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I am a product of mentorship. In 2011, I participated in the Vital Voices/Fortune Global Women’s Mentoring program and met with mentors at the DOW Chemical Company that revolutionized the way I practiced my business. I realized it was not just about making money, but also about caring for people and the environment. My mentors were strict about my returning home and implementing the practices I learned. They introduced me to the idea of corporate social responsibility and ‘paying it forward.’

I had not thought about giving back to my community, but when I returned to Kenya, I went back to my home village, gathered a group of 50 women, and began mentoring them through an organization we started called the Eagle Women’s Group.

These women were making less than a dollar a day and many of them had never gone to school, so our first priority was to help each of them meet the basic needs of their family – if you can’t put food on the table, life can be very difficult. We decided we were going to eradicate poverty within our group, then within the village. I started by teaching the women basic entrepreneurial skills. They began growing vegetables, drying them, and making baskets out of sisal.

Now that I am participating in the 2013 VVGROW Fellowship, I have a much better understanding of how to create a strong business plan. I brought this back to the Eagle Women’s Group and helped the women create a formal business plan – we looked at our priorities, resources, timeline, and goals. We currently sell to the local market, but our vision is to begin selling internationally. We are working on fine-tuning the women’s products and ensuring quality control. Since I live far from my village, I get together by phone with the women in our Eagle Women’s Group almost every two weeks to see how they are doing. There is a lot of power in mentorship – I encourage each woman to look at her circle and begin mentoring two to three others in their personal or business life.

For the members of the Eagle Women’s Group and all women, it’s important to step up and take advantage of opportunities to share their experiences and collaborate with other women. If we all use our experience and knowledge to inspire and support a few others, and they each do the same, the chain of women helping women will have a powerful impact. 

Some women in Kenya are very shy to take up leadership roles. Many of the women I mentor are nervous about speaking up or volunteering for leadership responsibilities. I was also terrified the first time I was asked to share my story in front of others. But I tell them that when you share your story, you touch so many lives.

Then you realize that you don’t need a million to start a business. You just need that idea, and the support, and that inspiration – that passion – and you can do it.

Jillian Usagi owns and operates a chemical supply company, House of Chemicals, and a newly established sportswear company, My Running Room, which encourages women to be active and inspire each other. Jillian is also the Chairperson of the Organisation of Women in International Trade in Kenya, which aims to expose local women to international trade. She is a 2011 VV/Fortune Mentee and 2013 VVGROW Fellow.