In our segment of #KenyaWomenSeries, we feature, Lorraine Kirigia. A lady whose life embodies what it means to reset one’s life. At 40 years, she finally aligned her personality with her purpose, and when she did, there was no stopping. She has turned her passion for celebrating life events into business and is the Chief Visionary Officer of Epic Lorraine Life Events (ELLE). She believes she has a calling, to be of service to the community. She is also an avid reader and the incoming President of the Rotary Club of Karen.
“For the longest time, I struggled to find my purpose. I tried a hand at many things. In 2021, I turned 40years. My prayer was this would be my year to reap. Then on January 8th, I lost a very close friend, and it threw our lives into indescribable pain. From this pain, ELLE was born, after a week of many plans to give our loved one a befitting send-off.
A few friends from the corporate world sat me down in my best friend’s backyard. “It is time to do events for a living. It is who you are,” they said. These expert ladies wrote a list of things I do so well; organizing epic events, bringing people together whether for business, social, or for a worthy cause- it all comes effortlessly to me. After experimenting with different names looking at my key strengths, ELLE was born, complete with a strategy.
In February 2021, we registered it and in March we did our first event as ELLE; a charity memorial golf in honour of our friend who passed away in January. It was a resounding success! We have since held Mother’s Day in May for mums in heaven in partnership with Stanbic Bank, Father’s day in June in partnership with Safaricom, July we had Pan African Women’s Day, and just this past week, we hosted a four-day webinar with amazing speakers as we marked the International Youth Week. My biggest wins are having so many people participate in our events and having big brands endorse our events.
1. Currently you serve as the President-Elect of the Rotary Club of Karen (June 2022). Tell us your experience serving in the Rotary club, some of the biggest lessons you have learnt, projects you have been part of and what members of the Rotary Club of Karen should expect from you as the president once you assume office.
Giving back to the community has been at the core of who I am. It is where I find my greatest joy. In 2007 I registered Xmas Torch; an organization that treats and gifts the less privileged, persons with disabilities, those living with HIV & AIDS, and the orphaned children to a Christmas party. Since its inception, we have gifted over 5,000 children countrywide.
A friend who knows my passion for giving invited me to attend a Rotary meeting in 2017 and I completely fell in love with their motto of Service above Self. I was hooked and since then I have served in different roles at my club, The Rotary Club of Karen. I am honoured to be the incoming President.
One of my greatest experiences as a Rotarian was during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. We embarked on a mission to help the surrounding community. We visited the Gataka Village in Karen intending to donate water tanks for hand washing as one way of maintaining hygiene to reduce the Covid-19 transmission. An elderly woman asked us some very pertinent questions. “Well done for bringing us water tanks how kind of you, but have you brought the water with you? Do you know how much I buy a litre of water? So will I buy water to wash my hands or maize flour to feed my grandchildren?” She asked.
Before we left the village, we bought food for her and a few others. Later, we mobilized the club and shopped for over 100 families within that community. As givers, it is very easy to assume you know what the community needs. This experience emphasized the importance of always carrying out a needs assessment.
As the incoming President, I plan to use my networking skills and contacts to bring together the business community around us as a club to implement impactful projects around us. We would love to have many business owners join Rotary so we can do more collaboratively.
2. You are a firm believer in celebrating life events. Tell us why you are so passionate about this.
I resonate with this quote by BJ Neblett. “We are the sum of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And like a flowing river, those same experiences and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us is the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.”
I based the ELLE philosophy firmly on the cycle of life. We host memorable events that celebrate, honour or mark significant life moments. We do Bursary Fund Management where we help organizations manage their bursary funds by ensuring needy children access education, mentorship among other benefits.
During reunions, the empowered beneficiaries meet and look back on their lives. They celebrate their successes and keep the cycle of life running. The mentees become mentors and give back that which they receive. These we call Look Back events. Reunions aren’t necessarily just for bursary recipients. In 2020, we organized a 50-year reunion for a class that was celebrating 50 years since they joined the Medical School at the University of Nairobi.
3. What are some ways that COVID-19 pandemic has affected the business community? And how can people partner with you?
COVID-19 has forced us to reset, stop and sit still. I look at the partnerships ELLE has had, for example, they were all purely based on the Ubuntu spirit. We had no numbers to promise these big corporates as a return on investment. Our first two events were purely emotional events- Mother’s and Father’s day. They were all about these companies reminding the country that they care; they feel their pain and are here to celebrate this significant day with them.
ELLE is focusing on celebrating days in the calendar that are marked globally. We do it in unique ways and are open to partner with you not just to celebrate the day but to show why it is significant and worth celebrating if at all.
4. Drawing from your personal experience, please tell us what role each of the following has played in your career journey.
a). Confidence and Networking.
I started my career selling insurance at a time when insurance sales agents were no one’s favourite. To sell insurance as a young girl from Meru County meant relying heavily on referrals. I am who I am today thanks to this experience. It built my confidence and made me learn to approach anyone, the worst thing a person can tell you is No.
I treasure relationships and I have kept the same networks for over 20 years. The best way this has played out was when I was planning the 2021 International Youth Week. Each day we had different keynote speakers and a minimum of three panellists. Everyone keeps asking me how I did it. Well, I went back to my networks who referred me to different people and made it happen which has now expanded my networks even further!
b). Collaborations and taking risks.
I am a firm believer in co-elevation and collaboration because none of us can succeed alone. There’s power in unity. Unfortunately, most collaborations are not authentic. We fail because of the mentality; what is in it for me moneywise? My advice is that with each collaboration look at what each partner’s strength /value is beyond money.
For example, for the longest time what I could put on the table wasn’t monetary, it was my skills and networks. I have had some successful outcomes with those who appreciated this, and we built amazing things together. It has also meant having to walk away from many other opportunities. Since ELLE was born, I have had amazing collaborations that have left a significant impact on people’s lives.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a book I love. My favourite quote in the book is “When you want something the entire universe conspires to help you.” It is not enough to just dream, be that which you want to be and that means taking risks. I have taken enormous risks in life. Sometimes it pays off but even when it doesn’t there is always a lesson; it’s a win-win.
5. If you were to choose the two most important values that you live by and keep you grounded and shape the way you work and live, what would they be and why?
Dependability. I don’t take on anything I can’t give my full attention to. I give my all to people and things I love. You can always count on me 100%.
Visionary. I am the type of person who could be watching something on TV or reading a book and get an AHA moment, and I will spontaneously act on it. This explains why my title is the Chief Visionary Officer of ELLE. I carry the vision which means it comes through me to inspire me but also others. I visualize and dream bigger.
6. As an avid reader, which is your favourite book, and what are some of its nuggets that apply to the Kenyan professional woman?
I have several favorites. Two of them compete for the absolute favourite position. The Outlier is one but when narrowed to one book it has to be; How to Win Friends and Influence People. It gives fundamental tools of how to deal with people which is key in our lives both professionally and socially. My biggest lesson in this book remains the need to be genuinely interested in other people. I live by this and it has gotten me to be where and who I am today.
Any parting shot?
This has been a year full of mixed feelings. I have had way too many losses (death) people I love and care about or friends of loved ones. But I also took a risk and started ELLE. Recently, I came across this powerful read and it sums it all about where I am.
Follow your Bliss by Joseph Campbell.
“Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss and they open the doors to you. I say follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn't have opened for anyone else.”