One-on-one with our Honourees: Dr Jennifer Riria

10 August 2022

Dr Jennifer Riria is CEO of Echo Network Africa (previously Kenya Women Holding) and has led Kenya Women Microfinance Bank (KWFT) for over two decades. KWFT is Kenya’s largest micro-finance provider and grants loans to marginalised women and their families, working together with leading civil rights organisations.

Through her crucial work, Dr Riria brings economic empowerment to low-income women and is contributing to peacebuilding, even during times of conflict. In 2016 she was recognised with the Oslo Business for Peace Award.

Photo by Olav Heggø

To be businessworthy is to apply one’s business energy ethically and responsibly with the purpose of creating social as well as economic value. How does your work align with these values?

As the Head of Echo Network Africa, I ensure that the strategy that targets touching of lives, enhancing livelihoods, promoting peace, and protecting peace and violations of women’s rights takes a centrepiece. This cannot be achieved without involving the target group which is low-income women, national and county government, and development partners.

How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted your work?

Like any other place on the globe, Echo Network Africa was separated from its target group due to the Ministry of Health protocols against COVID-19. Mobilisation of financial resources that support initiatives that benefit low-income women and their families has drastically reduced, forcing inadequate delivery. Psychologically, it has been torturous to receive news on a daily basis of women and their dying because of covid infections and in particular poor women and their families who cannot afford medical services.

What would you say to other business leaders about how to act as a role model and what to prioritise during these unprecedented times?

First of all, we must never give up. We must continue with our work as much as possible using every possible delivery mechanism. For example, using social media and working with local partners, providing information publicly on how people should socially manage themselves to minimise infections. There is a need to keep in contact with our target groups. Human resources, whether permanent or temporary, who work with us must be supported, advised, and given technical knowledge on how to manage themselves and their families. This may include, and is not limited to, connecting them with health services and access to daily survival needs.

Dr. Jennifer Riria during the 2015 Summit. Photo by Olav Heggø

I have personally experienced and watched women like me and girls suffer social, economic, and political exclusion. My passion has been to engage at levels and initiatives that transform how these systems work.” — Dr Jennifer Riria

What are the top issues you would like to see highlighted in the aftermath of COVID-19?

  1. Families that have broken up due to stress under lockdown.
  2. We must deal with a whole population of teenage girls who on a daily basis have been abused, gotten pregnant, and are out of school.
  3. We need to encourage the government to initiate interventions that will uphold not only businesses that have collapsed, but also initiatives that support the recreation of harmony among family members.
  4. Legal systems in place must change and be sensitive to issues that have destroyed the social fabric.

Is there another Business for Peace Honouree that you look towards for inspiration? Who and why?

All honourees are admirable because of what they stand for as businesspeople and human beings. However, I like to identify myself with Marc Benioff (2020 Honouree). First of all, he lives in the present and uses ICT to deliver and manage his quest. Secondly, he focuses on areas of philanthropy, caring leadership, and strives for quality. Those are tenets for achieving peaceful coexistence in any society.

How do you stay motivated?

All my life, when I know through any action that I take has enabled an individual to benefit their lives and achieve their self-set goals, I sing for joy.

This interview was originally published in Business for Peace Medium.