Photo shows Cécile Ndjebet receiving the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity in Lisbon on July 19, 2023. Credit: Supplied

Homeward Bound Busara Circle member Cécile Ndjebet is a joint winner of the prestigious Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity which celebrates global climate action and solutions that inspire hope.

The activist and agronomist from Cameroon was one of three inspiring individuals who received the award this month in Lisbon, Portugal, in recognition of their leadership restoring and protecting vital ecosystems: forests, landscapes and mangroves.

She told the ceremony that winning the award means “more engagement in restoring African forests.”

“To my fellow rural women and myself, greening – planting trees and restoring ecosystems – is a solution to adapting to climate change, improve livelihood and provide food security, as well as gain back valuable ecosystem services,” she said at the ceremony.

The Prize winners (from left to right): Cécile Ndjebet; customary community leader from Indonesia, Bandi “Apai Janggut”; environmentalist, designer and scenographer from Brazil, Lélia Wanick Salgado. Credit: Supplied

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, based in Portugal, promotes the development of individuals and organisations, through art, science, education, and charity, for a more equitable and sustainable society.

The foundation’s Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity rewards individuals and organisations who are leading society’s efforts to tackle the single biggest challenge facing humanity today: climate change.

It was first awarded in 2020.  Previous winners include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

With an annual award of 1 million euro, the Prize funding has been used to support people facing the worst impacts of climate change and help scale climate solutions.

“The prize will be used to support rural women and girls to restore forests and mangrove restoration efforts, and also development initiatives and capacity building in leadership and negotiation to access decision making structures and improve their influence in their environment,” Cécile Ndjebet said at the ceremony.

“Together let’s make my dream of a green world with rural women a reality.”

Photo (from left to right): António Feijó, President of the Board of Trustees, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation; Cécile Ndjebet; Bandi “Apai Janggut”; Lélia Wanick Salgado; former Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel;

Customary community leader from Indonesia, Bandi “Apai Janggut”, and environmentalist, designer and scenographer from Brazil, Lélia Wanick Salgado, also received the 2023 award.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Jury, chaired by the former Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, selected the three individuals out of 143 nominations from 55 countries.

All of the winners received the award for their work to protect land for the benefit of local communities. 

Cécile Ndjebet has spent three decades advocating for gender equality and community rights to forests and natural resources.

She is leading efforts to influence policy on gender equality in forest management across 20 African countries; is an active member of the UN Women Major Group and well-known advocate for women’s land rights within various global women’s networks. 

Her work includes mobilising rural women in planting trees for forests and mangrove restoration in Africa – and has restored 650 hectares of degraded land to date.

“My love of forests started in my childhood, growing up with my mother and my elder sister who were both subsistence farmers living off their agricultural activities and forest product,” she told the ceremony.

“From childhood I witnessed the challenges that rural women in the villages were facing daily. This experience prompted me to support rural women and to protect the forests.”

She told the award ceremony a meeting with the late Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Prize winner Professor Wangarai Matthai in 2009 “changed (her) professional life”.

“This … was a trigger for my commitment to reforestation and conservation, the fight against illegal logging and the fight for women’s rights on land and forests.”

The Homeward Bound Busara Circle use their wisdom and experience to mentor program participants. Read more about Cécile Ndjebet and her work in this Homeward Bound article.

Read about the winners of the Gulbankian Prize for Humanity.

Watch the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity award ceremony (Cécile Ndjebet’s speech is from 58:00:00).