Wangari Muta Maathai (1940-2011), winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, is recognized around the globe for her dedication to environmental conservation, human rights and democracy. She is best-known as the founding organizer of the Greenbelt Movement in Kenya, a grassroots organization that promotes community-based tree planting as a means of reducing poverty and conserving the environment. In 1986, the Greenbelt Movement launched the Pan African Green Belt Network, expanding the community-based tree planting philosophy and methods to several other African nations. Through these efforts, Maathai has helped women plant more than 40 million trees on local farms and the grounds of schools and churches.
A native of Kenya, Dr. Maathai had a noteworthy academic career, becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree (University of Nairobi, 1971) and the first woman in the region to become a department chair (Department of Veterinary Anatomy) and an associate professor in the mid 1970s, also at the University of Nairobi.
She was an active member of the National Council of Women in Kenya from 1976 through 1987, and served as its chair for several years. In the late 1990s, she co-chaired the Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign, seeking cancellation of debt for African countries and also worked to draw international attention to the need to protect forests from land grabbing schemes that led to destructive land-clearing projects. Her efforts attracted international attention and she was invited to speak at many and various United Nations' meetings.
In 2002, Maathai was elected to Kenya's Parliament, representing her Central Kenya home district. From 2003 to 2007, she served as the Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya's ninth Parliament.
In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Maathai has received numerous other awards and honors from international environmental and humanitarian organizations and from several national governments, as well as a number of honorary degrees from universities around the world.