Dr Jennifer Riria –  Group CEO, Kenya Women Holding, Nairobi, Kenya

Words of Wisdom: “Africa women need to unite, support each other. We need to put women into leadership positions.” ” Mothers are responsible to tell sons that they are important, but they must respect women as well!”- Dr. Jennifer Riria

Interview with Dr. Jennifer Riria –  Group CEO, Kenya Women Holding, Nairobi, Kenya

Dr. Jennifer Riria –  Group CEO, Kenya Women Holding, Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya Women Holding, recently created from Kenya Women FinanceTrust, the largest Microfinance company in Kenya and in Africa south of the Sahara.

KWH has just received an award as the fastest growing microfinance institution, best managed microfinance institution and the best growing microfinance institution which was recognized in New York in spring 2011

Dr. Riria has made history. Not only did she take Kenya Women Holding Trust from two million in uncollectable loans when she joined the organization in 1991, but she has led Kenya Women Finance Trust through a successful transformation process that culminated in the institution being awarded a deposit taking license by Central Bank of Kenya in April, 2010.

Within six months after receiving the license, the institutional operation broke even and recorded a profit of 415 million Kenya Shillings before tax. Kenya Women is the first regulated microfinance to break even and continue building capacity to serve more women and their families in Kenya and in the regions. Working with over 500,000 clients, disbursing 13.5 billion in 2010 and maintaining a repayment of 96% is not a small undertaking for a newly transformed institution.

Now KWFT is two institutions. KWFT Microfinance, a Deposit Taking Microfinance regulated by Central Bank and KWH a non-financial services institution with a mission to empower, position and advocate for women

In such situations, leadership is key! With 200 offices around the country and 2,000 individuals working together having open communication is pinnacle to its success.

Dr. Riria sits on various boards and has received numerous awards for her work in the microfinance sector.

Dr. Jennifer Riria YouTube promo video (approx. 2 min.)

Suzanne F Stevens’ Episode Perspective Blog: From Competition to Collaboration

Kenya Women Holding website: http://kenyawomen.org/

Dr Jennifer Riria –  Group CEO, Kenya Women Holding, Nairobi, Kenya

Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version above. Please comment on the site, we want to hear your wisdom!

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: KWFT (Kenya Women Finance Trust) market and strategy:

[ Dr Jennifer Riria ]:

  • Market: We work with low income families whether regulated or not
  • We offer type of products that add value to the women’s life and products – that empower women.
  • We require social collateral. We use social collateral, as everyone is responsible to the members of a particular team
  • We use group lending, as this is a natural to our culture and it is important in the development of the business.  It is critical for the small loans we give.
  • Women save together although it is less then 10%
  • Some women start their business with $200. Because their business has grown, they now require more of a loan to expand; now they borrow $2,000 or $3000, we provide individual loans to them.
  • We have group loans and individual loans
  • We also grow with the women that started small and continue to grow their business.

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: Ultimate Success?

[ Dr Jennifer Riria ]: We have proven Women are bankable. That you can invest in women and they can be trusted to pay back and grow their business.

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: Who or What did you turn to when you hit obstacles?

[ Dr Jennifer Riria ]:

  1. God – he has a purpose for me and I need to live it. I changed careers because I knew my purpose should have even more impact than it was having.  That gave me inner strength
  2. Board of Directors of women – They are very supportive. They are always there for me. I have their pictures hanging in every corridor of our building.
  3. Staff – my team looks at itself as a family. We all have a passion and that passion from them pushed me.

[ Suzanne F Stevens ]: Did you ever want to quite?

[ Dr Jennifer Riria ]:

Once after an annual general meeting.  KWFT is  a membership organization and therefore everyone receives a vote. During that meeting women made a lot of noise, some screamed at me. I worked for them, but they didn’t show any appreciation. I wondered if it was worth it. The next day I was out kicking again, along side them.

[ Suzanne ]: Have you seen Micro-finance fail?

[ Dr Riria ]:

  1. You need to have passion. Leadership is so key in micro-finance. People who care about what their clients need.
  2. Politics and micro-finance don’t mix.
  3. Need skill in lending, collecting, training, the pushing people to succeed and pay their loan
  4. Lending requires you to understanding the kind of person you are lending to, and for them to understanding you. You must believe in what that person does, and be in touch with them consistently.

Biggest obstacles for women who want to start their own business

  1. Perceptions and living in a patriarchal society. By observing society you are encouraged to create ‘getto businesses’ – business that are not high flying. Not big business. This is small business and therefore you have a little collateral to invest in a bigger business. The getto businesses don’t have the money to invest in the research that is required. When they get to the bank, there are more obstacles – doubt and capability is questioned. Women are breaking through these barriers in the top three businesses.
  2. Barriers include:
    • Lack of money
    • Lack of big ideas
    • Lack of conviction
    • Lack of passion
  3. Women are restricted are constricted to other markets
  4. Skill to produce quality products & Services.

This is changing in Kenya today, however this is a problem around the world.

What would help create those big ideas?

  1. Domestication is important, the solution ICT (information Communication Technology).
  2. In terms of knowledge we need skill transfer, connection and upgrading
  3. Women need to think about getting involved in manufacturing – sometimes women are limited by legal knowledge to get involved in manufacturing where monopolies exist.
  4. Women need to connect with other successful women. We need to work together toward a common goal. We are pulled in so many directions. We need to find other ways to link up to women; it doesn’t have to be face to face.
  5. Women need to work together and see each other as resources to escalate their vision.
  6. Women are getting involved invest collectively

How to be sustainable

  1. Grassroots companies – Learn the art of saving. Moving from survival to investing.  There needs to be a committed institution. Women need to be respected as human beings first. They need products that make sense to them. If they get it, and it makes sense they will promote it. Then you think what complements that product. This is where growth will occur.
  2. Growth companies: When business are borrowing $5000 to $10,000 they are still in the service level, but in order to grow they need to get into production and manufacturing.

Personal continued growth?

  • I read a lot
  • I speak a lot so I tend to do a lot of research. I keep updated what is happening globally.
  • Observing my environment is great education.

Where did you learn to lead?

  • Part of you is born with it.
  • You need to take advantage of opportunities.
  • People see something in you and offer you leadership opportunities.
  • When you get into leadership, now you take on more responsibility. You have a position and you need to take it advantage of it.
  • You also know you are there to make a difference. You start working with people to change
  • You start taking care of people so they can take care of me. I need to help them to grow so they will help me grow.
  • You have to see your success in their success.
  • You also need a goal.

What is your leadership style?

1. I need to surround myself with people I like, love them and encourage them,  and we encouraged each other. We were a family.

  • We preached around a prayer table
  • We love each other
  • We have a common goal

2. We all pull together and go the same direction even with 200 offices

As a leader Is there something you can do better then you are now?

I want to ensure that the business is successful without me. I also believe that both KWH and KWFT should be working together cohesively. These are areas I am working on.

Biggest Challenges

  • Is to create a profile for Kenya Women Holding that we are dealing with women empowerment and the common challenges of women at home and with their children.
  • The other challenge is people don’t see me in a non-financial role, however, the biggest issues are beyond finance. Women need skill training, mentorship, leadership creating, school etc. These are the real empowerment for women.
  • This is a challenge to get resources to support these initiatives.

Competition to Collaboration

A real opportunity for Africa –listen to the video or audio to see what will get Africa and the women to the next level in industries

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of you when you push the edge of your comfort zone).

  • Firing staff is the most difficult, but I do it. If they don’t tow the line based on the targets we agreed, I fire them. Although I like them, that is not enough. It has been most uncomfortable, but I need to make people accountable.

Compromise made due to all your success

  • My personal time and my social life was compromised.
  • In my second half of life, which is now, give some time for me – golf, more, spend more time with friends and work out more.

One thing you would do differently?

  • I would love myself more
  • I would take holiday, not be around the office, but a real break
  • I would write more. Now I will create time.

What is next?

Create a leadership youth movement for girls. I would like to get young people connecting from all corners.  Position yourself, be yourself, never give up – I would love to give that message to girls fifteen or sixteen years of age.

What does success mean to you?

Service, commitment to God. Be inline with God’s purpose for your life.  Success is focus and humility. It will be community centered.

What would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?

I would like to be President.

Leadership Lessons from Dr Jennifer Riria

  1. Believe in yourself
  2. As mothers we need to empower men, but teach them to respect the girls
  3. Mentorship is critical, just look for someone who has a vision. Don’t look for a replica of another leader. We need to create the future women leaders.

Reflective Realizations from Dr Jennifer Riria

Q. What advice would you give to your 10 yr. old daughter?

  1. You must to go to school, get a skill that answers a vision that you want to be 20 years from there. Move towards that goal every year.

Q What do you wish you were told at 10yrs?

  • You are great, your are fantastic, you are talented – go get it!

Words of Wisdom by Dr Jennifer Riria

Women need to unite. They need to support each other and we need to put women into leadership positions.





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