About 18 years of using cosmetics almost cost Dr Elizabeth Kilili her life. She developed cancer and went through hell as a result.
The managing director of Grace Natural Products Foundation is a living testimony of the dangers posed by harmful chemicals found in many beauty products. She pities those who do not believe her story.
Due to excessive use of cosmetics, her skin got damaged to the extent that she spent months in hospital beds both in the country and abroad for treatment. Dr Kilili turned her problems into a business by setting up a natural cosmetics factory to save other people’s lives.
“I underwent several surgeries to correct my skin and other complications that I developed in the long run,” she says.
She underwent surgery at Muhimbili National Hospital in 2007 after developing a tumor in the head. Three months after surgery, Dr Kilili developed another complication in the nose, that was accompanied with bad smell.
Being a born again Christian and a pastor’s wife, Dr Kilili put her faith in Jesus believing he was the only one who could heal her.
“My condition got worse and doctors advised I should be rushed to Apollo Hospital in India for further treatment, where I underwent nose surgery,” she says.
She is grateful to doctors both at Muhimbili and Apollo for saving her life.
Grace natural products
After going through the challenging moments, Dr Kilili thought the only way to save others from going through the same predicament, was setting up a natural products clinic. She read different books on the benefit of fruits, oil and honey focusing on their functions in the body.
“As an entrepreneur you need to be innovative and that’s why my first laboratory was in my kitchen. From that time the idea of being an entrepreneur, manufacturing my own lotions came to mind. I later moved from the kitchen and started marketing my products famously known as Grace products. I started with three workers and despite facing some challenges, I did not give up,” she says.
The mother of three manufactures soap, lotion, shampoo, baby oil, hair tonic, toothpaste, liquid soap and detergents, among others. Dr Kilili has been in the business for nine years.
The fact that people don’t trust locally made products is one of the major challenges she faces. In the beginning, people did not believe her products were made from natural ingredients. They thought she included some harmful chemicals in the products and were therefore hesitatnt to buy.
With time, people learnt to trust the products especially after learning that her products trully used natural ingredients. Today her products are among the highly sought after.
She did not obtain the skills from any college but from books where she learnt how fruits, oil and honey products can be used to attain beautiful skin.
“When I tell people how I started my business, many just don’t believe me. I usually tell them even big trees such as the baobab tree started their journey as a small seed,” notes Dr Kilili.
Capital was also a stumbling block. Dr Kilili had no choice but to go for bank loans with high interest. “I had to use all my assets as collateral and remittances have been hard to go by. This is something affecting many entrepreneurs. I call on the relevant authorities to rethink about collateral as one of the criteria for one to get a bank loan or else the poor will continue suffering.”
Packaging is another problem. “We keep complaining that people don’t like locally made products but fail to make the products appealing to the buyers. Packaging matters and so we need to have our own industries for manufacturing good quality packaging materials. However, high taxes discourage investors. The result is substandard packaging materials which do not attract sales.”
Looking at the other side of the coin, Dr Kilili who did not do well in her ordinary level final exams has bagged local and international awards, thanks to the high quality products she manufactures.
She received Malkia wa Nguvu Award in 2017, which she says was one of her significant strides. She is grateful to her customers for recognising her efforts in making Tanzania a better place for everyone. A place where people make right and healthy choices, which she does through promotion of natural products use.
Looking back, Dr Kilili is proud to be the owner of an establishment that has grown from a company with only three employees to one that employs more than 100 workers today. Her firm is made up of both professionals and non-professionals, all who are recruited basing on their ability to deliver rather than relying on colourful grades on their certificates.
Dr Kilili has got a bone to pick with copy cats, who produce low quality similar products, which they sell at lower prices. “The habit of copy and paste gets hard when one seeks external markets. It is not uncommon to find products similar to yours already available at cheaper prices in the targeted market. As we push for industrialisation drive, innovation should be our way to go.”
Her advice to government is that it should emulate the Chinese government, which supports and provides a conducive business environment to citizens with soft skills and innovative minds to make their products tax free.
Government and the responsible ministry should rethink how to invest in developing entrepreneurship skills among the youth. President Magufuli’s industrialisation drive should go alongside ensuring entrepreneurs are fully motivated.
Her brief history
The third born in the family of Mr and Mrs Lugelo went to Lugalo primary and secondary schools.
“I did not do well in my O’levels but my business has earned me the doctor title. My customers call me doctor. I took after my mother who was also an entrepreneur,” she notes.
Her work of helping those whose skin has been damaged by cosmetics earned Dr Kilili a honorary degree from Africa Graduate university in Sierra Leone.
Dr Kilili believes in giving back to society and does that through volunteering and helping the needy.
Her day starts as early as five in the morning by exercising for one hour at a play ground near her office. This is a routine that involves all staff
“We pray at around half past seven after exercise, everyone according to their faith. We do this because we all believe that we can’t succeed in our work without putting God first.”
After prayer, Grace and her husband spend 10 to 15 minutes coaching workers about entrepreneurship as they believeworkers too need to understand the importance of investing.
Breakfast is served around 8 after which everyone goes to their respective work areas until half past one when they break for lunch. Thirty minutes later, everyone returns to work until five or six in the evening.
Dr Kili advises fellow women to work hard and assures them it pays.