Three remarkable Gates Cambridge Scholars have won this year's Bill Gates Sr. Prize for outstanding research and leadership
For the first time three Gates Cambridge Scholars are sharing this year’s Bill Gates Sr. Prize in recognition of their outstanding research and social leadership.
Kim van Daalen, Reetika Subramanian and Cynthia Okoye have been selected for the prize which was established by the Gates Cambridge Trustees in June 2012 in recognition of the late Bill Gates Sr.’s role in establishing the Gates Cambridge Scholarships, being a Trustee and engaging with, and inspiring, many generations of Gates Cambridge Scholars.
The award, announced at the graduation dinner on Friday, allows Scholars to recognise the impact and contribution to the Scholar community of one of their peers, with particular reference to the Scholarship’s selection criteria. Scholars are asked to nominate a fellow Scholar for the Award by completing a statement about why that Scholar would be a suitable recipient. Selection was on the basis of how well the nominated candidates met the selection criteria while in residence in Cambridge. It is the 10th time the award has been presented since Rajiv Chowdhury , now Professor and Chair of Global Health at Florida International University, won it in 2013. On five of the previous occasions it has been shared by two scholars, but never before by three.
Kim van Daalen
Kim van Daalen  is doing a PhD in Public Health and Primary Care. She was nominated not only for her outstanding research, but her wider activism for global health.
Her research on the intersections of planetary health, global health and gender inequity has been published in over 30 papers in journals such as the Lancet Planetary Health, Lancet Public Health, Lancet and BMJ Global Health and she has been working with policy makers and multilateral organisations to write six technical reports identifying health risks and directly informing policy makers. In several of these research projects, she has led international teams of junior scientists to generate new primary datasets, such as a project on gender representation in World Health Assemblies between 1948 and 2021 and a project on the gender and geographic representation of 591 journal editorial boards in occupational, public and environmental health.
She has also helped to build relationships that have led to new initiatives and data resulting in the establishment of the Lancet Countdown in Europe. As a result, she will be the first author of a Lancet Public Health paper co-authored by 43 experts on climate change and health in Europe (to be published in October).
Whilst pursuing her PhD, Kim co-founded and was President of Students for Global Health Cambridge (with over 60 organising members across six committees) focusing on the improvement of global health through project development, advocacy and capacity building, and co-founded and was president of Healthy Planet Cambridge which aims to educate and advocate on the intersections between the environment and human health.
In the Gates Cambridge community, Kim was co-director of the Learning for Purpose programme and re-designed the way it is organised. She also co-led the Girls in STEM programme and is a regular volunteer for a local initiative addressing food poverty in Cambridge, being involved in preparing and delivering meals to those in need and raising funds to sustain the cause.
Kim has also been actively involved in graduate and undergraduate teaching, has been a World Bank research consultant, a Norwegian Red Cross research associate, a research coordinator for the NGO Women in Global Health (leading 17 junior researchers) and is still a research consultant for the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change (coordinating a network of 43 researchers).
One of her nominators said: “The reason Kim is able to achieve so much is precisely because she pursues research that seeks to improve the lives of others: when Kim speaks of the need to reveal and address the causes of health inequities, others listen, and we are inspired to action. It is this strength and purity of Kim’s mission that empowers her to lead other researchers to a degree that is truly exceptional at her stage of career…If this is what Kim can do during a pandemic, who knows what she will achieve in her bright future as a Gates Cambridge alumna? I can imagine no better representative of the Gates Cambridge values than Kim van Daalen.”
Another said simply: “Kim is all-around outstanding and keeps being a source of inspiration and motivation for many of us, both academically and personally. She is selfless and never vocal about her achievements, which is why I feel even more strongly about nominating her for the prestigious Bill Gates Sr. Prize. I am, and will always be, in awe of her and I know without a doubt that she will change the world.”
Reetika Subramanian  is doing a PhD in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies. She was nominated for her impactful approaches to research, storytelling, and working collaboratively with people and her deep commitment to social change and social justice.
Her PhD tackles gender violence and the climate crisis, work that has assumed greater relevance amid the Covid-19 pandemic, as several communities living in ecologically vulnerable pockets have further been pushed to the brink of collapse.
In a bid to respond to the burgeoning crises, and bridge the gap between theory and advocacy, Reetika set up ‘Climate Brides’ to develop an accessible, critical and evidence-based understanding of forced and early marriages in fragile climate hotspots of South Asia. Using narrative stories, illustrations and a podcast series, the multimedia project is advocating for the inclusion of girlhood in public dialogues and scholarship on both gender and the climate catastrophe. The project has been awarded the University’s Public Engagement Starter Fund 2021.
Reetika, a journalist by training, is also active in translating her research to public engagement in various forms. She co-created a comic book, ‘Raindrop in the Drought’ on the life and work of Godavari Dange, a farmer and feminist leader in the drought-affected Marathwada region. Shortlisted from a global pool of 200+ applications, the comic book was awarded the ‘Movements and Moments: Feminist Generations 2020-21’ grant from Goethe-Institut Indonesia and has been featured across different national media and global exhibitions. In addition to being accessed by local farmer collectives and women’s groups, the district collectorate helped distribute 5,000 copies of the book across government-run schools. The comic format transcended gender, literacy, and linguistic barriers.
Over the years, Reetika has been invited to share her work on various regional and international platforms, including the Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2021, Women’s Edition South Asia Webinar 2021 (organised by Population Reference Bureau), South Asia Social Norms Learning Collaborative 2022, Environmental Displacement and Migration Conference 2022 and the upcoming Frequencies Festival 2022 in Berlin, among others.
At Cambridge, Reetika has supervised undergraduate students in gender, labour and media studies and also co-convenes the Grammars of Marriage and Desire research network that is supported by the Cambridge Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Over the past year, the network has hosted fortnightly seminars with leading academics, folk artists, advocates, activists from the Global South, to reflect on one of the oldest and most contested institutions in the world – marriage. In addition, Reetika is also very active in the Gates Cambridge community. She was Editor-in-Chief of The Scholar Magazine 2019-20 and is the current Community Officer of the Gates Cambridge Scholars Council.
One of her nominators said: “Reetika embodies all of the criteria for this award. Upon starting as Gates Cambridge Scholars together, I have consistently found Reetika to be a role model in community-engaged, deeply thoughtful and impactful approaches to research, storytelling and working collaboratively with people.”
Cynthia Okoye  is doing a PhD in Pharmacology. She was nominated for her outstanding research and her leadership in promoting Africans in STEM.
Her research is expanding the scope of targeted protein degradation by developing molecules to hijack yet-to-be-explored cellular degradation enzymes. So far it has resulted in two co-first-author manuscripts. Her preliminary findings have formed the basis of a master’s project and she has contributed to the training and supervision of the student undertaking the project. She has presented her work at scientific conferences, including the 2021 Protein Society Symposium (virtual), 2020 PROTACs and Beyond (London), 2019 Targeting the Ubiquitin Proteasome Pathway II (London) and 2019 Protein-Protein Interactions (Leeds). She was awarded the Fitzwilliam Senior Scholarship in recognition of her research progress.
Cynthia is also an active member of the African Society of Cambridge University (ASCU) in which she served as Communications Officer in 2018-19, and as Co-President in 2020-21. As Co-President, she coordinated the 2021 edition of the society’s annual flagship conference and pioneered the ASCU mentorship programme in collaboration with Africa of Our Dream Initiative (AODI). The formal establishment of the programme was in response to her findings that Africans make up just two percent of the international students at Cambridge. The mentorship programme provides guidance and support on the Cambridge application process for postgraduate applicants from Africa.
Cynthia was instrumental in setting up and facilitating the core team, reading mentee applications, matching 100+ mentees to mentors, organising general information sessions with panellists from the Cambridge community, raising funds to cover the application fees of 20 mentees with financial hardship and serving as a mentor herself. So far, over a dozen mentees have received admission offers and two have received full scholarships worth over £250,000. Cynthia has also been a mentor on other programmes such as the BMGA Fellows Programme, the Black Girl STEM Mentorship programme and the 2021 Experience Postgrad Life Sciences programme and works as a session leader with the Cambridge Admissions Office where she occasionally delivers taster sessions to A-level students aspiring to attend university.
Cynthia is a co-founding team member of Africans in STEM (AIS), an organisation established in 2019 to highlight scientific contributions by Africans. As such she has coordinated financial records, applied for successful grants from organisations such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, facilitated partnerships with other organisations and departments, designed the AIS website and publicity materials and managed the social media platforms.
Cynthia has also been a member of her department’s Equality and Diversity Committee, where she co-led a book club on social issues topics and organised several events including a Black Women Scientists panel for Black History Month, and an LGBTQ+ Spotlight Panel for LGBT History Month.
In 2021, she was recognised by the Protein Society with a Diversity Award for her contributions to widening participation efforts in the scientific community.
*Pictured are right to left: Cynthia, Kim, Reetika, Professor Everitt and Trustee Dr Mimi Gates.