This post was written by Chief Education Officer Vicki Phillips.


Who was the last person who inspired you? And why? What qualities did they have that left an impression?

Inspiration has the ability to transcend limitations—real or perceived—to explore new possibilities, drive us forward and give us hope. In my role as Chief Education Officer at the National Geographic Society, I have the great honor of seeing inspiration come to life through our National Geographic Explorers: leading scientists, researchers, educators and storytellers. They are oceanographers discovering new species in the depths of the sea, climate scientists climbing Mt. Everest to reveal new insights about its shrinking glaciers, educators exploring meaningful ways to connect with learners in a time of global disruption, and thousands more. At any given moment, Explorers are turning their interests into action to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. 

These are the kinds of efforts that inspire and motivate us at the Society, not only because Explorers are making contributions that enrich our lives but because they are passing the torch forward. Today, many of these changemakers are young people who are on the frontlines of the most complex and urgent issues of our time, from climate change and human-wildlife conflict to pervasive inequities among underserved communities. Throughout my career, I have seen first-hand how global challenges can be successfully met by young leaders with the guts, gumption, and relentless pursuit of a dream to make a positive impact in their communities. At the National Geographic Society, we believe these young people are a category all their own.

They are #GenGeo—a global community of young people with empathy, tenacity, unbridled passion and an insatiable drive to seek solutions to build a sustainable future and thriving planet. They’re leading efforts in communities around the world to help shape the conversation, drive progress, inspire hope and action and lead a new age of knowledge, discovery and impact. These young leaders are joining the ranks of the thousands of Explorers who came before them, receiving funding, and finding connections and community with like-minded peers. We are immensely proud to support these young people on their journey, to help elevate their voices and accelerate and amplify their work. Today, I’m privileged to announce a group of changemakers who exemplify #GenGeo, National Geographic’s Young Explorers:

Collectively, our spring 2020 National Geographic Young Explorers represent six countries and their efforts range from storytelling and scientific innovation to conservation, education, civic engagement and much more. They are united by a common thread: they see profound possibilities to make a difference and they make a choice to do something about it with confidence, courage and conviction. 

Given the scope and scale of some of the challenges we face today, it can be tempting to give in to hopelessness — to believe that the problems facing our planet are too overwhelming to counter. But these Young Explorers remind us that we are making progress, that we can overcome challenges, and that we have many reasons to be hopeful.

We know this because we’ve seen the success stories of the young leaders who came before them. The fall 2019 cohort of Young Explorers, including Felix Finkbeiner, Sahar Mohammadzadeh, Kehkashan Basu, and Melati Wijsen championed climate justice, equitable education, sustainable development, and solutions to prevent the global plastic waste crisis, among other efforts. Their powerful journeys have mobilized their peers in their own communities as well as internationally — establishing new organizations, launching networks that equip young people to be changemakers, and inspiring youth-led movements grounded in solution-seeking. And when they speak, people listen. These Young Explorers have shared their stories and impacts with audiences on the global stage from the World Economic Forum to the United Nations General Assembly and beyond. Their remarkable leadership and efforts continue to pave the way for future young leaders. 

As Young Explorer Thanasi Dilos said, “Throughout history, humans have come together to innovate, support one another, and make change. Communities give us strength, they give members something to lean on while on the long road to change. I believe that the issues we face today can only be overcome if we work alongside one another. That means strengthening our existing communities, and creating new spaces for belonging, so that we can all work together to build the future.” 

This is the power of #GenGeo: a collective of diverse youth voices and innovative ideas, an invitation to co-create tools and resources that cultivate empathy and understanding, and a collaborative effort to take action and inspire transformative change. If you are as inspired by these remarkable young leaders as we are, then I encourage you to join the movement. Follow our Young Explorers journeys, join the #GenGeo conversation, and discover how you can become an agent of meaningful impact in your own community.  

Congratulations to all of our Young Explorers! I cannot wait to see how you continue to change the world.


In Remembrance 
We would also like to recognize young Ugandan leader Esther Nakajjigo who was selected to join this class of Young Explorers but tragically passed away in June. At just 17 years old, Esther earned the title of Uganda’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, and dedicated her life to protecting young women and championing them to transform the world. Her legacy will live on in all the women and girls she inspired.