A business leader empowering Kenya's women

Group Chief Executive of Kenya Women Holding

Country: Kenya

Sector: Non-profit Micro-finance

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 as a microfinance banker and practitioner, researcher and 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.

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. 

Jennifer Riria.jpg

Follow Jennifer:

Jennifer's Startup Story 

Jennifer’s story starts in a Kenyan village where she was born the fourth child and fourth daughter in a family of 10 children. Her father worked and lived off the garden and although the family was poor, there were other family members who were even poorer living with them. Each day she would walk the 4km to school in her bare feet, washing out her school dress each night. Her life consisted of schoolwork by day and doing her daily chores in the evening, fetching water, looking after the cows, chopping firewood, helping to cook and looking after the babies. That was her life. She performed well in primary school and, as a result, was offered a place at the prestigious Precious Blood High School in Nairobi which was 700km away from home. She saw it as an opportunity to get on in life and was determined to attend the school, despite her parents being opposed to the idea. She embarked upon her high school career, boarding a bus and carrying only her clean underwear and a clean handkerchief. At the end of high school, however, Jennifer found herself pregnant and a mother, to which her father objected strongly. She did not let her situation stop her education, and with her child went on to study at 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. On her return to Nairobi, she commenced work on her PhD, taking as her theme a subject close to her heart – women, education and development.... 

Read more about Jennifer's startup story →

In the world of entrepreneurship and social impact, Dr Jennifer Riria is a real inspiration. She not only steered her own personal path through adversity at a young age, but she went on to tackle a major socio-economic challenge in her native Kenya, as a result empowering hundreds of thousands of women in the process. She is proof positive of the power of the individual to make a difference in the world. Jennifer, we at LoA salute you. --- Melanie Hawken, LoA founder and editor-in-chief



Kenya Women Holding was born with the delivery of “the double bottom line that it must meet social and financial goals” as its guiding principle.

“Over 60 per cent of Kenyans do not have a bank account, and we are ahead of the rest of Africa. For Africa to develop its potential, financial inclusion is a priority."

“Women in Africa do not need charity to finance the issue. Control of the resources that they create is the issue, and respect in the financial sector is the issue.”


Entrepreneur Advice



Social Impact

Awards & Accolades

Jennifer's awards and honours include:

  • 2016, Jennifer Riria wins the 2016 Oslo Business for Peace Award
  • 2014, Jennifer is named EY Entrepreneur of the Year
  • 2014, Jennifer is inducted into EY’s Entrepreneur Global Hall of Fame
  • 2013, Jennifer is awarded the EY Entrepreneur of the year, East Africa
  • 2012, Kenya Women Holding wins a Ford Foundation Champions of Democracy Award
  • Jennifer is currently the Chairperson of Women’s World Banking
  • Jennifer is the Chairperson of TUVUKE Initiative for Peaceful and Fair Electoral Process in Kenya
  • Jennifer is a Member of the Global Leadership Council of Women and Girls Lead Global
  • Jennifer is a distinguished recipient of the Ford Foundation’s “Champion of Democracy” award for her roles both as a leader of the TUVUKE Initiative and as Group CEO of Kenya Women Finance Trust
  • Jennifer is awarded “Warrior” status by the Marketing Society of Kenya
  • Jennifer was elected the first female Board Member of the Nairobi Stock Exchange and the Chair of Post Office Savings Bank for four years