“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, Unbowed
The life of Wangari Maathai (1940–2011) was one of firsts and many parts. She was the first woman in east and central Africa to earn a PhD; the first in Kenya to chair a university department, and the first African woman and first environmentalist to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004). She was a fearless speaker of truth to power, a grassroots activist, founder of the Green Belt Movement, and a defender of democracy. She was also an environmentalist, scientist, parliamentarian, elder, peacemaker, mentor, mother, and grandmother.
Since her untimely death in 2011, the causes Maathai championed, the issues she highlighted, the visionary ways she thought and worked, and the values she embodied have only become more urgent and necessary as the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis deepens. The forests and watersheds she fought to protect; the community engagement and resilience she supported; the local action she championed; and the democratic space and peace she advocated for—the protection and promotion of all these is essential if we are to limit the increase in Earth’s temperature to 1.5°C by 2050.
The Wangari Maathai Legacy Prize
To honour and promote Maathai’s legacy and recognize emerging voices who echo, amplify, and expand on Maathai’s vision, a partnership of organizations led by the Wangari Maathai Foundation in Nairobi has established a U.S. $10,000 prize, along with dedicated mentoring and leadership and strategy development opportunities for the winner. The Wangari Maathai Legacy Prize will be awarded for the first time in 2022 to a young climate or environmental activist who has demonstrated a commitment to the core values that animated Wangari’s work and life. The prize is being launched in 2021 to acknowledge the decade since Maathai’s passing and the crucial decade we are in, which will be determinative of the nature of life on Earth for generations to come.
The winner will be someone who works on behalf of an organization, community(ies), or movement(s) in the areas of: climate justice; forest, watershed, and biodiversity protection; girls’ and women’s empowerment; democratic space and peace-building; and community resilience and grassroots action. The winner will have demonstrated a commitment to the core values that animated Maathai’s work and life: love for the environment; local action; gratitude and respect for Earth’s resources; self-empowerment and self-betterment; and the spirit of service and volunteerism.
Nomination and Judgment
Applicants for the prize should be nominated in writing with supplemental material (video, images, CV, etc., if necessary) by two individuals with professional and personal knowledge of the applicant, describing the applicant’s activities, values system, and what they might do with the award. The judges—who will be members of the sponsoring organizations and their global networks—welcome applications from the global South, marginalized or underserved communities, and the grassroots. Nominees who do not win the prize may be independently acknowledged by the judges, and may apply the following year.