Wangari Maathai was a pioneer. The first female African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, her Green Belt Movement, launched in 1977, was ahead of its time in integrating sustainable development with women’s rights. The organization now has branches in 30 countries, promoting action on climate change, community regeneration, and equal opportunity. To date, the Green Belt Movement has planted over 45 million trees across Kenya to combat deforestation, stop soil erosion, and generate income for women and their families.
Wangari Maathai was a humanitarian. She fought the vicious cycle of environmental degradation and poverty. Poor families struggling to meet their own needs often have to strip their own environment for resources, but when those resources disappear, families have an even harder time making a living—and even fewer chances to create a better future. Maathai understood this and worked to ensure that her efforts to conserve the land also led to employment and empowerment among the most vulnerable people.
Wangari Maathai was a peacemaker. The Nobel Committee awarded her its 2004 Peace Prize in recognition of the fact that proper management of natural resources reduces conflict and is critical to peace and stability. Her Nobel citation does not even mention the word “environment,” instead crediting “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.”
While today we mourn Wangari Maathai’s passing, we also celebrate her life and her indelible impact on the world. We too can make a difference if we follow in her footsteps to never give up on protecting our future.