Meet the Laureates
Meet the Laureates

Wangari Maathai – Kenya 2004, Founding Member

Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her actions to promote sustainable development, democracy and peace and was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  She passed away in September of 2011.

The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Professor Maathai was an active member of the National Council of Women of Kenya from 1976 to 1987 and served as its chairman from 1981 to 1987. In 1976 she introduced the idea of community-based tree planting. She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organization whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. The organization eventually became known as the Green Belt Movement (GBM), and to-date has assisted women in planting more than 40 million trees on community lands including farms, schools and church compounds.

In December 2002, Professor Maathai was elected to Kenya's parliament with an overwhelming 98 percent of the vote. Until 2007, she represented the Tetu constituency, Nyeri district in central Kenya (her home region). From 2003 to 2007 Professor Maathai served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resourcesin Kenya's ninth parliament.

In September 1998, Professor Maathai launched and become co-chair of the Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign, which advocates for canceling the debts of poor African countries. Her campaign against land grabbing (illegal appropriation of public lands by developers) and the rapacious re-allocation of forest land received much attention in Kenya and the region.

In June of 2008 the Congo Basin Forest Fund was launched. The fund protects the forests of the Congo Basin by supporting projects that make the forest worth more as a living resource, than it would be cut down.  Professor Maathai acted as co-chair and goodwill ambassador for the initiative.

Professor Maathai addressed the United Nations on several occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly for the five-year review of the 1992 Earth Summit. In March 2005, she was elected as the first president of the African Union's Economic, Social and Cultural Council.

She authored four books; an autobiography, Unbowed, and an explanation of her organizational method, The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience.  The Challenge for Africa and Replenishing the Earth were both released in 2010.

Nobel Peace Prize

The Greenbelt Movement


The Greenbelt Movement: Sharing the Approach and Experience (2003)

Unbowed: A Memoir (2007)

Flight of the Hummingbird: Parable of the Environment (2008 with Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas and the Dalai Lama)

Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World (2010)

The Challenge for Africa (2010)

Statements & Media

Click here for archival media and statements from Wangari Maathai.


"Those of us who witness the degraded state of the environment and the suffering that comes with it cannot afford to be complacent. We continue to be restless. If we really carry the burden, we are driven to action. We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!" -- Wangari Maathai



wangari video taking root thumbnail

Video: Wangari speaks about how planting trees led to social change in this trailer for the documentary called ‘Taking Root’.


It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.

In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace.

We can work together for a better world with men and women of goodwill, those who radiate the intrinsic goodness of humankind.

It is important to nurture any new ideas and initiatives which can make a difference for Africa.

We are very fond of blaming the poor for destroying the environment. But often it is the powerful, including governments, that are responsible.

We need to promote development that does not destroy our environment. African women in general need to know that it’s OK for them to be the way they are – to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.

I am working to make sure we don’t only protect the environment, we also improve governance.