From Suits to Seedlings: Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr’s Green Revolution in Freetown


At Bios, we celebrate champions of a greener planet, and Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the visionary Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, perfectly embodies that spirit. Her story is a testament to the power of one person to create a positive change and inspire others.


A heart rooted in home and a passion for change

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr’s story is one of unexpected change. For over 25 years, she thrived in the world of finance. But her heart always belonged to her homeland, Sierra Leone.

This love for Sierra Leone fueled her activism even long before becoming Mayor. She campaigned against the “blood diamond” trade and in 1999, co-founded the Sierra Leone War Trust to support disadvantaged youth. Her dedication to public service began during the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, where she led planning efforts at the National Ebola Response Centre (earning her an OBE)

A defining moment came in 2017 when a devastating landslide struck Freetown, claiming over 1,141 lives. This disaster triggered by days of torrential rain and linked to the loss of millions of trees due to rapid development, deeply affected Aki-Sawyerr. Witnessing this, she knew she had to act.

Bios Urn Blog: Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: Freetown’s Trailblazing Tree-Planting Mayor Inspiring Future Female Leaders

Freetown City Council


Planting seeds of hope in Freetown

Taking office in May 2018, Aki-Sawyerr immediately addressed Freetown’s environmental challenges. Recognizing the critical need for sustainability, she launched the #FreetownTheTreeTown campaign in 2020. This initiative went beyond simply planting trees; it aimed to empower the local community.

The “tree steward” program made residents active participants. By caring for trees and mangroves, they could earn income through tokens sold on private and carbon markets. This program not only made Freetown greener but also fostered a sense of ownership and responsibility within the community. Having recently been re-elected for a second term in February 2023, Aki-Sawyerr has the opportunity to continue building on this impressive progress.

Bios Urn Blog: Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: Freetown’s Trailblazing Tree-Planting Mayor Inspiring Future Female Leaders

The Sierra Leone Telegraph


Breaking barriers and inspiring women

While the goal of planting one million trees by 2022 fell short, over 600,000 seedlings found a home in Freetown, with a survival rate exceeding 80%. This success story resonated globally. The project became a finalist for the Earthshot Prize and Aki-Sawyerr was featured in prestigious lists like Time100 Next and the BBC 100 Women. She even shared her experience and insights at the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP28). 

However, Aki-Sawyerr’s impact goes beyond beyond planting trees. Her election as Mayor, especially in a country with significant gender inequality, serves as a beacon of hope for young girls and women in Sierra Leone. Seeing a woman excel in such a prominent role has inspired countless young girls to believe they too can achieve anything.

Bios Urn Blog: Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: Freetown’s Trailblazing Tree-Planting Mayor Inspiring Future Female Leaders

Freetown City Council


Empowering the next generation

Deeply committed to empowering future female leaders, Aki-Sawyerr established the YAS Girls Leadership Foundation in January 2022. This initiative reflects her dedication to supporting young girls as they navigate challenges and chase their dreams. Aki-Sawyerr’s legacy extends beyond Freetown’s borders. She is nurturing a generation of empowered young women who aspire to lead and create positive change. 

Just like Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement that has planted millions of trees, is another inspiring woman who created a groundbreaking environmental movement.


Have you heard of Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr and her story? We would love to hear from you in the Comments section below!

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