Dr Jennifer Riria is a true believer in women’s empowerment through entrepreneurship. The Kenya Women Finance Trust CEO has helped transform the microcredit industry in the country in order to tangibly improve the lives of women
She is recognised as a reputable woman who has built a name because of her belief in socio-enterprise. Dr Jennifer Riria is a woman wearing multiple hats and yet, manages to juggle everything else immaculately. Her exploits in other facets of life have endeared her big time to be a fervent micro-financier, peace activist, researcher and gender specialist. She is the Group Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Women Finance Trust.
Sitting down with this banker, one gets the feeling of an individual poised for the top given her unrivaled ambition. That Dr Riria is passionate about her work is an understatement, she literally breathes it. Her life has been dictated by nothing, but hardwork devoid of shortcuts. The fourth born in a family of 10 learned from a tender age how to be independent and focused.
One of the reasons Jennifer is so passionate about micro-finance is because she came from a poor background . “Growing up, I learnt a lot from my mother because she was a go-getter. She is my role model, my rock and my mentor. She encouraged me to believe in myself,” she reminisces.
Dr Riria saw the struggle her mother and other women from her village went through; working on the farm, carrying firewood and a baby at the back, being abused and beaten by their husbands.This made her pursue a steady course for women and sustenance in their endeavours because at the time, they were hugely marginalised.
She attended Precious Blood High School before joining the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, where she obtained a scholarship, after which she went on to study for her prestigious masters degree at the University of Leeds in the UK. The mother of three daughters sought to change the mindset of the ideology of struggling women and begin to make them believe and appreciate empowerment.
“Women are a resourceful lot who can always fend for themselves. Gone are the days when they would solely depend on their spouses,” she adds. Her mission to transform the livelihoods of others has made her a respectable name and has also earned her numerous accolades while at it.
No peace, no development
Dr Riria’s role as a peace driver stems from her belief that no development without peace. She has been involved in numerous campaigns alongside other organisations to drive that point home and as such has gained acclaim from far and wide.
Recently, she earned the prestigious Oslo Peace Award for her efforts in leading 16 civil societies in addressing peace and harmony before, during and after the 2013 national polls. She was then leading Tuvuke Initiative. “Peace can come at a prize, but in its best form, it is a catalyst of greater things,” she adds.
When all is said and done, the proud grandmother of six would love to leave a steady imprint and impact to society. In the post election violence, she managed to bring on board three girls from Mai Mahiu into her educational project.
“I’m happy that I played a role alongside my staff in making a difference in those disadvantaged girls’ lives,” she says. She considers herself having a larger extended family, (women). She got inspired particularly by the belief that it matters who is touched other than by oneself and hence the need to share and care in equal measure.
She strongly contends that the women economy is a shift. “I recognise women as great actors and with new technology to ease work, we can only go further. Whichever format applied, women can now begin to appreciate their input in society,’’ she opines. Despite her busy schedule, she makes time for her family who she describes as “an important component’’.