Whether explorers, entrepreneurs or scientists, the recipients of Rolex’s Awards for Enterprise are helping shape a better world.
Rolex, at its heart, is a philanthropic organisation. In 1945, the founder Hans Wilsdorf transferred his ownership of the business to a charitable foundation established in his name, with the goal that Rolex should become a perpetual force for good.
Throughout its history, Rolex has partnered with events, institutions and individuals whose commitment and actions are a source of inspiration. Guided by the vision of its founder, the brand was quick to support and accompany initiatives that aligned with its own values – the quest for excellence, pushing the boundaries and the passion for elegance.
First created in 1976 as a one-off event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster, the Rolex Awards prompted so much interest that it extended a new call for entries for the 1981 series, which would grow into this long-term venture that fosters the work of individuals striving to advance human knowledge and tackle some of the world’s most acute problems.
The awards are intended to celebrate and empower people who display the values that underpin Rolex: quality, ingenuity, determination and, above all, an enterprising spirit. A particular emphasis is placed upon those who’ve managed to overcome hardship and lack of resources or funding to pursue projects aimed at improving the human condition and the state of our planet.
Since 1976, 155 Rolex Awards Laureates have been selected from fields including science and health, the environment, applied technology, exploration and cultural heritage as well as those that did not strictly fit these particular disciplines. These Rolex Award Laureates are chosen through a meticulous process that involves peer review, assessment, interview and evaluation of the likelihood of their project achieving its aims. This generates a short-list of candidates from whom an independent jury of international experts selects the Laureates. The jury typically includes eminent explorers, scientists, entrepreneurs and educators convened from around the globe.
Award winners receive not only a cash grant to advance their projects, international publicity through media coverage, and a Rolex chronometer, but also, access to mentorship and invaluable advice from previous winners.
Over the last 46 years, the support given by Rolex to these Rolex Award Laureates has had a catalytic impact and has in many cases transformed lives and communities. Amongst these Laureates, we shine the spotlight on five women who demonstrate ingenuity, determination and innovation.
MIRANDA WANG, 2019 Rolex Awards Laureate
Chinese-Canadian tech entrepreneur Miranda Wang aims to transform a large portion of the 340 million tonnes of plastic waste created annually into useful, commercially viable materials. “Having Rolex as a supporter and being able to share our message through the Rolex Awards is having a massive impact,” she says.
Miranda and her company Novoloop (co-founded with best friend, Jeanny Yao) are addressing the problem that today, just nine percent of all the plastics we produce each year is recycled. In part that’s because many plastics — for instance, soiled plastic bags or single-use packaging materials — cannot easily be processed. Instead, this waste ends up in landfill or worse, clogging our oceans and waterways.
“There are currently no economical technologies to turn these plastics into a valuable product,” Miranda says. Using the innovative chemical recycling technology developed by her company, Miranda explains, “We transform them into valuable performance materials made with recycled content that have the same properties as virgin materials.”
Miranda and Jeanny are passionate about their mission — and conscious of its urgency. “If we want to continue living on this planet, we have to solve the plastic pollution problem and we have to solve it within our generation. Humans have the incredible ability to innovate to survive at times when it matters. Now is one of those times.”
EMMA CAMP, 2019 Rolex Awards Associate Laureate
British marine biologist and explorer Emma Camp is determined to save the world’s coral reefs, which are in danger of perishing by 2050.
“Corals globally are dying from climate change, from more acidic oceans and waters low in oxygen. But, while we’re desperately trying to lower humanity’s carbon emissions there are very few options beyond that to try to help reefs persist,” Emma explains.
“My research focuses on hot spots of coral resilience on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, trying to identify why some corals survive environmental stress, and testing how they respond when transplanted to areas devastated by mass coral death.”
According to Emma, “Winning a Rolex Award has been a huge help to my research and to my ability to communicate my research in a way that will engage people to help save our reefs. I also try to promote women and girls studying the STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”
SARA SAEED, 2019 Rolex Awards Associate Laureate
Dr. Sara Saeed has created a unique tech solution to the chronic shortage of healthcare in her native Pakistan, where less than 200,000 doctors struggle to treat a population of 200 million. The e-health service Saeed co-created, Sehat Kahani, connects home-based female doctors to patients who may otherwise never have the opportunity to see a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Although some 63 percent of Pakistan’s medical students are women, Sara explains, “more than half drop out of medicine when they marry and have children. It’s called the Doctor Bride phenomenon.” Through Sehat Kehani, Sara says, “we offer women doctors the opportunity to work from home and connect them to patients who live in underserved and remote areas.”
Patients can either use the application to contact a doctor 24/7, or for those with no access to the internet, undergo a video consultation at one of the dedicated telemedicine centres Sehat Kehani has established. Via these means, “We are giving more than three million people access to affordable, quality healthcare through a network of thousands of doctors,” Sara says.
GINA MOSELEY, 2021 Rolex Awards Laureate
In 2023, British climate researcher, polar explorer and caver Gina Moseley will lead an expedition to some of earth’s most northerly unexplored Arctic caves. Her goal: to gather data on climate change by gaining insight into the warming and cooling periods of the deep past and their effects on both the Arctic and global environments. From this she hopes to draw fresh conclusions about the likely impacts of today’s polar melting.
“Caves provide one of the last frontiers on Earth for true exploration and the planet’s most northerly caves in north Greenland are so difficult to access that no one has been able to look inside, even though we have known about them since the 1960s” Gina says. “That will change in 2023 with a world-first expedition I am leading, thanks to the Rolex Awards. They are pretty much the only programme that could or would support an exploratory initiative like this one.”
Gina hopes to discover ancient mineral deposits that provide information on climactic conditions up to 500,000 years ago, helping us learn how to deal with today’s changing conditions in The Arctic. “Understanding more about how this sensitive part of the world responds to a warmer world is crucial,” Gina says.
“Along with sea-levels rise, increasing temperatures in Greenland will influence global patterns of rainfall, ice formations, ocean currents and weather systems affecting heavily populated areas around the world,” Gina explains. “My dream is that our findings will make their way into the climate modelling used to create environmental policies.”
SARAH TOUMI, 2016 Rolex Awards Laureate
The effects of global warming have ravaged Tunisia. “When I came to my father’s homeland from France in 1996, Tunisia was green,” says Sarah Toumi. “With climate change, however, rainfall dropped by 70% and the desert steadily encroached on fertile lands, forcing people to leave as their crops were invaded by sand.”
Since relocating to Tunisia a decade ago, Sarah has embarked upon a mission to reverse this once verdant country’s desertification by promoting sustainable farming practices. She created an initiative called Acacias for All, which encourages farmers to plant trees better suited to changing conditions, such as the acacia, olives and almonds.
To date, Sarah and her organization — now known as 1milliontrees4Tunisia — have helped locals plant more than 700,000 trees. “I also founded the NGO Dream in Tunisia to help women develop their potential, and Plug&Green, a digital platform connecting African farmers with international companies,” Sarah explains.
Despite the great threats the world faces because of climate change, Sarah remains confident solutions can be found. “Pragmatism will help conquer the world’s ecological challenges,” she says. “It makes me optimistic for the future.”