Stories of Africa’s wildlife and natural history have long captivated the world. Yet, these stories—which have inspired people around the world to preserve the continent’s expansive landscapes and spectacular species—are rarely told from the perspectives of Africans. National Geographic Explorers and filmmakers Noel Kok and Pragna Parsotam-Kok created an initiative—Nature, Environment and Wildlife Filmmakers (NEWF)—which empowers Africa’s next generation of storytellers who promote conservation through film. To amplify their impact, NEWF collaborated with the National Geographic Society to develop Africa Refocused, a program dedicated to continuing NEWF’s capacity building initiatives for emerging storytellers by providing them with the tools and skills they need to succeed within the industry.
“How do you change the story? You change the storyteller,” said Kok. “NEWF endeavors to do exactly that by equipping African storytellers with industry-related skills and connections, while also building their confidence, and fostering creativity so they can add their unique perspective to the narrative. And now, by collaborating with the National Geographic Society to create Africa Refocused, we hope to expand our community reaching storytellers from across the continent.”
Each year, at least 25 NEWF Fellows are selected to participate in professional development workshops––called NEWF Labs––where industry experts provide specialized training in the storytellers’ areas of interest and expertise such as dive certification, cinematography, music composition, science communication, editing and post-production.
In addition to helping Fellows build their skills, NEWF recognizes the importance of creating a community for storytellers, conservationists, and scientists to help each other grow. They offer mentorship and networking opportunities including the NEWF Fellows Summit and annual NEWF Congress, their signature event in South Africa where storytellers convene, connect, and collaborate. Additionally, they host NEWF Community Cinemas showcasing the Fellows’ films at schools and in local communities to create awareness of the challenges the natural world faces and identify calls to action to develop African solutions to these issues. With support from Africa Refocused, NEWF plans to build upon these opportunities and expand their reach to become Pan-African through storytelling hubs in each region of the continent.
“Science speaks to the brain, but storytelling goes to the heart,” said Kaitlin Yarnall, the Society’s Chief Storytelling Officer. “When African storytellers bring their perspective, talent, and authenticity to the stories they create about the need to preserve their continent’s natural habitats and wildlife, there is no limit to the impact they can achieve.”
Africa Refocused is committed to helping NEWF in their mission to remove barriers to entry, enable access, foster inclusion, and create a culture of equity to ensure that African nature and wildlife stories are increasingly told by and prominently feature a diverse network of African storytellers. Their voices are needed to engage, educate, and advocate for the preservation of Africa’s nature, environment, and wildlife. Together, NEWF and the National Geographic Society will support aspiring storytellers across the continent as they develop into industry leaders, and pave the way for present and future generations to use the power of storytelling to make an impact.