Meet five changemakers

Meet five changemakers

Rolex Awards for Enterprise laureates in the spotlight

Meet five changemakers
The mountainous Andes region around Quishuarani. (Photos © Rolex / Sofia Lopez Mañan)

Rolex recently announced the laureates for the Rolex Awards for Enterprise 2023, naming five pioneers whose ambitious projects will help improve lives while protecting the planet for future generations.

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise were set up in 1976 to mark the 50th anniversary of the world's first waterproof wristwatch, the Oyster. Through the programme, the company 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.

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

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise are part of Rolex's Perpetual Planet Initiative and embody the initiative's intricate values. For nearly a century, Rolex has been an active supporter of pioneering explorers and individuals who have pushed back the boundaries of human endeavour to shed light on the natural world. The brand reinforced its longstanding commitment to the planet by launching the Rolex Perpetual Planet Initiative in 2019. The initiative supports individuals and organisations that use science and technology to understand the world's environmental challenges and devise solutions that will restore balance to our ecosystems.

The laureates

The awards are given to projects focusing on either the environment, science and health, applied technology, cultural heritage and exploration.

The projects 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.

Five laureates are chosen every two years. They each receive funding to implement their project and become a member of the Rolex Laureates network, many of whom still collaborate today.

The 2023 laureates have been selected by a panel of 10 world-renowned experts and leaders in their field. From providing clean water in Kenya to protecting the mountainous forests of the Andes, the 2023 laureates and their respective projects highlight the brand's commitment to a "Perpetual Planet".

A specific celebration of each of laureates will be held this year in their respective region.

The beginning

The Rolex Awards were set up in 1976 by André J. Heiniger, then CEO of Rolex, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster, the world's first waterproof wristwatch. Intended to be a once-only celebration, the Awards drew so much international interest that Rolex transformed them into an ongoing programme that has, in the years since, supported 160 Laureates whose endeavours have made a significant contribution worldwide to improving life and protecting our planet.

Since its foundation, the Rolex Awards have embodied the company's determination to contribute to the wider world -- the ethos that now inspires its Perpetual Planet initiative. According to Heiniger: "We initiated the Rolex Awards for Enterprise out of a conviction that we had a responsibility as a company to take an active interest in improving life on our planet and in the desire to foster values we cherish: quality, ingenuity, determination and, above all, a spirit of enterprise."

In defence of the planet

For the founder of Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf, the world was like a living laboratory. From the 1930s, he began to use it as a testing ground for his watches, sending them to the most extreme locations, supporting explorers who ventured into the unknown.

But the world has changed. As the 21st century unfolds, the company has moved from championing exploration for the sake of discovery to protecting the planet and reinforced its commitment by launching the Perpetual Planet Initiative in 2019.

Among its growing pool of partnerships, the initiative embraces the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, an enhanced partnership with the National Geographic Society to study the impacts of climate change, and Sylvia Earle's Mission Blue initiative to safeguard the oceans through a network of marine-protected Hope Spots.

A unique programme

The Rolex Awards are unique in several ways. Unlike most other award programmes, they are not designed to recognise past achievements -- they are given for new or ongoing projects. Candidates must be aged 18 or over, and there are no academic or professional requirements, nor any restrictions on gender or nationality -- anyone, anywhere, can apply for a Rolex Award. Laureates represent 51 nationalities and carry out projects in 65 countries, giving the programme a global reach. Candidates can apply in English, simplified Chinese and Spanish.

Criteria for selecting the winners

To win a Rolex Award requires an original, visionary project that can benefit humanity and/or the planet, along with the skills and determination to implement it. The awards are given to projects focusing broadly on the environment, science and health, applied technology, cultural heritage and exploration.

They are judged on their originality and the impact they have on the world at large, as well as on the candidates' "spirit of enterprise".

Five laureates are chosen in each biennial edition of the awards. Each of the five receives funding to implement their project and becomes a member of the network of Rolex Laureates, many of whom collaborate.

How winners are chosen

The Rolex Awards are managed at the company's headquarters in Geneva. All applications are analysed by researchers and the best entries assessed with the help of specialists in relevant fields (some 37,000 people have applied for Rolex Awards since the 1976 launch). 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. 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.

Diversity of projects

The 160 women and men selected as Rolex Awards Laureates since 1976 include an extraordinary cohort of pioneers across a wide range of geographical locations and skills. Laureates have featured archaeologists, architects, educators, engineers, entrepreneurs, explorers, filmmakers, geologists, medical doctors, microbiologists, mountaineers, physicists, primatologists, sociologists, veterinarians and wildlife biologists.

Impact of the awards

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 57,600km² 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.

Millions of people across the world have benefited from the laureates' award-winning projects over the past 48 years.

- FELIX BROOKS-CHURCH, 2021 laureate

American social entrepreneur Felix Brooks-church is tackling malnutrition in Tanzania by equipping rural flour mills with a "dosifier" machine, which adds critical micronutrients to fortify staple foods. He has helped more than 7 million people across Tanzania avoid malnutrition without increasing costs for consumers.


Climate change and indigenous rights advocate Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, from Chad, uses indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge to map natural resources and prevent climate conflicts in the Sahel. She brought together 100 local and indigenous communities to map their region's resources, and their advice was adopted by the national government.

EMMA CAMP, 2019 laureate

Marine biologist and explorer Emma Camp is finding ways to restore and protect damaged coral reefs by studying the behaviour and genetics of "ultra-tough coral survivors" she has discovered growing in conditions previously thought to be deadly to them. Her work may hold the key to repopulating reefs ravaged by a warming climate, acidifying water and other human-inflicted damage.

GRÉGOIRE COURTINE, 2019 laureate

Neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine is developing groundbreaking bioengineering technologies to treat spinal cord injury. Courtine and his team recently developed the "digital bridge", which re-connects a patient's brain with the muscles of the lower body and is the latest breakthrough in their mission to help paralysed people walk again.

Laureates are pioneers and guardians of the planet who have the potential to reinvent the future. The new laureates can be expected to continue this pioneering tradition and to demonstrate Rolex's fundamental belief in always pushing the boundaries.


Constantino Aucca Chutas

The biologist will be scaling up his community-centred forest ecosystem restoration and protection programme in the high Andes. He founded Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) in 2000, co-founded Acción 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.

Constantino Aucca Chutas.

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. 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.

The Majik Water office in Kenya.

Beth Koigi. (Photos © Rolex / Eva Diallo)

Beth Koigi, second left, helps her team in a Majik Water warehouse.

Inza Koné

The primatologist will be protecting a richly biodiverse forest in Côte d'Ivoire while safeguarding its endangered fauna and reducing poverty in the area. After years of work with people in the area, Koné's efforts resulted in the Tanoé-Ehy Forest becoming a community-managed natural reserve in 2021. The Rolex Award will enable Koné to continue preserving its outstanding biodiversity, supporting community management and encouraging sustainable livelihoods for people in the region.

A white-thighed colobus.

Inza Koné. (Photos © Rolex / Nyani Quarmyne)

The Tanoé River meets the Ehy Lagoon in the Tanoé-Ehy forest in southeastern Côte d’Ivoire.

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. After a successful academic career as an economist, Riadini-Flesch founded SukkhaCitta, working with rural craftswomen in Indonesia to provide them with business skills, environmental stewardship education, and customers in 32 countries.

A group of Ibus, elder craftswomen, in East Java, Indonesia. (Photos © Rolex / Sébastien Agnetti)

Denica Riadini-Flesch.

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.

A Mongolian camel. (Photos © Rolex / LIU XIAOXUE)

Liu Shaochuang, left.

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