Wangari Muta Maathai

Wangari Muta Maathai (1 April 1940 – 25 September 2011) was a Kenyan biologist and an environmental and political activist. She was educated in the United States at Mount St. Scholastica College and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the University of Nairobi in Kenya where she later served as a professor. In the 1970s, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women's rights. In 1986, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, and in 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for "her contribution to Sustainable Development, Democracy and Peace". Maathai was an elected member of the Kenyan Parliament and served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources (between January 2003 and November 2005). Furthermore she was an Honorary Councilor of the World Future Council.

She was a member of the Nairobi branch of the Kenya Red Cross Society, becoming its director in 1973. She was a member of the Kenya Association of University Women. Following the establishment of the Environment Liaison Centre in 1974, Maathai was asked to be a member of the local board, eventually becoming the chair of the board. The Environment Liaison Centre worked to promote the participation of non-governmental organizations in the work of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), whose headquarters was established in Nairobi following the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972. Maathai also joined the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK).

In 2012, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests CPF, an international consortium of 14 organizations, secretariats and institutions working on international forest issues, launched the inaugural Wangari Maathai Award to honour and commemorate an extraordinary woman who championed forest issues around the world.

“Although I was a highly educated woman, it did not seem odd to me to work with my hands, often with my knees on the ground, alongside rural woman. Some politicians and others in the 1980s and 1990s ridiculed me for doing so. But I had no problem with it, and the rural women both accepted and appreciated that I was working with them to improve their lives and the environment. After all, I was a child of the same soil. Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and we should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don't need a diploma to plant a tree.”

Wangari Muta Maathai – “Unbowed”, pp. 137–138