What do a polar scientist, a robotic suit designer and an eye specialist who wants to save millions of people from going blind have in common?
They are all among the ten innovators from around the world who are winners of this year’s Rolex Awards for Enterprise. Other winners have diverse projects ranging from hunger stopping technology, to conservation initiatives to save animal species and habitats.
An international philanthropic programme that supports new and ongoing projects by individuals taking on challenges, the Rolex Awards has been a global benchmark for corporate philanthropy since its conception in 1976.
10 Laureates and Young Laureates were recognised at a public awards ceremony in Los Angeles on November 15, joining the 130 Laureates who have gone before them since the Awards’ launch. The six men and four women were chosen by an international Jury of 12 experts, from a group of finalists shortlisted from 2,322 applicants representing 144 nationalities.
Each Laureate received 100,000 Swiss francs (US$104,000) and each Young Laureate 50,000 Swiss francs ($52,000), to continue developing their project – not to mention a handsome Rolex chronometer and worldwide publicity.
Meet the five awe-inspiring Rolex Laureates honoured at the ceremony:
Andrew BASTAWROUS, 36, United Kingdom – an ophthalmologist whose team’s smartphone-based portable eye examination system, Peek Vision, is radically changing eye care in sub-Saharan Africa and other resource-poor areas. Working in partnerships, trained lay people like teachers or community volunteers can screen for vision problems, blindness and other eye diseases, enabling accurate diagnosis and treatment. Bastawrous and his team will be setting up a centre of excellence for Peek training and learning in Kitale, Kenya.
Kerstin FORSBERG, 32, Peru – a biologist protecting giant manta rays by introducing fishermen to ecotourism as an alternative income source and training them alongside ecotourists to collect data on the distribution and population of the world’s largest rays. Forsberg will be working with local communities to raise awareness and appreciation of these giant mantas through science-oriented educational outreach programmes.
Vreni HÄUSSERMANN, 46, Chile/Germany – is exploring Chilean Patagonia’s fjords to document the unknown and unique life at the bottom of the sea in three remote areas by combining exploration and science to create support for conservation through public outreach. She is also raising awareness about the damaging effects of human activity on marine ecosystems to engage the public and decision-makers in setting up a science-based network of marine protected areas.
Conor WALSH, 35, Ireland – a mechanical and biomedical engineer at Harvard, Conor is tackling the mobility problems of stroke sufferers and others by developing a soft robotic suit that can be worn under clothes, which lets physically impaired people walk without any assistance. Expected to be ready in about three years, his “exosuit” will analyse and gradually train muscles, limbs and joints back to healthy patterns of movement.
Sonam WANGCHUK, 50, India – a Ladakhi engineer who is solving the problem of a lack of water for agriculture in the desert landscapes of the western Himalayas by building “ice stupas”. Named after Buddhist monuments, these conical ice mounds behave like mini artificial glaciers, slowly releasing water in the growing season. He intends to build up to 20 ice stupas, each 30 metres high and capable of supplying millions of litres of water. A long-term aim is to build an alternative university and engage youth in the environment.
As a result of the incredible growing number of achievers under the age of 30 who are tackling today’s challenges with fervour, Rolex started the Young Laureates segment of the Enterprise Awards programme in 2010 to encourage younger pioneers at a critical stage of their careers and help bring their ideas to life.
Five Young Laureates were also announced at the Los Angeles ceremony:
Joseph COOK, 29, United Kingdom – a pioneer in the field of glacial microbiology who, through his Ice Alive mission, is exploring polar ice microbes in the vast “frozen rainforest” of the Greenland ice sheet and sharing with the world how these miniscule microbes influence climate, nutrient and carbon cycles, and other areas of our world and its systems.
Oscar EKPONIMO, 30, Nigeria – is fighting food poverty through Chowberry, a cloud-based app that monitors food products approaching the end of shelf-life and notifies food retailers, allowing them to offer discounts to charities, and ultimately help alleviate hunger in the country.
Christine KEUNG, 24, United States – emigrated to the US at the age of four and is using her education as a force for good by empowering women in north-western China, where her family originated, to work with doctors and industry to reduce water and soil pollution and act as environmental stewards and changemakers.
Junto OHKI, 29, Japan – is improving communication among hearing-impaired people worldwide by expanding a crowdsourced, online sign-language database dictionary called SLinto, which hopes ot bridge the gap between the 126 extant sign languages and become a global platform for all existing and new signs.
Sarah TOUMI, 29, France/Tunisia – is spearheading a grassroots initiative, Acacias for All, in Tunisia, to fight the country’s desertification caused by climate change, and reduce poverty among farmers by introducing reforestation and crops that don’t require as much rainfall. She also runs a non-governmental organization to help women and youth realize their potential.
The 2016 winners will become part of the Rolex Laureates and Associate Laureates community who have helped reshape the world in the 40 years since the Awards were created. The 40th anniversary celebration in Los Angeles recognizes the catalytic impact they have made on their communities and beyond.