Kenya Women Finance Trust CEO, Dr. Jennifer Riria is representing East Africa in the Ernest and Young’s internationally acclaimed Entrepreneur Awards being held in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Dr Riria will represent the region alongside other regional master category winners from 140 cities in over 50 countries across the world
Dr. Riria is confident that a win for her will be a win for the thousands of women in Kenya who have made KWFT the biggest microfinance institution in the region.
“I am excited to have been recognized by EY as East African Entrepreneur of the Year. The news of my nomination in the Master Category amongst very competitive entrepreneurs was humbling. It has been a fulfilling journey to see women actualizing their dreams through the services provided by KWFT. I dedicate this award to the women of East Africa and as I head to Monte Carlo, I look forward to representing entrepreneurs in East Africa and in particular the women.”
Dr. Riria will be up against the world’s leading entrepreneurs whose mission is not just to make billions in profit but more importantly, enterprises that are making a positive, wide-scale impact in the livelihoods of people. But it’s a challenge she is up to, she says.
“In my 23 years at KWFT, I have faced a lot of challenges. I have had to overcome institutional and personal challenges, but I always choose to see challenges as pearls in the making,” says Dr. Riria.
Growing up in rural Kenya, Riria had to overcome extreme poverty at home and rejection in the family as the seventh daughter when the parents were hoping for a boy child.
“These early childhood hardships shaped my resolve to make a difference, not just in my life but also in the lives of other people.”
Dr. Riria has a long record of turning challenges to success stories. She was brought in to steer KWFT in 1993 from the brink of insolvency and through institutional changes and sheer hardwork, she turned the fortunes of the women-first Microfinance institution into a multi-billion deposit-taking bank employing 2,400 staff spread in 236 offices across 45 counties.
As of 2013, KWFT had assets of 21 billion and Loan book of Sh14.5 billion and deposits of Sh13.2 billion with over 1 million customer accounts, constituting 61.7 percent of the Microfinance industry in Kenya.
It has been a long journey for the CEO but one filled with joy and satisfaction of seeing over 800,000 families impacted by the unique and innovative initiatives created by KWFT. The microfinance institution has encouraged the culture of saving within women groups which form the basic business units and also act at guarantors for loans issued by KWFT.
“We deliberately decided to work with the poor and marginalized in both urban and rural communities. Our focus has been to help women create solutions to the everyday issues they face through innovation,” explains Dr. Riria.
KWFT has helped set up several income generating projects run by women in different parts of the country including initiatives to improve health care, access to water, affordable clean energy, goat farming, aquaculture among other community-based projects.
Dr. Riria will be the second Kenyan to scoop the awards after Equity’s Dr. James Mwangi if she wins but it will be not the first global recognition. She has been awarded and recognized by both local and international bodies including Ford Foundation, Heritage Business Leader, Marketing Society of Kenya and is the chair of the Women’s World Banking, a network of micro financial institutions serving low income families in 40 countries.
In addition to the EY awards, the program in Monaco includes a series of keynote speeches, panel discussions and other events of special interest to entrepreneurs and other influential business leaders in attendance, including EY World Entrepreneurs Of The Year alumni.
Key note addresses will be made by speakers including one of the most successful figures in world football, Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United; Muhammad Yunus, Founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 2006; Martha Stewart, Founder and Chair of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia; Eric Wahl, number one best-selling author, entrepreneur and internationally recognized artist and Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO, Chobani Inc. and winner of EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2013.
Key themes covered during the event will include emerging markets, natural resources and energy, big data, contributing to the society, educating the workforce of the future, private equity and family business.