Dr. Jennifer Riria is the Group CEO of Kenya Women Holding and one of Africa's leading women entrepreneurs who has always been on a mission to transform the lives of women and their families in her native Kenya. She is distinguished microfinance banker, researcher and a leading gender specialist. She has served in many leadership roles for which she has been recognized locally and internationally. In 2013 she was awarded the Ernst & Young (EY) Entrepreneur of the year, East Africa 2013, and subsequently, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2014, at which point she was admitted to EY’s Global Hall of Fame.
Jennifer is a true believer in women’s empowerment through microfinance in Africa so it seems appropriate that Kenya Women Holdingis the only microfinance institution in Kenya that specifically targets women. She imagines microfinance as a tool without limits, not just to create jobs but also to enable women to have education, improved health-care, and even safer cooking methods.
One of the reasons Jennifer is so passionate about microfinance is because she came from a poor background herself. From birth, she struggled to be accepted by her family for being a girl. While she grew up she had to walk over 10km to school everyday. She studied hard and succeeded whenever there was an opportunity. Today she strives to create an easier life for others. You can read read Jennifer's inspiring startup story here, it is a wonderful example of a woman succeeding against all the odds.
About Kenya Women Holding
Kenya Women Holding is a microfinance, banking and insurance group that works with over 900,000 women, employs 2,800 people and since inception has disbursed $1.3bn of loans, each one averaging less than $600. It is Kenya’s largest micro-finance provider working together with many leading civil rights organizations. Kenya Women Holding also coordinates the Tuvuke Initiative for a Peaceful and Fair Electoral Process, which works to prevent violence and create a safer, healthier environment for Kenyan democracy.
“Because, really, the woman is the core. She holds us up. In Africa, you just have to deal with the issues that affect the productivity of women. They bring food to the table. They bring education to the household. They bring medical care in the household. Ask me! I know it. I live among them. That is one of the drivers: my personal zeal. It is essential to support women, if we want to make a difference, if we want to transform the way the world works for them and their families.”
A multi-award winning and internationally respected business leader
Few women in the microfinance world are as recognizable as Jennifer Riria. She has twice been voted Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (East Africa and Kenya respectively in 2013 and 2014) and was honoured as a Ford Foundation “Champion of Democracy.” Jennifer was also the first female Board Member of the Nairobi Stock Exchange and the Chair of Post Office Savings Bank for four years. She is currently the chair of Women’s World Banking’s Board of Trustees.
About the 100 Lionesses Project
100 Lionesses is an ongoing project to identify and celebrate 100 extraordinary African women whose example serves to motivate and inspire a belief in all of us that we can pursue our personal entrepreneurial dreams and make them a reality. These are the women entrepreneurs fundamentally changing the business landscape of Africa. Women who are building companies and brands that are leaders in their fields. Women who are breaking the mould and turning key industry sectors on their heads with fresh approaches to doing business. Women who are leading new innovations in technology fields. Women who are creating highly desirable products the world wants to own. And, women who are making the world a better place through their change-making social enterprises. Even more impressive is the fact that these women, at the top of their own games, have never lost sight of the need to send the elevator down to the next generation of women entrepreneurs who aspire to follow in their footsteps. Each of our '100 Lionesses' has demonstrated that in the world of women's entrepreneurship in Africa, everything is possible if you have a dream, are prepared to work hard to achieve it, and have a never-give-up attitude to life and business. We are honoured to tell the stories of these women and celebrate their achievements in the 100 Lionesses Project. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa