Making the world a better place

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If there is a single force that unites the Laureates of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, it is the unalloyed spirit of determination to make our world a better place.

Whether this takes the form of fresh discoveries about the natural wonders of the Earth, the protection of its wild places and creatures, the safeguarding of our common cultural heritage or the development of technologies that shape our future, save and enhance lives and enrich our understanding, the unifying ingredient is the will to make a difference… to show that “anyone can change everything”.

The Rolex Awards were inaugurated in 1976 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the iconic Rolex Oyster watch. Their mainspring is philanthropic: to inspire and help create a better world for all, through the actions of extraordinary people – the Laureates, Associate Laureates and Young Laureates they have recognized.

The Laureates share the ability to envision an urgent human or ecological need, the genius to devise and plan a workable solution, the capacity to infuse others with their enthusiasm and, above all, the passion, drive and determination to see their projects through to success.

The awards are bestowed every two years, with candidates judged by an international jury of experts. Unlike other honours, they are not for past accomplishments – but for a living project whose full potential lies in the future.

Each of the Laureates is changing our world for the better. Even those who have passed on have left behind them vibrant legacies that inspire others to follow, such as the late José Márcio Ayres, whose project to conserve the Amazonian wilderness and improve the living conditions of its inhabitants goes from strength to strength in the hands of his colleagues.

The Rolex Awards assist in particular ways: first, they provide seed funding for an inspired idea, often at a time when the Laureate imagines every well is dry; this offers a trusted endorsement that wins support from other sources. The Awards help bring a visionary project to global attention. Many Laureates say they can leverage this publicity in ways that advance their project and career, and achieve international influence. As many of them affirm, the Awards offer essential peer validation that reinforces the courage and confidence to press ahead, the resolve to bring about change. And, as members of a growing worldwide network of kindred spirits, Laureates often decide to work together: this dynamic synergy between great achievers promises much for the future.

Their stories bear witness to the impact that one resolute, impassioned person can have upon the world. For example, Brad Norman has recruited thousands of citizen scientists around the globe to help study and protect the oceans’ largest fish, the rare whale shark, and Kerstin Forsberg is mustering Peruvian locals to save the giant manta ray. Michel André, Barbara Block and Vreni Häussermann are using science to reveal the secret life of the oceans in amazing ways.

Norberto Luis Jácome has ensured that the endangered condor still soars across South American skies, Stephen Kress has enticed puffins to recolonize the islands of North America’s eastern coastline and Michel Terrasse is restoring long-lost European vultures to their realm. In Thailand, Pilai Poonswad employs the magnificent hornbill as a symbol of the struggle to preserve Asia’s rainforests, while Claudia Feh’s love of horses has reintroduced Przewalski's horses to their native Mongolian pastures.

The Laureates include Dave Irvine-Halliday, whose flash of insight in a dark Nepalese classroom sheds light in tens of thousands of homes and schools; Hosam Zowawi, combating the global dangers of antibiotic resistance; and Mark Kendall, pioneering a brilliant life-saving vaccine technology; while Piyush Tewari’s first-aid training is curbing India’s horrific road toll; and Wijaya Godakumbura’s safe lamp has saved thousands from a fiery death.

Explorers such as Joseph Cook, Lonnie Dupre, Cristian Donoso and Bernard Francou extend the boundaries of human knowledge of the planet, braving its dangers and pioneering its unknown places to the benefit of all.

In the vanguard of those determined to restore the world are Erika Cuéllar, Anita Studer, Rodrigo Medellín, Maritza Morales Casanova, Anabel Ford, Martha Ruiz Corzo, Karina Atkinson, Romulus Whitaker and Laury Cullen, whose courageous and unstinting endeavours are restoring landscapes and inspiring communities across Central and South America, Africa and India.

Chanda Shroff and Kikuo Morimoto have breathed new life into two of the world’s great textile traditions, while Luc-Henri Fage has been documenting for the first time the ancient cave art of vanished cultures.

Reese Fernandez-Ruiz empowers impoverished women by helping them recycle fabric into high fashion, while Alexis Belonio turns crop waste into affordable clean energy for poor households and Andrew Muir ignites new hope in AIDS orphans through wildlife conservation.

The projects of Mohammed Bah Abba, Zenón Gomel Apaza, Sanoussi Diakité, Gorur Gopinath, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, Sebastian Chuwa and Nancy Jones Abeiderrahmane were all, in their different ways, impelled by the dream of a sustainable world where nobody goes hungry.

Francesco Sauro, Antonio De Vivo and Jean-François Pernette are revealing new wonders of the deep Earth through their explorations of its most inaccessible caverns. David Lordkipanidze’s 1.8 million year-old archaeological finds are casting new light on our origins. Talal Akasheh is fighting to save the ancient desert marvel of Petra. Johan Reinhard pioneered high-altitude sacred archaeology, while Catherine Abadie-Reynal unveiled the ancient city of Zeugma.

One thing all Rolex Laureates share is that they are unstoppable. On such resolute individuals repose our hopes for a brighter, healthier, more caring and sustainable future for us all, despite the many challenges we face. They shine a light on all that is uplifting about humanity.

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