It is a great honor for me to accept the appointment of Distinguished Chair of the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi. I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Muta Maathai, the ‘woman of trees’, who left a legacy which I will strive to uphold.
“Persistence, patience and commitment.” These words of the late Professor echo the core tenants of the Wangari Maathai Institute and remind us that we should not be overwhelmed by the enormity of challenges we are facing Africa is indeed Ground Zero of the climate crisis. But the real story on climate adaptation in Africa is a story of resilience, of responsibility, of solidarity, of opportunities for a safer, greener, more prosperous continent.
The challenge is formidable. But I am here because I believe that adaptation is not only possible; it is a prescription for growth, for opportunity, for jobs, and for poverty alleviation. It was here in Kenya that I had the privilege of seeing how people are already mobilizing to respond to the climate emergency. I saw how a sand dam – a simple, practical, and cost-effective solution to water management – sustains 6,000 households and three schools. Where there were previously only rocks and a dry riverbed there are now trees and kitchen gardens – and a brighter future. These solutions exist but must be rapidly scaled to ensure that there is no one left behind.
As Distinguished Chair, I accept the responsibility not only to support WMI’s vision to anchor Kenya’s position as the center of innovation and excellence for the environment, but to amplify the vital role this institute can play in supporting Africa’s journey towards a resilient and prosperous future.
In accepting the appointment, I want to lay out three key markers that will guide me in this role over the coming years.
The first is on engaging with youth. Africa is the continent with the youngest population on the planet. An inclusive transformation must start with giving Africa’s youth the opportunity to learn, and to translate knowledge into practice. The Global Center on Adaptation places the younger generation of entrepreneurs and innovators at the center of adaptation through its programs, exemplified through GCA’s partnership with the University of Nairobi which aims to leverage new and innovative ideas, especially in the digital space, to help climate proof Kenya’s transition to a more resilient future.
The second is on convening leaders and experts – not just from academia, but from the political, technical, and financial spheres – at the Wangari Maathai Institute to debate, inform, and influence adaptation issues in Africa, strengthening the links between and within the global community on adaptation. Adaptation requires local solutions but until we stand together, we will not see ourselves through the great storm of the climate crisis.
And finally, the third is on identifying and fertilizing solutions that can drive adaptation action at scale. GCA’s programs under the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program, all of which prioritize the need to leverage, finance, and scale nature for adaptation, will co-create initiatives in the areas of food security, resilient infrastructure, youth and adaptation jobs, and climate finance, with the Wangari Maathai Institute.
I am determined and I am committed. The Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies was established to honor an inspirational Kenyan leader who was tireless in leading climate and environmental action in this country. I will aspire to follow faithfully her path, and in so doing honor her memory and raise the profile of this extraordinary institute.