Behind the Rolex Awards for Enterprise: Ideas and Projects for Positive Change

Five new Young Laureates for the Rolex Awards for Enterprise were announced in New Delhi, India, today, recognizing the next generation of individuals who have what it takes to pursue a great idea to make the world a better place, and make it happen.

The Young Laureates join five traditional Laureates named earlier this year (pictured in the photo above). The 2012 winners bring the total to 125 individuals from 42 countries whose spirit of enterprise and concern for the environment and mankind have earned support and recognition from the Rolex Awards in the last 36 years, in areas including science and health, applied technology, exploration and discovery, the environment, and preservation of cultural heritage.

News Watch interviews Rebecca Irvin, head of philanthropy at Rolex, to learn more about the awards.

What are the Rolex Awards for Enterprise and why were they set up?

The Rolex Awards were founded out of a conviction that the company had a responsibility to make a contribution to making the world a better place and to foster values we believe in; ingenuity, determination, excellence and above all, spirit of enterprise. The Rolex Awards fund projects that touch humanity, improving life or what we know about the planet or preserving the environment. They were established in 1976 and now have an astonishingly rich legacy, from protecting threatened species such as the tiny seahorse, to supporting inventions that provide a simple solution to a longstanding problem, like providing light in places without electricity.

What are the Awards in terms of recognition and benefits?

The Awards recognise individuals who have enterprise, that is, the kind of qualities – grit and determination, passion and integrity – that it takes to pursue a great idea and make it happen.

Awards are presented every two years and are open to anyone from any country, of any age. This year we had 3,500 applicants from 154 countries. The five winners each receive 100,000 Swiss francs and a Rolex chronometer and the benefits of an international publicity campaign that puts the Laureates on the world stage.

Who judges the Awards?

Every two years we put together an independent selection panel of 8-12 people from all over the world to advise us as to the best candidates for an Award. They typically include world-renowned experts in science, education and the humanities, as well as explorers and entrepreneurs. They are people who embody the kind of spirit of enterprise we are looking to acknowledge and support.

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise support pioneering work in five areas: applied technology, cultural heritage, environment, exploration and discovery, and science and health. What are some practical examples of the achievements of people who have won awards in these areas?

It has been a great privilege for Rolex to support extraordinary people such as Chanda Shroff who has transformed the lives of  22,000 women in India’s Kutch region. She has revived the area’s exquisite embroidery through her NGO, Shrujan. She found a market for their work, provided the women with an income and at the same time saved an important cultural heritage. Before she began her work, families were being forced to sell their heirlooms due to drought. Now their lives are enriched and so are their family incomes.

Wijaya Godakumbara is an inspirational Sri Lankan surgeon who was so disturbed by the number of burns he saw caused by dangerous oil lamps that he designed a safe, low-cost lamp. Some 800,000 of these lamps have been distributed.

Another example is a Swiss woman, Anita Studer, who saved a forest in Brazil so that she could study a blackbird that lived there. She has now launched forestation programmes across Brazil that have planted 5.5 million trees. She has also provided training and livelihoods to young people who otherwise faced a very bleak future.

Who are the Young Laureates?

Since 2010, every second series of Awards is reserved for applications from people aged between 18 and 30 years. They are selected for their potential to become tomorrow’s leaders. They are chosen by the Jury for ground-breaking projects that will bring positive change to the environment or local communities and beyond.

The 2012 series was open to all ages, with no particular provision for awards for Young Laureates. However, due to a five-fold increase in applications from people aged 30 and under for the 2012 series, Rolex asked this year’s Jury to select, additionally, five young winners. They receive 50,000 Swiss francs each, a Rolex chronometer and the benefits of an international publicity campaign.

Why is the Awards ceremony being held in India for the first time?

Because India is demonstrating how great things happen when the spirit of enterprise meets creativity, ingenuity, determination and tenacity. Their entrepreneurial spirit is changing the world. That is a perfect fit with the Rolex Awards.

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn