Time to Make a Change: Now in Its 28th Year, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise Is an International Philanthropic Programme That Highlights and Supports the Innovative Work Being Carried out by Determined Individuals to Improve Our World. Christian Amodeo Reports on the Inspirational Projects of This Year's Laureates

Article excerpt

Next May, Rolex Award Laureate Lonnie Dupre, together with his companion Eric Larsen, will attempt the first summer crossing of the Arctic Ocean using kayaks and skis, unsupported, in order to draw attention to the threat of global warming. Their One World Expedition will be a 2,253-kilometre, 100-day traverse across the top of the world, from Cape Arctichesky in Siberia to Canada's Ellesmere Island via the geographical North Pole.

"I can't think of a better way of raising awareness of global warming than paddling in two kayaks in a place that was covered in thick sea-ice in summer just a few decades ago," says Minnesota-born Dupre, a veteran of six major Arctic expeditions over the past 17 years, including the first circumnavigation of Greenland by dogsled and kayak. Dupre intends to make a film and write a book about his adventure so as to further raise awareness of the impact of climate change. He will also collect snow and ice samples that will be analysed by the Global Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine for indicators of global warming and pollutants.

Dupre's expedition is a dream that will become reality thanks to the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which have now created 55 Laureates. Some of the projects supported over the past 28 years have included Forrest M Mims III's global network to monitor ozone and solar radiation and Michel Andre's project to create a whale anti-collision system in the Canary Islands.

When it comes to innovation and variety, this year's Laureates are no exception. Lonnie Dupre is part of a select and inspirational group comprising two women and three men from Argentina, Georgia, Japan, Switzerland and the USA, whose innovative projects will, put simply, make a contribution to improving life on Earth. Chosen from more than 1,700 applicants from 116 countries, the Laureates attended a ceremony in Paris on 29 September, where each received a personally inscribed gold Rolex watch and a cheque for US$100,000 (55,700 [pounds sterling]), while five runners-up, or Associate Laureates, each received awards of US$35,000.

Spirit of enterprise

Anyone, of any age, nationality or background can apply for a Rolex Award. Past Laureates have included a wine-maker who is also a world-class speleologist, a taxi driver who has become a renowned beetle expert, and a former teacher who now runs the world's largest bicycle-recycling scheme.

Unlike in many other award programmes, which depend on third-party nominations, Rolex Award entrants must be ready to blow their own trumpet. They must outline their project's importance in terms of four main criteria--feasibility, originality, positive impact, and whether it demonstrates a 'spirit of enterprise'. The awards fall within five broad categories: science and medicine, technology and innovation, exploration and discovery, the environment and cultural heritage.

The committee--a voluntary and independent jury of experts front a wide range of fields chaired by Rolex CEO Patrick Heiniger--also considers the extent to which award funding would aglow recipients to implement or complete a project, and whether the money and recognition will engender further support from elsewhere.

The judges themselves are an impressive group. In the past, they've included Sir Edmund Hillary, neuroscientist Dr Susan Greenfield and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr Leo Esaki. The panel aims to recognise in candidates the traits that they themselves needed in reaching the pinnacle of their respective professions. Sir Crispin Tickell, a member of the 2000 selection committee, said of the entrants, "I greatly admired ... their courage, determination and even their obstinacy in pursuing ideas other people thought a bit wacky or unrealistic."

This year, the nine-person selection committee included Sir Christopher Ondaatje, Italian environmental lawyer and journalist Dr Cristina Rapisarda Sassoon, Japanese astronaut and director of Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation Dr Mamoru Mohri, and Kathryn S Fuller, president of WWF in the USA. …