Changing Planet

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.

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David 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. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs 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. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • Rajendra Kumar Palhan

    Rolex awards are true tribute to the enterprising spirit of man.
    The Rolex Awards lead us to believe that anyone can change everything and thus they are even better than the Nobel prizes which are awarded to only the select few.
    The common man is not covered in the Nobel Prizes.
    These Awards are real tribute to
    Hats off to the ROLEX SPIRIT glorified in these awards.
    May these awards live for ever till the footprints of mankind remain on this planet earth.

    Delhi School of Yoga
    New Delhi 110017

  • Christopher Williams

    Its time for Rolex to join the future and expand its abilities of keeping time….to saving time! What would anyone do….or even more lmpotantantly “pay” to save time?

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