The Rolex Awards for Enterprise began in 1976, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster. It supports people taking on extraordinary projects to make the world a better place. Since launching the programme, it has had a positive impact, often transforming lives, communities and the planet’s natural resources.

The pioneers rewarded by Rolex share similar values with the Swiss luxury watchmaker; quality, ingenuity, determination and the enterprising spirit that has driven the company since its beginning. The Awards provide the funding these people require to accomplish their original and innovative projects to advance human knowledge. It has also stimulated new ways of thinking in areas such as creating technologies that improved lives, saving endangered ecosystems, protecting the oceans, exploring new frontiers on the planet or, pioneering advances in science and health.

This year is no exception and the 2021 Laureates of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise are worthy winners, displaying ingenuity, new ways of thinking and sheer hard work. Humanity and the planet should hopefully benefit from the winners listed below:

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim

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Chad is located in north-central Africa and is the fifth largest country on the continent. Most of the population lives by agriculture and it is an oil-producing country. Sadly, the population have witnessed first-hand the effects of climate change.

The country’s largest lake, which supports more than 30 million people, has almost vanished in barely two generations. For climate change and indigenous rights advocate Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, the tragedy also offers an opportunity to bring her people together to solve their crisis, using the unlikely medium of mapping.

She’s using indigenous peoples’ knowledge to map resources and prevent conflict around climate in her home country. Ibrahim is from the nomadic Mbororo people, whose flocks and herds have grazed around Lake Chad for millennia. That ancient heritage is now at risk as planetary heating causes water sources to vanish, creating conflict between farmers and graziers over dwindling resources. 

“We are at the front line of climate change,” she says. “When the seasons change, it changes our daily life.”

As a committed peacemaker, she sought ways to bring the divided community together to meet the common danger and serve their common needs. The solution lay in participatory mapping. Ibrahim’s inspiration is to turn them into tools of peace, by drawing antagonized peoples around them to plan a safer, more prosperous future together.

Luiz Rocha

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The Brazilian plans to explore and protect the Indian Ocean’s deep-sea coral reefs, hundreds of metres beneath the ocean surface in the Maldives. There thrive wondrous corals and strange life yet to be discovered. In his pioneering diving expedition, the expert in the study of fish, plans to survey these deep reefs to find and describe new species and make the case for their protection.

Little is known about these reefs worldwide, and nothing at all about reefs below 60 metres in the Indian Ocean, so Rocha will enter an environment unseen by humans. He quoted: 

“I want to protect them [coral reefs] because they are unique products of an evolutionary process that took millions and millions of years. To me, it is like art.”

Gina Moseley

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British climate researcher Gina Moseley will cross one of the world’s last frontiers when she abseils into the planet’s most northerly unexplored Arctic caves seeking clues to the planet’s climatic past. Her world-first expedition seeks to expose the risk to humanity from polar regions now heating twice as fast as elsewhere, threatening to drown coastal cities worldwide.

A trailblazing scientist who is always seeking her next challenge, Moseley decided the time was ripe to expose the caves’ hidden geological record. This should offer an insight into the warming and cooling periods of the deep past and their effects on both the Arctic and global environments. 

This should hopefully help her draw fresh conclusions about the likely impacts of today’s polar melting. 

She said: “Caves are like time machines. Calcite forms layers, like tree rings. We can analyse each layer to get information about the past climate.”

Rinzin Phunjok Lama

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One of the planet’s most remote and wildest areas is the mountainous Himalaya region of Humla in Nepal. It’s home to dwindling wild animal populations, including snow leopards and wild yaks. The local people are on a mission to save these animals, enlisted and driven by an energetic young ecologist, Rinzin Phunjok Lama.

He is convinced that only local commitment and know-how can make the real difference for the endangered Nepalese high-altitude wildlife. Lama hails from the precipitous and icy slopes of Humla, towering up to 5,000 metres above sea level. Life is a constant struggle for humans and animals alike, leading to clashes which the creatures often lose. 

“Humla is one of the most remote, rich and beautiful landscapes, in terms of biodiversity [inspired by] the Buddhist philosophy that promotes compassion, coexistence [and] a well-balanced relationship between humans and nature. Ever since I saw the snow leopard, a mysterious and mythical species, I was inspired to conserve the mountain environment,” he says.

Felix Brooks-Church

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His mission is to eradicate malnutrition in Tanzania, one fortified bag at a time. Poor nutrition contributes to 15,000 preventable child deaths daily worldwide. American social entrepreneur Felix Brooks-Church wants to ensure that each meal consumed by every mother and infant living in an underprivileged society contains all the essential, life-saving nutrients. 

His project is bringing new life and hope to children in Tanzania, and acts as a model for the world. At the heart of it is an inspired invention, a ‘dosifier’, that fortifies every bag of flour sold by local millers by adding a measured dose of vitamin B12, zinc, folic acid and iron. The process is supported by a clever business model that ensures that small, local flour mills can use the dosifier at no extra cost to themselves or their customers. 

He said: “What we are doing is not just adding nutrients to food. What we are doing is ensuring a basic human right to good nutrition.”

Most companies and organisations support corporate social responsibility projects. The Rolex Awards is a fine example of this work, investing in amazing people who work for the benefit of humans, the environment and the ecosystem.

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