LETTER FROM THE CEO | MISSION AND VISION | STRATEGIC PRIORITIES | READ THE FULL PLAN
The National Geographic Society’s Strategic Plan, NG Next, celebrates our legendary legacy and takes the next step forward by charting a dynamic, five-year plan that strengthens our foundation, builds on our momentum, embeds diversity, equity, and inclusion into every aspect of our work, and sets a clear vision for the future to drive significant impact.
Barely two years after the Society’s inception, during a time when large areas of the globe were still uncharted, National Geographic’s members were eager to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge. Twenty-seven donors contributed to the Mount St. Elias expedition, including a handful of figures crucial to our founding: the Society’s first president Gardiner Greene Hubbard, explorer John Wesley Powell, financier Charles Bell, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, and Russell himself. The trek was co-sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Navy pledged a ship to transport them during the last leg of their ocean journey.
Despite several attempts, the team never reached the summit of the mighty mountain; snowstorms and avalanches thwarted their pursuit. But during the three-month expedition, they amassed and advanced scientific knowledge on a tremendous scale—extensively mapping the region’s geography, topography, geology, and glaciers, and providing an incredible lens on one of the continent’s most isolated terrains. The following year, National Geographic magazine published a first-person narrative of the journey, authored by Russell. His account comprised nearly the entire May 29, 1891, issue, which was circulated to roughly 400 members.
And so began our legacy of dauntless exploration—the first of thousands of intrepid Explorers funded by the National Geographic Society (NGS) who were driven by a determination to advance new knowledge about the world. In the century that followed Russell’s expedition, quests that once focused on geography, mapping, and geology gave way to Alexander Graham Bell’s expansive view that the Society would cover “the world and all that’s in it.”
EXPLORATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY >
Today, the Society invests in a diverse, global community of National Geographic Explorers who are leading a new age of exploration in support of our mission: to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world through science, exploration, education, and storytelling. These bold individuals represent more than 140 countries and their vast array of backgrounds, perspectives, and fields bring us to the far reaches of the globe.
In the depths of the ocean, Explorers reveal underwater worlds that sustain life on Earth. In subterranean caves, they investigate our ancient past and the very roots of humanity. At the edge of extinction, they courageously work to end wildlife trafficking and protect species at risk. On the frontlines of conservation, they help safeguard fragile ecosystems for future generations. Through their words and images, they document the great mysteries, triumphs, despair, and complexities of our time. With breakthrough technology, they open up unimaginable possibilities. And in classrooms and communities all over the world, educators immerse young people in the work of our Explorers, equipping them with the same critical-thinking skills to analyze and investigate real-world challenges. These learning experiences empower the next generation of Explorers, leaders, and solution seekers.
Explorers John Craighead, Barbara Washburn, Willi Unsoeld and Thomas F. Hornbein, Thandiwe Mweetwa, and KM Reyes are pictured left to right. (Photos, left to right, by Frank and John Craighead, Bradford Washburn, Barry Bishop, Martin Edström, Kyle Venturillo)
As our Explorers venture into the unknown, National Geographic serves as a portal to their world. And what began with a few grainy, black-and-white images in National Geographic magazine expanded into an unparalleled portfolio of global media: photographs, films, in-depth reporting, immersive media experiences, and so much more.
OUR ORGANIZATIONAL EVOLUTION >
National Geographic has long told the story of our human journey, and that must include shining a light on our own past. This means facing up to our history of colonialism, racism, and sexism—including who was allowed to be an Explorer, who was able to tell stories, and whose stories were told. For much of our past, we primarily funded white American men who set out to “discover” the world. These parts of our own history are incredibly painful, but it’s critical that we reckon with our past to more effectively and equitably launch into the future.
We took it upon ourselves to look inwardly and intentionally improve how we live our core values to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is woven into everything we do. Today, nearly half of our Explorers are women and 65 percent have conducted fieldwork in their home countries and across all seven continents. We’ve also accelerated our efforts to identify, support, and elevate the work and voices of Explorers who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC).
To give two examples, we launched the Second Assistant Program in 2017 to increase access and learning opportunities for promising photographers from underrepresented groups. In 2020, we announced the selection of four Black storytelling fellows, whose projects elevate stories of resilience, power, and injustice among Black Americans. We enlisted the help of C. Daniel Dawson, an adjunct professor at Columbia University, to curate and elevate these important—and necessary—stories so that we can advance meaningful change within our organization and among the communities we support.
As a global organization, we not only have the opportunity to drive systemic change at National Geographic, we have a responsibility to do it. When I joined the Society in 2020, I made a commitment to advance the organization’s work around DEI. This commitment was grounded in our core values: We believe 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.
My appointment as the first woman to serve as CEO in the Society’s 133-year history signals where we’re headed—and that’s toward a more inclusive and accountable workplace and community. Although we have much more work to do, the Society has made strides to achieve and maintain equity. Society staff is currently 63 percent women and 31 percent BIPoC. Today, our executive team is 64 percent women and 36 percent BIPoC, including a Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer to ensure we have the organizational expertise to drive our DEI work forward. We will continue to learn from our past, examine our present, and build a better, more inclusive future in support of our mission.
NG NEXT >
Well over a century after our founding, National Geographic continues to reach and resonate with millions of people worldwide. How has our organization stood the test of time? We’ve stayed true to our original mission to pursue and celebrate exploration, scientific excellence, education, and unforgettable storytelling while simultaneously evolving with nimbleness and fortitude in a rapidly changing world. We embraced innovation and intentionally adapted, thoughtfully expanding our business model, global reach, and DEI efforts. In doing so, we have remained a vibrant, relevant, world-class brand at the forefront of exploration and knowledge.
The National Geographic Society’s Strategic Plan, NG Next, celebrates our legendary legacy and takes the next step forward by charting a dynamic, five-year plan that strengthens our foundation; builds on our momentum; embeds DEI into every aspect of our work; and sets a clear vision for the future to drive significant impact.
NG Next is the culmination of 10 months of extensive work, reflecting the passion, dedication, creativity, and collective feedback of hundreds of individuals in our global community. Explorers, staff, donors, partners, members of our Board of Trustees, and many others directly informed the priorities outlined in this plan, which will guide our work and accelerate our progress. Our vision also underscores the important and distinctive role we play in the world. We have the people, the tenacity, and the organization to advance new knowledge, tell stories that build awareness and spur action, and educate and equip a new generation to pursue positive change. Grounded in the best science, exploration, education, and storytelling, and fueled by an enduring spirit of innovation, we are poised to build a boundless future.
It has been invigorating to work with our global community toward this common goal. I am tremendously grateful to all those who contributed to this important effort. Thank you for your engagement and partnership. I feel exceptionally fortunate to work alongside you as we continue to shape the Society’s future and deliver on NG Next.
» OUR MISSION
The National Geographic Society uses the power of science, exploration, education, and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world.
» OUR VISION
By 2030, the National Geographic Society will be known globally for its bold and impactful Explorer-led programs that spark curiosity in hundreds of millions of people, inspiring them to learn about, care for, and protect our world.
Photography: Top, Everest photo by Alex Tait; Dr. Jill Tiefenthaler, Photo by Mark Thiessen.