African Luminary Wanjira Mathai Is 2023 Soka Global Citizen Award Winner and Commencement Speaker

March 16, 2023
Wanjira Mathai smiles. She has short hair and long, dangly red earrings.

Soka University of America has named Wanjira Mathai recipient of the 2023 Soka Global Citizen Award for her decades of advocating for social and environmental change on both local and international platforms. Mathai, who is frequently named one of Africa’s most influential women, will also be the keynote speaker at SUA’s 2023 commencement ceremony on May 26 in the Soka Performing Arts Center.

Mathai’s mother, late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Wangari Maathai, was a world-renowned activist who founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots environmental movement in Africa. One of Soka’s academic buildings—Maathai Hall—is named after Wangari Maathai, a testament to the global impact of their family’s work to inspire new generations of students, environmentalists, and changemakers. This will mark Mathai’s first visit to SUA; however, she gave the keynote address at Soka’s online World Summit of Educators conference in 2021.

“We are excited to welcome Wanjira Mathai to SUA and have our students learn from her years of experience,” SUA President Edward M. Feasel said. “Both Mathai’s and her mother’s fearless commitment to peace and protecting our planet embody wisdom, courage, and compassion—the essential elements of global citizenship we are striving to cultivate in each student at SUA.”

Mathai is the managing director for Africa and Global Partnerships at the World Resources Institute (WRI). She formerly served as vice president and regional director for Africa, co-chair of WRI’s Global Restoration Council, and as a senior advisor to the Global Restoration Initiative. She is also the current chair of the Wangari Maathai Foundation and the former chair of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.

An inspiring leader, Mathai has over 20 years of experience advocating for social and environmental change on both local and international platforms. Over the years, Mathai has also served important strategic and advocacy roles raising the prominence and visibility of global issues such as climate change, youth leadership, sustainable energy, and landscape restoration.

The Soka Global Citizen Award, inaugurated by SUA President Feasel in 2021, includes a $25,000 stipend to help continue Mathai’s important work.

Mathai currently serves on the Board of the World Agroforestry Center, as a Leadership Council member of the Clean Cooking Alliance, and a member of the High-Level Group of the Africa-Europe Foundation. She is one of a few Six Seconds EQ Practitioners in Kenya and was named one of the 100 Most Influential African Women in 2018, 2020, and 2021.

Mathai is the third recipient of the Soka Global Citizen Award. The previous winners are Ambassador Andrew Young, a transformational leader on the national and international stage for more than half a century, and Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, the former under-secretary-general and high representative of the United Nations, and founder of the Global Movement for the Culture of Peace.