Dr. Joy Kiiru
Senior Lecturer at the School of Economics, University of Nairobi
Economist Dr. Joy Kiiru walks through life with her eyes and arms wide open. We get to most of life’s destinations, she explains, “Partly by chance and partly by choice.” From having an engaged kindergarten teacher who to this day the renowned economist still checks in with. To finding herself studying Economics when all the other courses she was interested in were full. To her husband taking the primary responsibility of raising their baby when she got accepted into a masters program in Malawi. To being able to take her family to Germany as she pursued her PhD. Her life is marked by moments filled with good fortune and her own determination to achieve her goals.
Her kindergarten teacher was formative in instilling the curiosity and zest for life and academia that Dr. Kiiru still embodies today. She laughingly recounts going to university and expressing doubt to her old teacher about pursuing a Bachelor of Arts instead of Science.
She recalls the response was quick, “Joy, I have never heard of a bad degree.” A reminder, once again, to view moments in life with a type of tenacity and general positivity that seems to mark her entire life journey.
Studying economics was key to Dr. Kiiru understanding the world, and studying philosophy was key to understanding people. Economics laid out the set of rules that society is governed by and philosophy illuminated the important distinction between opinion and fact. It was perhaps her background in philosophy that led her to focus on impact evaluation studies. She continually stresses the importance of checking in with the effectiveness and outcome of any solution to a community.
For three years Dr. Kiiru was the director of communications for the Association for the Advancement of African Women Economist (AAAWE) where mentorship of women economists was the foremost goal. “I have been so privileged in my journey,” she explains, “and there are so many women who just need to be told that it is possible.” She considers women who may be driven to quit their academics because they have children, or maybe not enough funding or simply lack of support at home and stops to emphasise that they need to know, “You have got it in you.”
Gender also impacts her work with her joint projects with the African Women Studies Center (AWSC) where they research issues in the context of how they affect the African woman. She suggests that the discoveries from their research should in fact be used to shape policy as the experience of the African woman is wholly unique and needs to be considered carefully. Her goal in her work is, much like her kindergarten teacher, to have a lasting positive impact.