Wangari Muta Maathai
Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya. She studied biology for her bachelor’s and obtained a PhD in Veterinary Anatomy from the University of Nairobi in 1971, thereby becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to hold a PhD. In 1976, Maathai became head of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Nairobi. In her role as Chairperson of the National Women Council, Maathai introduced community-based tree planting and founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM) which aimed to reduce poverty and conserve the environment. GBM has planted over 51 million trees. In 1991, she was awarded the Africa Prize for Leadership for her work.
Maathai served in many positions including Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya in 2003-2007 and UN Commission for Global Governance. In 2006, Maathai co-founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative with other female Nobel Laureates to promote women empowerment and drive peace. In recognition for her work, Maathai was named UN Messenger of Peace in 2009. In 2010, she founded the now named Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi. Maathai passed away the following year, 2011, from ovarian cancer.