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2023 Wayfinder Award Recipients Announced


The National Geographic Society is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2023 Wayfinder Awards. This year’s awardees include an Egyptologist, documentary filmmaker, investigative journalist, biologist, urban ecologist and other innovators, and were selected for their exemplary achievements in exploration through science, education, conservation, technology, and storytelling.


Wayfinder Award recipients are individuals who have proven themselves to be the next generation of influential leaders, communicators, and innovators whose critical work inspires us to learn about, care for, and protect the wonder of our world. Their groundbreaking work covers a vast array of impact-driven projects including connecting youth to the ocean, using innovative technology to track insects across landscapes, investigating critical environmental stories, and developing equitable conservation solutions for poor communities.


“On behalf of the National Geographic Society, we’re proud to name these 15 trailblazers as 2023 Wayfinder Award recipients for their exceptional contributions on a local and global scale,” said Alexander Moen, chief explorer engagement officer at the National Geographic Society. “We’re thrilled to celebrate each of these individuals at Base Camp headquarters in June for our annual Explorers Festival where we’ll recognize their remarkable achievements that bring our mission to life.”


The Wayfinder Award recipients join the Society’s global community of National Geographic Explorers and each receive a monetary prize to support their work.


Meet these audacious Explorers:


Manu Akatsa

Manu Akatsa is a Kenyan documentary filmmaker, cinematographer and animator who captures the beauty and complexity of the world around us, while also highlighting the importance of preserving our planet’s rich natural and cultural heritage. Akatsa continues to push the boundaries of storytelling with indigenous communities through innovative technologies and interactive experiences.


Aliaa Ismail

Aliaa Ismail is an Egyptian Egyptologist who strives to employ creative ways for the understanding and preservation of Egyptian Heritage as a way of strengthening her connection to her own ancestry. Ismail strives to create community awareness and build stronger ties between the Egyptian community and their surrounding heritage.


Clinton Johnson

Clinton Johnson is an American geospatial architect who is finding creative ways to implement practical solutions for real-world challenges faced by diverse communities. He is the racial equity and social justice lead at Esri and the founder and leader of NorthStar of GIS. Through his work, he connects individuals and organizations across all sectors with geospatial data, technology, and methodologies to drive progress at the intersection of all systems of oppression.


Nelly Luna

Nelly Luna is a Peruvian investigative journalist in digital media who works on environmental, human rights, transparency, and other issues to promote innovation and cross-border journalism in Latin America. She is the co-founder and journalistic director of Ojo Público. As one of Latin America’s most influential voices of young and independent journalism, Nelly has led projects and conducted investigations that have received national and international awards.


Shamier Magmoet

Shamier Magmoet is a South African freediver, conservationist and filmmaker who enables and educates youth to experience the ocean and become advocates and protectors of the ocean. As a pioneering underwater filmmaker of color in Cape Town, Shamier has forged a path to make the ocean space more accessible to people from historically disadvantaged communities and connecting youth with mentors to learn and share their work.


Serena McCalla

Serena McCalla is an American educator and science strategist who has dedicated her life to advancing science and science education with the most promising youth in the United States. After founding the iResearch Corporation to promote excellence, inquiry, and equity in science, Serena promotes enhanced science prowess in underserved groups and aspires to support all students to make a difference by discovering something new within themselves and the world. Her winning teaching practices were featured in National Geographic’s Emmy-winning film Science Fair.


Sada Mire

Sada Mire is a Swedish-Somali archaeologist, art historian and presenter whose work lobbies and promotes cultural heritage as a basic human need in times of war. Sada is the first Somali woman to study archaeology and for over a decade, she was the only trained Somali archaeologist working in Somalia and Somaliland. She is the founding director of Somaliland’s Department of Archaeology. She is also the founding director of Horn Heritage Foundation and its Digital Museum, working on research and conservation of heritage across the Horn of Africa.


Pablo Montaño

Pablo Montaño is a Mexican climate communicator, documentary writer and producer, and founder of Conexiones Climaticas, which is focused on climate communication, network building, and improving local agri-food systems. Pablo works in collaboration with many community-based organizations to strengthen the collective work and vision of communities and others on the front line of climate change.


Muhammed Muheisen

Muhammed Muheisen is a Jordanian photographer and the founder of the Dutch non-profit organization Everyday Refugees Foundation. Through his foundation, Muhammed documents, educates, helps and empowers refugees, local communities and people displaced internally by war, natural disasters, discrimination and poverty while raising public awareness by sharing their stories with the world.


Surshti Patel

Surshti Patel is a British conservation social scientist who develops pro-poor, equitable and scalable solutions for community-based marine and freshwater conservation, integrating plastic waste management, protected area establishment, sustainable livelihood development and access to financial services. Surshti’s upcoming work will contribute novel research towards understanding the relationship in the poverty and plastics dialogue and will help develop science-based solutions for waste management in poor rural communities.


Goabaone Jaqueline Ramatlapeng

Goabaone Jaqueline Ramatlapeng is a Motswana geoscientist who is investigating the processes controlling the water chemistry of the Okavango Delta in semi-arid Botswana. She is also the founder of a writing platform where she provides research, academic, and professional development support to African university students and professionals in STEM.


Christopher Schell

Christopher Schell is an American urban ecologist who combines behavioral, physiological, and genomic approaches to demonstrate the myriad consequences of historical and contemporary inequities on organismal, population, and community-level dynamics of wildlife. Christopher’s interdisciplinary work addresses how systemic racism and oppression affect urban ecosystems, while also highlighting the need for environmental justice, civil rights, and equity as the bedrock of biological conservation and climate activism.


Theanne Schiros

Theanne Schiros is an American materials scientist whose research focuses on the development of advanced and bioinspired materials for a circular economy, including clean energy technology and regenerative performance textiles. Through her innovative fiber production company, Theanne is bringing attention to the ways that science and innovation can improve the clothing and textile manufacturing industry.


Alex Schnell

Alex Schnell is an Australian wildlife scientist and science communicator with expertise in marine biology, animal behavior, animal intelligence and conservation in both terrestrial and aquatic species ranging from elephants to octopuses. Alex will present National Geographic’s “Secrets of the Octopus,” a continuation of the award winning “Secrets of…” franchise and set to premier in 2024.


Zhengyang Wang

Zhengyang Wang is a Chinese conservation biologist who studies the diversity of insects in the Himalaya and Hengduan Mountains. He uses telemetry and genetic techniques to monitor changes in insect population across the high elevation landscape. His other research focuses on the insect-eating Ophiocordyceps fungus (aka. caterpillar fungus) and studies the global insect trade online.

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