Photograph by MARK THIESSEN, NGM STAFF
Photograph by MARK THIESSEN, NGM STAFF

‘To illuminate and protect the wonder of our world’

That is the National Geographic Society’s mission—and the CEO says it’s vital to give people of every race, identity, and experience a role in that work.

This story appears in the December 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Our world has changed dramatically since I accepted the position as CEO of the National Geographic Society in January, having spent the past nine years as president of Colorado College. When we look back on 2020, organizations will be measured by how they reacted to two life-altering global events: the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement spurred by systemic racism and violence toward Black Americans. National Geographic has covered both extensively.

In response to the pandemic, the Society pivoted to focus its education programs on supporting teachers, parents, and students with learn-at-home resources, including a series connecting students with National Geographic explorers on all seven continents. To help educators design distance-learning resources, we gave grants to teachers in under-resourced communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic. And to ensure that news about COVID-19 was reported safely and included stories of marginalized communities, we launched a global emergency fund for journalists, financing more than 150 projects in over 50 countries.

At the same time, we accelerated the Society’s efforts to identify, support, and elevate the work and voices of explorers—scientists, educators, and storytellers who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Though our community of grantees and educators has never been more diverse—in 2019, 62 percent of our grants were awarded to citizens of countries other than the United States, and almost 50 percent were awarded to women—we have more to do.

In July we announced a diverse group of new storytelling fellows, whose projects include documenting Indigenous women’s resistance against the exploitation of natural resources and telling the stories of those who lost a family member to gun violence. To curate the projects that focus on Black Americans, we’ve enlisted the help of C. Daniel Dawson, an adjunct professor at Columbia University. We’ve also partnered with National Geographic’s television networks to promote diversity and inclusion in television production with our Field Ready Program.

We can only achieve our mission to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world when people of every race, identity, experience, and ability have a role in our work. With that goal, we enter 2021 as a stronger organization, positioned for excellence and relevance in a rapidly changing world. Throughout my career I have pursued organizations that share my values—a commitment to mission, boldness, transformative education, and dedication to advancing meaningful change. I’m honored to lead this institution and am grateful for your continued support.