Press Release

The National Geographic Society Announces 2023 Explorer of the Year

The global nonprofit celebrates this year’s Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year and highlights her inspiring accomplishments prioritizing education for girls in Afghanistan

Photo Credit: Chris Mbanza Schwagga

In recognition of her expansive and important work educating Afghan women and girls, National Geographic Explorer Shabana Basij-Rasikh is the 2023 recipient of the Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year Award.

The award–presented at the Society’s annual Explorers Festival, hosted in partnership with Rolex in the framework of its Perpetual Planet initiative–recognizes a member of the National Geographic Explorer community who shines a critical light on important issues, discoveries, and challenges facing our planet who inspires the world to act on behalf of a more sustainable future.

“We are deeply committed to investing in our global community of National Geographic Explorers—passionate changemakers and boundary-pushers who are illuminating and protecting the wonder of our world,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, CEO of the National Geographic Society. “Shabana is a gifted and accomplished leader who has dedicated her life to educating and uplifting Afghan women and girls. We are inspired by her courage and commitment to building pathways for educational access, equality, and inclusion.”

Raised in Kabul during the Taliban’s first regime, Basij-Rasikh has dedicated her entire adult life to educating Afghan women and girls. Having attended school in secret when girls were not allowed to receive an education, she later studied in the U.S. and co-founded the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) with the mission of providing access to quality education for girls across Afghanistan.

SOLA then became the nation's first boarding school educating Afghan women and girls post-primary school and helps graduates prepare for and enroll in universities worldwide. SOLA has also helped girls from dozens of provinces across the country access millions in scholarship dollars.

Seeing the ongoing battle for women’s rights in her lifetime, Basij-Rasikh has continued her work and mission leading the 2021 evacuation of the SOLA community from Afghanistan to Rwanda. SOLA is now fully operational in Rwanda as the only boarding school for Afghan girls.

"I’m the inheritor of the historic bravery of generations of Afghan women, and we achieve what we do at SOLA because we stand on the shoulders of these giants,” says Basji-Rasikh. “I am honored to be this year's Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year, and to use this platform to encourage the world: don't look away from Afghan women and girls."

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About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.