Mathai speaks at the Global Scholars Symposium in 2013
|Alma mater||Hobart & William Smith |
|Employer||Carter Center |
World Resources Institute
Green Belt Movement
Wanjira Mathai (born December 1971) is a Kenyan environmentalist and activist. She is Vice President and Regional Director for Africa at the World Resources Institute. She was selected as one of the 100 Most Influential Africans by New African Magazine in 2018.
Early life and education
Mathai was a student at State House Girls' High School in Nairobi, and after she completed high school she moved to New York City to attend Hobart and William Smith College. Here she majored in biology and graduated in 1994. She received a Masters in Public Health and in Business Administration from Emory University. After graduating Mathai joined the Carter Center where she worked on disease control. Here she learned about diseases that impacted African communities such as Dracunculiasis, Onchocerciasis and Lymphatic filariasis.
Research and career
Mathai serves on the World Future Council and on the board of the Green Belt Movement. The Green Belt Movement was founded by Mathai's mother Wanjira in 1977. Mathai served as Director of the Green Belt Movement from 2002 and later was made Executive Director of the international organisation. Here she led fundraising programmes and international affairs. She realised that women were more responsive when the Green Belt Movement called for people to help planting trees. She has said that her work in planting trees, also called agroforestry, was inspired her by mother's environmental work. After her mother won the Nobel Peace Prize, Mathai accompanied her on a world tour.
Mathai serves as senior advisor of the Partnerships for Women Entrepreneurs in Renewables (wPOWER). wPOWER promotes women in renewable energy leadership in an effort to bring renewables to almost four million women in East Africa. To Mathai, women's engagement with renewable energy is one of economic empowerment, fulfilling several of the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite the modernisation occurring in Kenya, women still spend several hours a day collecting firewood, and half of all deaths in children under 5 years old occur due to household air pollution. Mathai serves on the advisory board of the Clean Cooking Alliance.
She serves on the Board of Trustees of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Since 2016 Mathai has served as Chair person of the Wangari Maathai Foundation. The foundation looks to advance the legacy of Wangari Maathai by promoting a culture of purpose with young people serving as leaders. When asked of her work with the foundation, Mathai responded "I am not living in my mother’s Shadow, I am basking in her light...". The foundation has three priorities: maintaining Wangari Muta Maathai House, leadership training for children (Wanakesho) and a fellowship for young people. In 2018 Mathai was selected as one of the 100 Most Influential Africans by New African Magazine, as well as the Top Influential African Women by the African Leadership University.
As of December 2019 Mathai has served as Vice President and Regional Director for Africa at World Resources Institute. In this capacity Mathai convinced the Kenyan Environment Minister Judi Wakhungu to commit to restoring 12.6 million acres of land by 2030, building on her mother's environmental activism legacy. This is part of AFR100, which Mathai oversees, an initiative to restore over 100 million hectares of land by 2030.
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