind, and somehow, my mind thinks in beats and connections.
Esther Kiragu is a writer, editor and communication professional while Patience Nyange is a Chevening Scholar with a Masters Degree in International Public Relations and Global Communication Management from Cardiff University.