In 2013, Kelisha Mills went through one of the most trying financial, emotional and mental experiences of her life. Since then she has vowed she would never again find herself in a situation where she was not in control of her finances.
Having been forced to close down the business she had painstakingly built with her husband Colin, give up her home and, to some extent, her independence, her despair made her determined to look within herself to find a way out of that dark place, and she was pleasantly surprised at what she found.
"If you thought the living through the pandemic was difficult, try moving in with your in mother-in-law with four children in tow. With a downturn in the economy and our main client being government, it posed a lot of challenges financially...I was depressed and kept asking myself, 'how could I find myself in this situation at 35?' That year on my birthday I couldn’t even buy myself an ice cream. I asked God what to do, and realised I had to figure out how to get myself out of this situation. By the end of the day I had an entire plan written out, including all the things I am good at, I identified what got me to this point and what could possibly get me out. I started working on the goal and here I am today."
Mills and her husband live in Tobago and have restarted their procurement business supplying office furniture and stationery, and health and safety items such as hand sanitiser, masks and batteries to government agencies. They also do office design and outfitting, and provide IT software, computers, tablets and bags.
"I've been doing procurement since the age of 19 because I like it. In 2020 I got my degree in management with a major in entrepreneurship from UWI, St Augustine," Mills told WMN.
But, she said, other unexpected treasures trailed behind her out of that hole, among them her appreciation for the need for community and having people to talk to and share experiences. She said she used social media, starting with a Facebook page, to connect with other mothers who were in similar position, put her own story out there and started to build on that community. She is now on Instagram and has a website kelishamills.com through with she keeps the community connected.
"Our community is called Kingdom Women International, because it's not limited to women in TT. We now have about 800 women sharing about life and business challenges. We discuss things like increasing confidence in yourself, how to start you business, how to not go through things in silence on your own. I've invited experts in different fields to share with these women through tele and online summits."
For her, though, one of the things of which she is most proud is a planner she created, the Ultimate Mompreneur Planner, released in 2020 for mothers who are also entrepreneurs.
"This is dear to my heart because planning is what got me out of my situation, and because of the time it was released, it augured well for me because people had to figure out how they would be dealing with this pandemic. I’m very proud of it because it is a high-quality product. It shows that we in TT are very skilled and talented and can do things of international standard."
Mills said her experience has incited a deep commitment to helping mothers who are entrepreneurs to learn to manage their businesses and at-home responsibilities. On October 2, she will host The Ultimate Mompreneur Brunch, a one-day event at the Brix Hotel, St Ann's from 11 am to 3 pm. Part of the proceeds will be in support of the Global Network for the Advancement of Single Mothers.
"The event is specifically for mompreneurs who value business strategies, life management and help to make their life more peaceful, organised and stress free. This will be the first of its type, and my aim it to take it out of TT and grow it from there." The panellists will include director of Xtatik Ltd Elizabeth "Lady" Montano and Maria Daniel of Ernst & Young.
Originally from Princes Town, Mills moved to Tobago in 2007 after her mother died.
"I had my son who was two years old at the time. My then partner, now husband, was living in Tobago and I used that opportunity to make the move. I love it! That very year we started a business."
She said although her covid19 experience pales in comparison with what she went through in 2013, sometimes the challenges became overwhelming.
"My children are now 17, 12, ten and eight, so we had to deal with SEA last year and we have to next year again. Remember the children were at home for two years prior, with challenges of online learning... My 17-year-old was preparing for CXC then too, and 2020 year was the final year of my degree...It was very overwhelming, because I was at home with them, and in addition to my day duties, I had to provide lunch, snacks, and although my husband is hands-on, I was the one who had to physically supervise all of them during online classes. My mom-in-law helped where she could...I can look back now and say, 'wow, I got through that!'"
She said the pandemic forced people "to face our demons because we had no choice but to look at what’s in front of us," bringing the issue of mental health to the fore. With women being forced to take on so many responsibilities and expected to do them well, she said the most practical thing for her was to put herself last.
"On my 40th birthday I realised I was losing myself and needed to stop doing that and start therapy and talk to someone who would listen, understand and give me insight into who I am."
She has since discovered one of her greatest desires is to have a positive impact on the people with whom she comes into contact, "even over having money and riches," – something she believes she can achieve through Kingdom Women International.
"Therapy is what our community is all about, in a genuine way, with no ulterior motive."
For more information on The Ultimate Mompreneur Brunch visit https://kelishamills.com/brunch/, email Kelisha Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.instagram.com/kelishamills