Susan Kinyua: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in Kenya

Susan Kinyua, aged 54 and hailing from Meru, Kenya, considers herself fortunate. Despite the societal norms in Kenya that often prioritize the education of men over women, Susan pursued a degree in economics, defying the odds. Her dedication and perseverance have paid off as she was recently awarded the 2024 Harambee Award for the Promotion and Equality of African Women. This recognition comes as a result of her work with the Fanikisha project, meaning “great progress” in Swahili, under the Kianda Foundation. Through this initiative, Susan has empowered over 4,500 women from 90 villages across Kenya with entrepreneurial skills to start their own businesses. Despite leaving her job at Barclays Bank after 12 years, Susan expresses that she has found greater happiness in her current role.

Recognizing the Challenges Faced by Women Entrepreneurs

Susan’s journey was inspired by her desire to share her knowledge and address the issue of illiteracy among rural Kenyan women. She noticed that many women were taking out loans to start businesses but were being deceived by high-interest rates, leading to crippling debt. Additionally, she identified the lack of time as a significant barrier to the advancement of Kenyan businesswomen, as they juggled responsibilities such as childcare, household chores, and work to supplement their family’s income.

Empowering Women of All Ages and Backgrounds

The Fanikisha project primarily targets women aged between 30 and 50, with a significant portion being young women. Susan emphasizes that Kenya is a youthful country, with 60% of the population being under the age of 30. Many of the women participating in the project had to drop out of school due to early pregnancies, carrying with them a burden of challenges. Susan has observed symptoms of depression and stress among her students, prompting her to promote mental health sessions. She herself is pursuing studies to become a psychotherapist.

Diversity and Unity in Business

Despite coming from a Catholic family, Susan takes pride in the diversity of religious backgrounds among the women in her program. Alongside Catholics, there are Protestant Christians, Muslims, and even a few Jews. All of these women own small businesses, ranging from food stalls and beauty salons to clothing stores and vegetable stands. Susan believes that these women must be able to sustain their businesses to achieve self-sufficiency.

Impact and Future Goals

Susan plans to allocate the 10,000 euros from her award, sponsored by the hair care brand Rene Furterer, to the Fanikisha project. This funding will greatly benefit the program, as the cost per participant is 350 euros. Susan emphasizes the importance of providing women with diplomas from the program, as it increases their credibility when accessing microloans, which are essential for business growth.

Changing Perceptions of Africa

Susan challenges the negative stereotypes often associated with Africa, emphasizing the beauty and diversity of Kenya. She acknowledges the country’s challenges but believes in its potential for growth. Susan’s future aspirations revolve around continuing to promote activities that contribute to the development of her country, with a particular focus on empowering women. Her motto, “Kenya, for Kenyan Women,” reflects her commitment to creating opportunities for women to thrive in Kenya.

Through her dedication and passion, Susan Kinyua is making a significant impact on the lives of women in Kenya, paving the way for a more inclusive and prosperous future.