PERSONALITY OF THE WEEK: Jennifer Riria - Daily Nation

Riria: There is no worrying crisis among boys

Thursday January 18 2018

Jennifer Riria

Jennifer Riria PHOTO | COURTESY

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What is the role of Kenya Women Holding?
We aim to empower, advocate for rights and position women, youth and people living with disabilities through our programmes, which include capacity building, education and mentorship, peace building and health awareness. The aim is to create a society that is equitable, fair and just.

What is the secret of your staying power in this profession for so long?
Honesty, hard work, vision and the desire to drive change. Remaining resolute about every quest that I have taken up have been key to my success and contribution to the financial realm in the country and beyond.

What are your notable milestones as a woman leader in the corporate world?
I am an institution builder. I have participated in building the Kenya Women Micro-finance Bank (KWFT) and Kenya Women Holding, which is the mother company of the bank.

I also participated in building Women’s World Banking (a non-profit global organisation that provides strategic support, technical assistance and information to financial institutions targeting women), moving it from an NGO to a global development institution.

Through KWFT, we have been able to improve the economic status of more than 4 million women and their families across 45 counties in Kenya. These are the main achievements from which I draw consummate fulfilment and pride.

How different is the Kenyan corporate scene today from when you first started working?

In the past, women were totally excluded from the economic sector. Once, I went to a well-known banker to request for a loan facility for women. The banker dismissed me, saying that his bank could not work with women. It was really frustrating.

This has changed over the past two decades, with many women now holding managerial positions and company leadership. Also, many institutions having packages for their women clientele.

While we have made major strides, the current gender representation is still not equitable. We are far from achieving equality in the work place. It is sad that the constitutional order of two-thirds gender rule has not been responded to with enough enthusiasm. Stakeholders must be proactive to see to it that this requirement is met soon.

Why has the response to the constitutional demand of two-thirds gender rule been so sluggish?

We must appreciate that there have been many intervention conferences and meetings to discuss how to achieve gender balance and women inclusion.

Unfortunately, we tend to cling to an old and timeworn mentality that does not recognise or appreciate women leadership. We must make a deliberate effort to move beyond this juncture. We also need political goodwill, where politics serve the interests of the people, not politicians. The time is ripe for change.

If you were a politician in Kenya today, what three things would you do?
I would strongly advocate for the rights and needs of all special groups, such as women, the youth and people living with disabilities, by promoting strict adherence to the Constitution. Secondly, I would take a firmer approach in the fight against corruption as this bleeds our country so much.

Lastly, I would ensure that environmental matters are given a priority. A clean environment leads to a healthy nation. The biggest problem is that our enforcement agencies are either frustrated in their work or compromised. We have the laws in place but enforcement is poor.

Lately, it seems girls have been shining while boys falter on various fronts. Should this trend raise a red flag?  
There is no worrying crisis among the boys. Boys are still way ahead in many aspects when you compare them with girls. That said, our society should focus on uplifting every child – boys and girls alike. Girls have been far behind for centuries, which is why there are many interventions towards their inclusion.

What would you change about your professional life if you had the chance? I am content with all the decisions I have made throughout my career, and their results.

Is the corporate world as boring and inflexible as many youths tend to imagine?
It is fully understandable that the youth want to work in a more laidback setting, to innovate and use technology more as opposed to the traditional methods of doing things.

Impatient as they are, young people sometimes fail to appreciate, for instance, why the procurement process takes two months and not two days. But some processes such as this are sensitive and must be closely scrutinised to eliminate risks.

The youth, however, deserve a chance to adopt and adapt to the corporate culture, and change it to their taste from within. There is no boredom once you get used to the system.

Besides Kenya Women Holding, where else have you worked?
I was part of the team that set up Jitegemee Trust Limited, a wholesale microfinance institution. I have also worked with the Women’s World Banking.

Besides these roles, I have served on numerous boards, including at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), then Nairobi Stock Exchange, where I was the first woman board member, Post Bank and the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), where I led policy to provide universal healthcare insurance.

I have also delivered entrepreneurship and gender issue lectures in a number of universities in Kenya.

What sort of books do you read?  
I read financial management books, motivational books and Christian books. Currently, I am reading The Real Life MBA by Jack Welch. Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach and When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein are in the queue. I also read the Bible daily.

What is your most important investment tip? Just one thing – identify and invest in your passion.