Get to know six of these inspiring innovators

For four decades, Rolex has been assisting passionate individuals committed to improving our world by bestowing Awards for Enterprise each year on 10 “laureates” whose projects are judged outstanding. The goal of the awards is to promote the advancement of human knowledge and well-being in the areas of applied technology, exploration, science, environment and cultural heritage.

Read more: Meet 2017's Women Of Hope Award Recipients

Laureates aged 30 or older receive grants of about US$100,000 to continue their work, and those under 30 receive US$50,000. Some 2,500 projects were considered by the 2016 jury of 12 experts, which were eventually whittled down to ten winners. We meet six of these inspiring innovators to discuss their work.

Andrew Bastawrous


Photo: Courtesy of Rolex

Software developed by British ophthalmologist Andrew Bastawrous in Kenya—Peek, short for Portable Eye Examination Kit—enables a smartphone to be used to test eyesight, making it possible to extend high-quality, inexpensive eye care to residents of even the most remote areas.

Bastawrous plans to use his Rolex grant to greatly expand testing and to build a “centre of excellence” in Kitale, Kenya, to train people in eye care and the use of Peek. “I think it’s astounding that people—professionals even—from other parts of the world would go to a remote part of Kenya to learn about eye-care programmes,” he says. “Our hope is that along the way of providing eye care to Kenya’s poorest, we can also empower them.”

Sonam Wangchuk


Photo: Courtesy of Rolex

One might think that the Indian Himalayan region of Ladakh, perched at 3,500 metres and surrounded by snow-capped peaks, would have plenty of water. But it’s very short of water and in a state of almost constant drought, making farming a fraught occupation.

Luckily, local engineer Sonam Wangchuk has come up with an ingenious solution, piping glacial meltwater to areas with the potential to grow crops, where it refreezes in “ice stupas,” providing a slow-melting source of irrigation water. With his grant, Wangchuk plans to build more ice stupas across the region to supply millions of litres of water for agriculture and household use.

Kerstin Forsberg


Photo: Courtesy of Rolex

Peruvian biologist Kerstin Forsberg has been fighting to protect the magnificent and endangered giant manta ray since she was 19. The 32-year-old Lima-based conservationist has established a project designed to change the way local communities perceive the giant mantas, not just in terms of ecological significance, but also their potential value as tourist attractions.

The Rolex grant will enable the project—conducted through the non-profit organisation Forsberg founded in 2009, Planeta Océano—to train fishermen in eco-tourism and fund modification of their boats. The project will also implement an educational programme on manta ray conservation.

Christine Keung


Photo: Courtesy of Rolex

When she visited Shaanxi province in China’s northwest as a Fulbright research fellow in 2012, US-based Christine Keung, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, was shocked at the level of water contamination in the area. “I saw first-hand haphazard dumping of medical supplies and pesticides in the largest tributary of the Yellow River,” says Keung, now a student at Harvard Business School.

The grant from Rolex will enable the 25-year-old to implement a pilot programme to track waste right from the point of a product’s purchase through usage and storage to disposal, and to provide training on the safe recycling of agricultural, chemical and medical waste. 

Oscar Ekponimo


Photo: Courtesy of Rolex

Oscar Ekponimo identified an opportunity to take advantage of retailers’ stock control, specifically their monitoring of the use-by dates of their products, to reduce waste and help the poor. The 31-year-old Nigerian software engineer developed an application called Chowberry that monitors the approaching use-by dates of participating retailers’ products and offers them for sale at a discount on an online platform.

Low-income families and relief agencies thus gain access to cheap food—and wastage of items due to their shelf lives expiring is reduced. With his Rolex grant, Ekponimo will upgrade the software and increase engagement with local communities. The roll-out of the first phase of the project will help about 100,000 low-income Nigerian households.

Conor Walsh


Photo: Courtesy of Rolex

While studying at Dublin’s Trinity College 15 years ago, Conor Walsh chanced upon an article about US research into exoskeletons that would help people carry heavy loads. The young engineer knew immediately he wanted to be part of it. 

Inspired by the work of experts in soft materials at Harvard, he later moved to the university. “That was the light-bulb moment,” Walsh recalls. “If I could marry textile science with robotics, I could create a soft exosuit that could be worn comfortably by people with disabilities.” For six years, Walsh worked towards accomplishing that ambition with his team—and succeeded.

“Exoskeletons in the market are designed for people who are fully paralysed,” Walsh, 35, explains. “Ours are designed to aid people who can walk, but just not very well, such as stroke patients or those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease.”

Know someone who is working to make the world a better place? Applications for the 2018 Rolex Awards for Enterprise are now open.

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