VISIONARY HUMANITARIANS


2023 Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate Liu Shaochuang is a Chinese remote sensing specialist on a mission to save one of Asia’s last large wild animals, the wild camel. photos: Rolex

As part of its Perpetual Planet Initiative, Rolex is celebrating and supporting five visionaries whose ambitious projects will help improve lives while safeguarding the planet for generations to come.

The 2023 Laureates of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise – set up to mark the 50th anniversary of the Oyster – supports exceptional individuals with innovative projects that improve our knowledge of the world, protect the environment, help preserve habitats and species, and improve human well-being.

While initially meant to be a one-off celebration, the awards drew such international attention that Rolex transformed them into a biennial programme that has, in 48 years since its creation, supported 160 Laureates, whose projects have had a profound impact across 65 countries.

There are less than 1,000 wild camels left in the wild. The grazing animal is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).There are less than 1,000 wild camels left in the wild. The grazing animal is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Given to projects focusing on either the environment; science and health; applied technology; cultural heritage; and exploration, initiatives are judged on their originality and the impact they could have on the world at large, as well as on the candidates’ spirit of enterprise.

Every two years, five Laureates are selected, and each receive funding to implement their project and become a member of the Rolex Laureates network.

The 2023 Laureates have been selected by a panel of 10 world-renowned experts and leaders in their field.

Constantino Aucca Chutas

The biologist will be scaling up his community-centred forest ecosystem restoration and protection programme in the high Andes.

Founder of Asociacion de los Ecosistemas Andinos and co-founder of Accion Andina, Constantino Aucca Chutas, holding small Polylepis trees only a few days before they are going to be planted by Aucca Chutas and the Quishuarani community in the Andean mountains.Founder of Asociacion de los Ecosistemas Andinos and co-founder of Accion Andina, Constantino Aucca Chutas, holding small Polylepis trees only a few days before they are going to be planted by Aucca Chutas and the Quishuarani community in the Andean mountains.

He founded Asociacion Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) in 2000 and co-founded Accion Andina in 2018, and has planted 4.5 million trees, engaged more than 60 local communities, and created 16 protected areas in the mountains across Peru and other high Andean countries.

Beth Koigi

The young Kenyan social entrepreneur will be providing solar-powered generators harvesting water from air to 3,000 people in 10 communities who are in need of clean water resources.

2023 Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate Beth Koigi in front of Majik Water’s Atmospheric Water Generator during the installation process in Kakuma refugee camp.2023 Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate Beth Koigi in front of Majik Water’s Atmospheric Water Generator during the installation process in Kakuma refugee camp.

Since co-founding her start-up in 2017, Koigi’s atmospheric water generators are producing over 200,000 litres of clean water per month to over 1,900 people.

The potential impact of this innovative technology is enormous; in Koigi’s native Kenya half the population lack access to clean drinking water while, according to the UN, half the world’s population could be living in areas of high water stress by 2030.

Inza Kone

The primatologist will be protecting a richly biodiverse forest in Cote d’Ivoire while safeguarding its endangered fauna and reducing poverty in the area.

After years of working with people in the area, Kone’s efforts resulted in the Tanoe-Ehy Forest becoming a community-managed natural reserve in 2021.

The Rolex Award will enable Kone to continue preserving its outstanding biodiversity, supporting community management and encouraging sustainable livelihoods for people in the region.

Denica Riadini-Flesch

The social entrepreneur will be expanding her regenerative farm-to-closet clothing supply chain, strengthening women’s empowerment and preserving local Indonesian cultures.

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest clothing manufacturers, but fewer than two percent of its garment and textile workers, the vast majority of whom are women, earn a living wage.

Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate Denica Riadini-Flesch, CEO and founder of SukkhaCitta, is changing the way that clothes are made and sold, down to how the materials are grown, whilst empowering the rural craftswomen that help to create them.Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate Denica Riadini-Flesch, CEO and founder of SukkhaCitta, is changing the way that clothes are made and sold, down to how the materials are grown, whilst empowering the rural craftswomen that help to create them.

Riadini-Flesch founded SukkhaCitta, a “farm-to-closet” social enterprise that sells high-quality, traditionally crafted clothing on its website, as well as in a number of retailers, working with rural craftswomen in Indonesia to provide them with business skills, environmental stewardship education, and customers in 32 countries.

This model has been so successful that women working with SukkhaCitta have seen a 60% average increase in earnings, which frequently leads to a dramatic shift in the gender roles within their communities.

Liu Shaochuang

The remote sensing specialist will be studying wild camels’ habitats in view of creating two new conservation reserves to save the last remaining wild herds.

Drawing on his scientific expertise, having played a key role in developing China’s Lunar and Mars rovers, Liu Shaochuang will satellite track wild camels in the Gobi Desert regions of China and Mongolia to support their future conservation.

Positive impact

Millions of people across the world have benefited from the Laureates’ award-winning projects, while over 30 ecosystems and 50 endangered species have been protected.

2019 Laureate Emma Camp, for example, is finding ways to restore and protect damaged coral reefs by studying the behaviour and genetics of “ultratough coral survivors”, discovering that these corals can grow in conditions previously thought to be deadly to them.

Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate Inza Kone in the Tanoe-Ehy forest. Kone has been Director-General of the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques in Cote d’Ivoire since 2018, where part of his role is to help protect and study endangered primates.Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate Inza Kone in the Tanoe-Ehy forest. Kone has been Director-General of the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques in Cote d’Ivoire since 2018, where part of his role is to help protect and study endangered primates.

Past Laureates have also implemented innovative technological projects, such as 2021 Laureate Felix Brooks-Church’s “dosifiers”, which he has used to provide vital micro-nutrients to five million people throughout Tanzania.

Hailing from Chad, 2021 Laureate Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim uses indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge to map natural resources and prevent climate conflicts in the Sahel.

The climate change and indigenous rights advocate brought together 100 local and indigenous communities to map their region’s resources, and their advice was adopted by the national government.

2019 Laureate, Neuroscientist Gregoire Courtine is developing groundbreaking bioengineering technologies to treat spinal cord injury, recently creating with his team the “digital bridge”, which re-connects the patient’s brain with the muscles of the lower body and is the latest breakthrough in their mission to help paralysed people walk again.

Apart from supporting incredible individuals and projects, Rolex’s network has also brought together Laureates for over 45 years.

For example, wildlife biologist Rodney Jackson, who became a Rolex Awards Laureate in 1981, has spent his career tracking the highly elusive and endangered snow leopard and promoting community-based conservation.

He is now mentoring 2021 Laureate Rinzin Phunjok Lama, a young Nepalese ecologist who works in the Himalayas to help local communities become frontline wildlife conservationists, including for snow leopards.

Rolex has also brought together Perpetual Planet Initiative partner Under the Pole, an organisation of underwater scientists and explorers, with deep-diving expert and 2021 Rolex Awards Laureate Luiz Rocha.

Under The Pole and Rocha are now joining forces to study the enigmatic marine animal forests of the mesophotic zone, 30 to 150 metres below sea level.

The tangible benefits of the Laureates’ projects are even more varied. In those directly related to the environment: 28 million trees have been planted; 52 endangered species and 32 major ecosystems protected, including 57,600 km2 of Amazon rainforest; hundreds of new species have been discovered; 53 challenging expeditions have been completed; and 49 innovative technologies have been developed for a range of applications.

The mountainous region around the village of Quishuarani, 4,800 metres above sea level, is the location for the Asociacion de los Ecosistemas Andinos reforestation day where they planted 25,000 key native trees. The mountainous region around the village of Quishuarani, 4,800 metres above sea level, is the location for the Asociacion de los Ecosistemas Andinos reforestation day where they planted 25,000 key native trees.

A unique programme

A departure from most other award programmes which recognise past achievements, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise are given for new or ongoing projects.

All applications – there have been some 37,000 since the 1976 launch – are analysed by researchers and the best entries assessed with the help of specialists in relevant fields, after which a shortlist of applications is then judged by an independent, interdisciplinary jury of experts.

The jury changes for each series of the Awards, and typically includes conservationists, doctors, educators and innovators, explorers and scientists.

A group of Ibus, elder craftswomen, preparing for the next cotton crop by cleaning and planting seeds in East Java, Indonesia. Using indigenous knowledge, farmers working for SukkhaCitta are taught how to grow cotton while regenerating the soil.A group of Ibus, elder craftswomen, preparing for the next cotton crop by cleaning and planting seeds in East Java, Indonesia. Using indigenous knowledge, farmers working for SukkhaCitta are taught how to grow cotton while regenerating the soil.

Judges have included Sir Edmund Hillary and Junko Tabei, the first man and first woman to ascend Mount Everest (in 1953 and 1975 respectively); global environment advocate Yolanda Kakabadse; astronaut Chris Hadfield, former Commander of the International Space Station; leading geneticist Steve Jones; and astrophysicist Brian Schmidt, Nobel laureate and renowned climate change advocate.

The 160 women and men selected as Rolex Awards Laureates since 1976 include pioneers across a wide range of geographical locations and skills.

Laureates have included archaeologists, architects, educators, engineers, entrepreneurs, explorers, filmmakers, geologists, medical doctors, microbiologists, mountaineers, physicists, primatologists, sociologists, veterinarians and wildlife biologists.

An aerial view of the Tanoe River meeting the Ehy Lagoon in the Tanoe-Ehy forest in south-eastern Cote d’Ivoire.An aerial view of the Tanoe River meeting the Ehy Lagoon in the Tanoe-Ehy forest in south-eastern Cote d’Ivoire.

Perpetual Planet Initiative

For nearly a century, Rolex has supported pioneering explorers pushing back the boundaries of human endeavour.

The company has moved from championing exploration for the sake of discovery to protecting the planet, committing for the long term to support individuals and organisations using science to understand and devise solutions to today’s environmental challenges.

This engagement was reinforced with the launch of the Perpetual Planet Initiative in 2019, which initially focused on individuals who contribute to a better world through the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, on safeguarding the oceans as part of an established association with Mission Blue, and on understanding climate change via its long-standing partnership with the National Geographic Society.

Rolex also supports organisations and initiatives fostering the next generations of explorers, scientists and conservationists through scholarships and grants such as Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society and The Rolex Explorers Club Grants.


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