Hana Raza, Juan Carlos Montgomery Gómez, Iroro Tanshi.
Hana Raza, Juan Carlos Monterrey Gómez, Iroro Tanshi.


2023 Pritzker Award finalists: Juan Carlos Monterrey Gómez, Hana Raza, Iroro Tanshi

climate change, environmental justice, law & policy, nature & conservation

UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability is proud to announce three finalists for the 2023 Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award, as chosen by a panel of 14 environmental experts.

All under the age of 40, these rising environmental leaders are building strong relationships between human communities and the natural world on three continents.

Juan Carlos Monterrey Gómez is executive director of Geoversity — an environmental nonprofit organization in Panama’s Mamoní Valley Preserve, a 12,800-acre corridor of rainforest. There, he works to connect and inspire leaders capable of making major progress on issues such as climate change and conservation by immersing them in nature with like-minded colleagues.

Monterrey Gómez turned to education, research and activist engagement after years of working with governments and organizations such as the United Nations, where he was vice chair for implementation of the Climate Convention. Drastic change to the status quo is needed to respond to climate change and other serious environmental threats, he said.

“As so-called leaders exploit oceans and forests for sale and personal gain, we work with indigenous communities, scientists and businesses to protect vital ecosystems, including the main artery of the global economy: the Panama Canal. Our mission goes beyond conservation,” Monterrey Gómez said. “We nurture talent to mend the chaos we have inherited and create the future we know is possible.”

Monterrey Gómez was named an inaugural Obama Foundation Scholar in 2018, consults on policy with the World Bank and has co-authored decrees to establish Panama’s national carbon market.

Hana Raza spent her childhood in what is now the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, where she and her family fled war and violence by escaping to the mountains. Her life changed dramatically in 2011 when she discovered a Persian leopard via camera trap. It was the first documentation that the species is present in Iraq.

To protect the leopards — which number only about 10 in the region — Raza founded the organization Leopards Beyond Borders, where she is chairperson. Her work focuses on building meaningful connections between communities and the nature that surrounds them.

“Throughout history, the Kurds have been abused,” Raza said. “We have this saying: ‘we have no friends but the mountains.’ Seeing a bear or leopard connects you to the natural world in a powerful way.”

Raza aims to give other communities and conservationists that connection, inspiring them to protect the nature around them. In addition to Leopards Beyond Borders, Raza serves on the board of the Society for Conservation Biology Asia Region and serves as a member of the steering committee of the Persian Leopard Working Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Iroro Tanshi got her start in conservation studying bats in Nigeria — now, she is co-founder and co-executive director of Small Mammal Conservation Organization, a community-led program that safeguards local livelihoods while protecting at-risk species such as drill monkeys and the short-tailed roundleaf bat.

For the past ten years, Tanshi has studied and helped to protect Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and Cross River National Park, West Africa’s two last primary forests that have survived since the last ice age. In addition to long-standing threats such as poaching and logging, climate change has made the area wildfire prone. With ecology research and an understanding of communities’ needs, she developed an early-warning program that gives farmers and communities key information about hazardous wildfire conditions.

With farms themselves often destroyed by fires, there’s a strong incentive to take precautions.

“Almost everyone’s on board, which is very unusual,” Tanshi said. “They saw that we were really serious with what we’re doing, that we’re going to fully understand the problem.”

Drawing on this success, Tanshi next plans to expand her program to other parts of West Africa besieged by fire.

The Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award, which carries a $100,000 cash prize, is the first major environmental award to recognize individuals 40 and younger who have shown exceptional promise as champions for the environment.

The finalists will next be presented to a panel of judges: Antonio Bernardo, dean of UCLA Anderson School of Management; Darnell Hunt, UCLA executive vice-chancellor and provost; Jeanne Holm, deputy mayor of finance and innovation for City of Los Angeles; Hans Mehn, a partner of Generation Investment Management; and Abel Valenzuela, Jr., interim dean of social sciences and UCLA professor.

The 2023 winner will be announced during an Oct. 26 ceremony.

Media inquiries please contact David Colgan at dcolgan@ioes.ucla.edu.