This International Women's Day, I would like to remember and celebrate the work of Professor Wangari Muta Maathai EBS, Africa’s first female Nobel Laureate. A professor of veterinary anatomy, she was honoured as an Elder of the Burning Spear, a pioneering environmental and political activist, and a fierce advocate for women's rights and democracy everywhere. Throughout her life, research and politics, and in her defence of the environment and of social rights, Wangari showed us what real conviction to create a better world means. Wangari worked on a principle that each of us, no matter how small, can make a difference. This is a philosophy we saw in her life, and one I often think of and hope to replicate. When the time came a few years ago for my organisation to create a new award recognising African excellence in research, I was naturally drawn towards her. Now, at a time when climate action is a pressing issue and we need evermore robust democracy worldwide, Wangari Maathai's example is as relevant as it has always been.
Dr Shakir Mohamed is a scientist and engineer in the fields of statistical machine learning and artificial intelligence. Shakir’s research builds pathways from principles to products, sometimes working on methods in applied statistics and other times on applications in healthcare and environment. Shakir is a senior staff scientist at DeepMind in London, and a founder and trustee of a non-profit organisation, the Deep Learning Indaba. Shakir joined the Royal Society's Diversity Committee in 2020, and writes, organises and acts to support the critical work of transformation and diversity in our sciences.