By Prudence Minayo
Dr. Jennifer Riria re-defined Micro-finance in Kenya. Taking over the helm of Kenya Women Financial Trust (KWFT) at its worst, she transformed it into the leading women’s lending institution in the country. The Micro-finance institution has offered loans to women amounting to billions of shillings over the years. Dr Riria is the current Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Women Holding.
Background and Education
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Dr. Jennifer Riria was born the fourth child in a family of ten children. Her family was not well off but they managed to survive through farming and even had other poor relatives living with them. She trek 4 km everyday to school and in the evening would go back home to perform house chores.
Jennifer successfully completed her primary school education and was admitted at Precious Blood High School in Riruta. This was followed by a Bachelor’s degree at Dar es Salaam University and a scholarship for a Masters degree at the prestigious University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.
Upon returning to Kenya, she pursued a PHD at Kenyatta University.
After her bachelor’s degree, she taught at Kabete Technical Institute for six months before proceeding to become a teacher at Statehouse Girls. She then traveled out of the country for further studies.
Upon returning to the country, she worked as a part-time lecturer at Kenyatta University where she was pursuing her doctorate.
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In 1991, she joined Kenya Women Financial Trust (KWFT). At the time, the institution was a complete mess and she had to work as receptionist, loan officer, janitor, accountant and CEO.
“I was the loan officer, I was the accountant; I was the auditor, I was everything. But I knew what poverty means; I knew what hunger means; I knew this women,” she said.
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She worked hard to stabilize the institution which is currently a leading micro-finance in the country. Owing to her leadership skills, the organization won the first Women’s World Banking Excellence in Leadership Award in 2011.
In 2010, it was split into two: Kenya Women Micro-finance Bank and Kenya Women Holding. She is the incumbent CEO of the holding company.
Apart from the micro-finance, she has served in various leadership roles including:
- Chairperson of TUVUKE Initiative, which advocates for peaceful and fair elections in Kenya.
- Board member of Jitegemee Trust Limited, a Micro-finance.
- Board Member at the Nairobi Stock Exchange.
- Chair of Women’s World Banking
In 2013, she was awarded the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, East Africa. She received the same award in 2014 and was inducted into Ernst and Young’s Global Hall of Fame.
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