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Jennifer Riria: Kenya’s foremost female banker

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Kenya can be lauded for making great advances in the banking sector. The most unique and innovative service in the banking sector, however, is women-oriented banking which has changed the lives of women around the country. Women are able to access loans and other financial incentives to build their businesses, take their children to school and empower themselves.

But you cannot talk about women and banking and not mention Dr Jennifer Riria the entrepreneur who has always been on a mission to transform the lives of women and their families in Kenya. Born to a very humble background where she literary walked from home to school on bare feet, she slept in the same room as chicken and goats. The young Jennifer did household chores that other young girls only heard of, she fetched water and firewood, looked after cows and looked after her younger siblings.

Her humble background did not deter her from shining in class; she finished her primary education and joined the prestigious Precious Blood High School in Nairobi. Eyes fixated on a bright future, Jennifer began to study and work her way to success.

At the end of her high school education, she joined Dar-es-salaam University where she graduated with her first degree in Education. Armed with her first degree Jennifer landed a tutor job at Kabete Technical Institute where she taught for six months before joining State House Girls where she taught for a year.

Jennifer then joined the prestigious Leeds University in the UK where she took a post graduate degree in Education Administration and later did her masters degree in Education in the same university. On finishing her studies in the UK, Jennifer returned to Kenya and enrolled at the University of Nairobi for a PhD in Women Education and Development while at the same time teaching on part time basis at Kenyatta University.

Jennifer’s first managerial job was with the Kenya Women Finance Trust. The financial institution was established in 1982. In 1991, Jennifer joined the institution and thus set on a journey that would see her transform the institution to great heights. Jennifer took the role of CEO, accountant, office cleaner and loan officer in the young institution.

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Without proper management and with limited resources, Jennifer had to sit under trees to award loans to women, then she had to travel by public means to meet the institution’s clients. This never deterred Jennifer. Her fighting spirit kept her going and soon enough the institution was on its feet with members and branches all over the country. Under the stewardship of Jennifer, KWFT has empowered many women in Kenya. The organisation was split in 2010 into Kenya Women Microfinance Bank and Kenya Women Holding Limited for which Jennifer is the sitting CEO.

Jennifer is the brains behind the Educate the Net 235 Girls initiative. The programme supports needy girls in their education. Having risen from hardship and made it to who she is today, the programme is very close to Jennifer’s heart. While Jennifer continues to inspire and mentor both the people she works with and those she speaks with every day, she remains committed to her family and a doting grandmother to her grandkids.

For every woman born to a humble background and for every woman who thinks she is limited by her circumstances, Jennifer is proof that with determination, there is nothing too hard to achieve.

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