Wangari Maathai was the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. She authored four books: The Green Belt MovementUnbowed: A MemoirThe Challenge for Africa; and Replenishing the Earth. As well as having been featured in a number of books, she and the Green Belt Movement were the subject of a documentary film, Taking Root: the Vision of Wangari Maathai (Marlboro Productions, 2008). 

Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya (Africa), in 1940. She obtained a degree in Biological Sciences from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas (1964), a Master of Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1966), and pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi, before obtaining a Ph.D. (1971) from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Professor Maathai became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region. 

Professor Maathai was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya (1976–1987) and was its chairman (1981–1987). In 1976, while she was serving in the National Council of Women, Professor Maathai introduced the idea of community-based tree planting. She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organisation, the Green Belt Movement (GBM), whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. 

Professor Maathai was internationally acknowledged for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation, and served on the board of many organisations. She addressed the UN on a number of occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly during the five-year review of the Earth Summit. She served on the Commission for Global Governance and the Commission on the Future. 

Professor Maathai represented the Tetu constituency in Kenya’s parliament (2002–2007), and served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya’s ninth parliament (2003–2007). In 2005, she was appointed Goodwill Ambassador to the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem by the eleven Heads of State in the Congo region. The following year, 2006, she founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative with her sister laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams, and Mairead Corrigan. In 2007, Professor Maathai was invited to be co-chair of the Congo Basin Fund, an initiative by the British and the Norwegian governments to help protect the Congo forests.

In recognition of her deep commitment to the environment, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General named Professor Maathai a UN Messenger of Peace in December 2009, with a focus on the environment and climate change. In 2010 she was appointed to the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group: a panel of political leaders, business people and activists established with the aim to galvanise worldwide support for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Also in 2010, Professor Maathai became a trustee of the Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust, established to safeguard the public land for whose protection she had fought for almost twenty years. That same year, in partnership with the University of Nairobi, she founded the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies (WMI). The WMI will bring together academic research—e.g. in land use, forestry, agriculture, resource-based conflicts, and peace studies—with the Green Belt Movement approach and members of the organisation. 

Professor Maathai died on 25 September 2011 at the age of 71 after a battle with ovarian cancer. Memorial ceremonies were held in Kenya, New York, San Francisco, and London. 

  • Click here for a list of awards, achievements, and professional affiliations.
  • Click here to read some of Professor Maathai’s key speeches and articles.
  • Click here for Professor Maathai’s statement on the AIDS crisis in Africa.

Awards, Achievements, and Professional Affiliations


Date of Birth: April 1, 1940 
Deceased: September 25, 2011
Place of Birth: Nyeri, Kenya
Nationality: Kenyan
Family: Three children (Waweru, Wanjira, and Muta) and two grandchildren (Ruth Wangari and Elsa Wanjiru)


Ph.D., Anatomy, University of Nairobi (1971)
M.S., Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, USA (1966)
B.S., Biology, Mount St. Scholastica College, USA (1964)

Personal Achievements

Founder and Coordinator, the Green Belt Movement (1977–2002)
Chair of the Board, the Green Belt Movement (2002-2011)
UN Messenger of Peace (2009–2011)
Co-Chair, Congo Basin Forest Fund (2007–2011)
Goodwill Ambassador, Congo Basin Forest Initiative (2005–2011)
Presiding Officer, Economic Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC) (2005–2007)
Founding Chair, the Green Belt Movement International (2005)
Assistant Minister, Environment, Republic of Kenya (2003–2005)
Member of Parliament, Tetu Constituency, Republic of Kenya (2002–2007)
Founding member, GROOTS International (1985)
Director, Kenya Red Cross (1973–1980)

Academic Appointments

Dorothy McCluskey Visiting Fellow for Conservation, Yale University, USA (2002)
Montgomery Fellow, Dartmouth College, USA (2001)
Endowed Chair in Gender & Women’s Studies named “Fuller-Maathai,” Connecticut College (2000)
Associate Professor, Department of Veterinary Anatomy, University of Nairobi (1977)
Chair, Department of Veterinary Anatomy, University of Nairobi (1976)

Professional Affiliations

Board Member, Prince Albert of Monaco Foundation, Monaco
Board Member, the Oslo Award, Norway
Board Member, the Chirac Foundation, France
Board Member, Discovery Channel’s Planet Green, USA
Board Member, the Congo Basin Forest Fund, Tunisia
Board Member, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Norway
Jury Member, Goldman Environmental Prize, USA
Paul Harris Fellow, Rotary International, USA
Advisory Board, Clinton Global Initiative, USA
Fellow 2004, Yale McCluskey Fellowship, USA
Member, Yale Leadership Council, USA
Member, UN Commission on Global Governance, USA
Member, Advisory Board, Democracy Coalition Project, USA
Member, Earth Charter Commission, USA
Selection Committee, Sasakawa Environmental PrizeUnited Nations Environment Programme, Kenya
Board Member, World Learning USA
Board Member, Green Cross International
Board Member, the WorldWIDE Network of Women in Environmental Work, USA

Honorary Degrees

Honorary Doctorate Degree, Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan (2010)
Doctor of Humane Letters, Meredith College, USA (2009)
Doctor of Science, Egerton University, Kenya (2007)
Doctor of Public Service Honoris Causa, University of Pittsburgh, USA (2006)
Doctor of Humane Letters, Connecticut College, USA (2006)
Doctor of Science, Morehouse College, USA (2006)
Doctor of Science, Ochanomizu University, Japan (2005)
Doctor of Science, Willamette University, USA (2005)
Doctor of Science, University of Nairobi, Kenya (2005)
Doctor of Science, Soka University, Japan (2004)
Doctor of Science, Aoyama Gakuin University, Japan (2004)
Doctor of Law, Yale University, USA (2004)
Doctor of Agriculture, University of Norway (1997)
Doctor of Science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, USA (1994)
Doctor of Law, Williams College, USA (1990)


2010: Earth Hall of Fame, Kyoto (Japan)
2009: Humanity 4 Water Award for Outstanding Commitment 2 Action
2009: The Order of the Rising Sun, Japan
2009: Judge, 2009 Geotourism Challenge, National Geographic, USA
2009: NAACP Chairman’s Award, USA
2008: Dignitas Humana Award, St John’s School of Theology, USA
2008: Cinema Verite, Honorary President, France
2008: Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)Honorary Fellowship, UK 
2007: The Nelson Mandela Award for Health & Human Rights, South Africa 
2007: The Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, India 
2007: Cross of the Order of St Benedict, Benedictine College, Kansas, USA 
2007: World Citizenship AwardWorld Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts
2006: The Indira Gandhi International Award for Peace, Disarmament & Development, India 
2006: Premio Defensa Medio Ambiente, Club Internacional De Prensa, Spain
2006: 6th in 100 Greatest Eco-Heroes of All Time, The Environment Agency, UK
2006: Medal for Distinguished Achievement, University of Pennsylvania, USA
2006: Woman of Achievement Award from the American Biographical Institute Inc., USA
2006: The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Milele (Lifetime) Achievement Award
2006: Legion D’Honneur, Government of France
2006: The IAIA Global Environment AwardInternational Association for Impact Assessment, Norway
2006: Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund Award, USA
2006: World Citizenship Award
2005: New York Women’s Century Award, New York Women’s Foundation, USA
2005: One of the 100 Most Influential People in the World: Time magazine, USA
2005: One of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World: Forbes magazine, USA
2004: Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Norway
2004: Sophie Prizethe Sophie Foundation, Norway
2004: Elder of the Golden Heart, Republic of Kenya 
2004: Petra Kelly Environment PrizeHeinrich Boell Foundation, Germany
2004: J. Sterling Morton AwardArbor Day Foundation, USA
2004: Conservation Scientist Award, Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, Columbia University, USA
2003: Elder of the Burning Spear, Republic of Kenya 
2003: WANGO Environment AwardWorld Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, USA
2002: Outstanding Vision and Commitment Award, Bridges to Community, USA
2001: Excellence Award, Kenyan Community Abroad, USA
2001: The Juliet Hollister Award, Temple of Understanding, USA
1997: One of 100 in the World Who’ve Made a Difference in the Environment: Earth Times, USA
1995: International Women’s Hall of Fame, International Women’s Forum Leadership Foundation, USA
1994: The Order of the Golden Ark Award, the Netherlands
1993: The Jane Addams Leadership Award, Jane Addams Conference, USA
1993: The Edinburgh Medal, Medical Research Council, Scotland
1991: The Hunger Project’s Africa Prize for Leadership, United Nations, USA
1991: Global 500 Hall of Fame: United Nations Environment Programme, USA
1991: The Goldman Environmental Prize, the Goldman Foundation, USA
1990: The Offeramus Medal, Benedictine College, USA
1989: Women of the World Award, WomenAid, UK
1988: The Windstar Award for the Environment, Windstar Foundation, USA
1986: Better World Society Award, USA
1984: Right Livelihood Award, Sweden
1983: Woman of the Year Award