We are always part of interrelated processes of momentary events. That is what one of my mentors in college used to explain to us, his students, during the Buddhist Philosophy course. He was teaching us about the interconnectivity of it all, according to a buddhist system of thought called abhidharma. Nothing is independent. Everything is interdependent.
And this interconnectedness, as well as human ingenuity – as expressed by Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President, Science and Exploration, Jonathan Baillie – was evident on the first day of the Explorers Symposium, where 30 National Geographic Explorers, educators, and staff members took to the stage at Grosvenor Auditorium for a series of panel sessions, updates from the field, as well as lightning-round talks to further our shared mission of reaching a planet in balance. Some ideas that were shared and that inspired us yesterday included:
National Geographic Explorer-at-Large, Bob Ballard explained how the Age of Exploration is in our future, and that we’ll explore more of Earth than all previous generations combined. This, while embracing creative thinking and asking ourselves what are new ways to look at old problems in company of Kavita Gupta, Kakani Katija, Steven Brumby, Corey Jaskolski, and with moderator Jonathan Baillie.
Jonathan Baillie, BoB BALLARD, KAKANI KATIJA, Corey Jaskolski, Steven Brumby, and AVITA GUPTA. Photograph by Taylor Mickal
Misconceptions and a healthy skepticism permeated at a panel session where Lee Berger shared that we should be humble by understanding that, “the more we find, the more we don’t know,” and where Kim Young also argued that in our interconnected world of telecommunications there might also be an intergenerational shift happening from “Who am I?” to “Who are we?” The panel also included contributions on identity from Gyaneshwer Chaubey, Evgenia Arbugaeva, and which was moderated by Jamie Shreeve.
We got updates from the field from three different explorers. We furthered our understanding, and our shared humanity was highlighted, with an update from the field from Paul Salopek and his Out of Eden Walk. Emmanuel Merode shared with us what is going on from the front lines of conservation over at Virunga National Park in Congo, and the courageous resilience that is necessary to work there every day. And we also heard from Steve Boyes about his #Cuando18 expedition to protect the Okavango River Basin and Delta with the Okavango Wilderness Project team.
We saw work in progress from a few explorers like Stephen Humphreys with the rehabilitation of veterans through archaeology and exploration, as well as Tatjana Rosen and her critical work in saving one of the most introverted felines, snow leopards.
In order to see more of what our human connection is to one another, and how we can find empathy and encourage sustainability, we heard from Losang Rabgey and her educational experiments with cultural empathy and social innovation as catalyzers, in a panel with Aziz Abu Sarah, Erika Larsen, Sayed Gul Kalash, and which was moderated by Debra Adams Simmons.
We heard about the challenges and the different strategies being taken with private and public partnerships in order to protect the critical habitats of Earth’s Last Wild Places from Dominique Gonçalves, Sean Gerrity, Enric Sala, Naftali Honig, and with moderator David Quammen.
We changed our perceptions, and saw science and storytelling as some of the tools we need to use in order to address the problem of plastic waste in order to connect with people around the world from a panel introduced by Sylvia Earle, moderated by Valerie Craig, and featuring Heather Koldewey, Lillygot Sedeghat, Imogen Napper, and Jenna Jambeck.
Janni Benavides from my home country of Colombia delighted us with a song for the closing performance of the symposium. It is an ode to the creeks, rivers, and other parts of the ecosystems around the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta.
Later that night, after the symposium wrapped up, we were delighted and carried away with Ravi Patel‘s humor and wit while he hosted the National Geographic Awards last night, reminding us of the power found in how we can overcome the obstacles of the present to solve the problems of the future, and connect ourselves to a shared cause that unites us all: our planet. Last night’s awardees included Ma Jun, Léonidas Nzigiyimpa, Pablo García Borboroglu, Carolyn Porco, Joel Sartore, former president of Chile Michelle Bachelet, and Peter Raven. The award ceremony also featured special performances by Melissa Etheridge, Ben Harper, and Amber Riley.
Pablo García Borboroglu and LÉONIDAS NZIGIYIMPA. Photograph by Taylor Mickal
But I not only found meaning and inspiration in the great events of Explorers Symposium and the National Geographic Awards. In the past couple of days I found synchronicity and serendipity as well in the little things, in the details of what appeared to be mundane. While going back to work I ran into Explorer-in-Residence, Enric Sala in an elevator ride where we spoke enthusiastically about soccer and the World Cup that started yesterday; I saw Ronan Donovan and Stephen Wilkes getting coffee near the headquarters, and recognized the meeting of two of the world’s best photographers; while walking to the National Geographic cafeteria I saw explorers Asha de Vos, Sylvia Earle, and – as of last night, Buffett Award winner – Pablo García Borboroglu, smiling at a camera in the courtyard while someone snapped a photograph of the smiles of three of the most dedicated defenders of the world’s marine wildlife.
This all reminds me of the connections we have with one another. It reminds me of how simple and yet how hard it is sometimes to reach out and join one another for a higher purpose.
I ask, as a matter of conclusion: What if changing the world started with chance encounters of the world’s leading change-makers by highlighting our connective tissue?
I’m glad to be able to witness these connections from yesterday’s symposium, and I can’t wait to watch what other connections are made later today in this world renowned forum of the minds. (Don’t forget you can stream today’s symposium live, here).