The Rolex Awards for Enterprise has supported innovation for the past 44years. Launched in 1976 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster chronometer, the world’s first waterproof watch, the award supports innovative thinkers who are reshaping the future with their vision, courage and ground-breaking projects. Their projects must advance human knowledge, protect cultural heritage or help preserve natural habitats and species.
While most awards recognise past achievements, the Rolex Awards fund working projects in their infancy, and therefore, focused on the future. From its inception, this award was designed to fill a void in corporate philanthropy by supporting exceptional individuals and projects around the world who would otherwise have none or limited access to traditional funding.
“Rolex’s funding is similar to that of an angel investor who is not expecting a return of investment. We hope to help these individuals scale up their projects and bring them to the next level.” – Rebecca Irvin, Head of Philanthropy, Rolex
In the past 43 years, the program has received 34,000 project proposals from 191 countries. Of these, 150 Laureates have been selected thus far, with the youngest Laureate being 24 years old and the oldest at 74. These winners were chosen by a total of 146 experts who have served on the jury so far. For each edition of the Awards, a completely new panel of ten jurors is convened. The panel is independent, international, and selected for their expertise and stature in a wide variety of fields.
For the 2019 awards, the jury selected ten finalists from a shortlist of 957 candidates from 111 countries. From these ten finalists, five Laureates were chosen. Each Laureate received 200,000 Swiss francs (around US $204,000) to advance their projects along with a Rolex chronometer. They will also benefit from worldwide publicity arranged by the brand. The Laureates were presented in August last year, at a formal ceremony held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.
The Giant Arapaima is the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish and is native to the Amazon River and its tributaries. Sadly, overfishing, habitat fragmentation and water pollution have decimated wild populations almost to the point of extinction in many localities. “The Arapaima is a fantastic fish. It’s very large – up to 3 metres and 200 kilos. It has fed Amazonian people since the earliest human society,” says João Campos-Silva. The Brazilian ecologist has formed close partnerships with local associations, fishermen and fisheries to save not only the Arapaima but also the livelihoods, food supply and culture of the indigenous communities who depend on the Amazon’s rivers for survival. He has plans to replicate his inclusive conservation plan to other communities where the Arapaima numbers are in decline. For his efforts, João was selected as one of the five Laureates at the Rolex Awards for Enterprise 2019. He was joined on stage by the four other Laureates.
Grégoire Courtine has achieved what may seem like a miracle to spinal injury patients who have lost the ability to walk. The Lausanne based Frenchman has devised an implantable neuroprosthetic bridge to bypass the site of the spinal injury, thus enabling the patient’s brains to send command. This enables the damaged spinal nerves to recover and enables the patients to move their legs again; to walk. Grégoire wants to develop a fully implantable brain-spine interface as the next step.
According to the World Health Organization, 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia carry almost 80 per cent of the global malaria burden. And worldwide, 61 per cent of malaria deaths are of children. The key to treating malaria is a quick diagnosis. Current malaria tests require a blood sample and a skilled analyst, both of which are not always available in the developing world. So, Brian Gitta and his team in Uganda have developed a portable electronic device called the Matiscope that gives a reliable reading in minutes, without drawing blood. Gitta wants to deliver it to hospitals throughout Uganda and Kenya.
Krithi Karanth set up Wild Seve in 2015, a service for villagers living on the edges of Bandipur and Nagarahole wildlife reserves in South India. She helps them get government compensation if they have suffered from wildlife losses. Thus far, Wild Seve has filed 14,000 claims for 6,400 families, worth $200,000, which has decreased hostility and increased trust between conservationists and communities. She has plans to open Wild Shaale, a conservation education programme for 300 schools in the high-conflict areas, reaching 20,000 children. It will also survey community attitudes in vulnerable villages.
Miranda Wang, a 25-year-old Canadian entrepreneur, has a simple plan: “We’re taking plastics that are not recyclable today – things like dirty plastic bags or single-use packaging materials – and we transform them into valuable chemicals which can then be used to make durable materials for products that we all love and use every day.” She founded BioCellection in Silicon Valley to develop an array of unique technologies to transform soiled, contaminated and unrecyclable plastics like polyethene (PE) into renewable, quality chemicals with a high market value. The next step is to develop a fully commercial processing plant that can recycle 45,500 tonnes of plastic waste by 2023.
Given the public interest in all ten finalists, as demonstrated by an online vote and the quality of their projects, Rolex decided to bestow Associate Laureate Awards on the five finalists who were not chosen to be the five Laureates by the jury.
The five are: Argentinian conservationist Pablo García Borboroglu working to arrest the decline in world penguin populations. Marine biologist and explorer Emma Camp who is out to find the world’s most robust corals that can resist climate change and human activity. French volcanologist Yves Moussallam wants to shed light on how the gases and aerosols emitted by volcanoes are affecting climate change. Pakistani doctor Sara Saeed co-founded Sehat Kahani, which connects home-based female doctors with patients in impoverished communities through the internet. Technologist Topher White is giving researchers a unique view of wildlife in the world’s rainforests using old mobile phones.
Dr Sara Saeed, the co-founder and Chief Executive of the Sehat Kahani, was speaking at a special event organised at the Etihad Museum in Dubai, on December 8, 2019, to commemorate her as an Associate Laureate of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise. She received a monetary grant in support of her project and a Rolex chronometer. In 2016, Dr Saeed’s was presented the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Award.
Born in 1986, Dr Saeed received her MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery) from Dow University of Health Sciences in Karachi in 2010, and her Masters in Health Policy and Management from the Aga Khan University Faculty in Health Sciences in 2018. She co-founded Sehat Kahani in 2017 as a newer incarnation of a service called doctHERs that she co-founded in 2014 to champion women’s empowerment and provide high-quality healthcare to the poorest people. Through Sehat Kahani, Dr Saeed is able to reach thousands of patients in her country’s rural and medically under-served communities by connecting them with home-based female doctors via an innovative, low-cost, digital communication infrastructure.
Explaining the name of her organisation, Dr Saeed said: “Sehat in Urdu means health and Kahani means story. So essentially what I’m trying to do is to change the way healthcare stories are written in my country because they didn’t have a good ending right now, but we can change it collectively by making small changes to the health eco-system.”
There are around 170,000 doctors in Pakistan, of which, an impressive 63 per cent are female. However, says Dr Sara Saeed, “only 23 per cent of female doctors join the medical workforce. Instead, they stay at home to have a family; a situation termed the ‘doctor bride’ phenomenon. Through technology, we’re putting these female doctors back into the workforce within the cultural constraints that exist in Pakistan.”
The fact that just 23 per cent of the qualified doctors join the medical workforce, only “propagates the health issues in Pakistan because the majority of their medical workforce is sitting at home while the practising doctors are rarely available to the poorest of the poor communities, where healthcare is needed the most.” – Dr Sara Saeed
“In the middle of all this, there is a lot of mobile phones, smartphone and Internet penetration in Pakistan. So, while 100 million people in that country don’t have access to healthcare, there are 155 million people who have access to technology through mobile phones. And that leads to us thinking that technology could be the solution for the people. If they can’t meet each other physically because of distances and other constraints, then we can at least link them through technology.”
She went on to elaborate on how Sehat Kahani works on the ground: “We do this in two ways. For low-income communities in our country who don’t have access to smartphones or laptops themselves, we partner with nurses who have their own clinics in communities. We upgrade those clinics, and we train the nurse to use the tele-medicine software. So, when any patient comes to the clinic, they can be seen, through the nurse, by an online doctor using the system. The patients get their data recorded electronically. They can get e-prescriptions printed, and they can go to the pharmacy and get the medicine. For those who have a mobile phone, we have a mobile application that can connect them to a doctor 24/7 wherever they are; from the comfort of their home or their workplace.”
“The female doctor that we have in the network are not only general physicians but also specialists. We have at least 40 psychiatrists and psychologists. There are only 400 psychiatrists and psychologists in Pakistan for a country of 200 million people. So mental health services are not accessible even to the elite in our country. We also make sure that everyone’s data is captured in the electronic medical record system because that’s another problem in Pakistan. We also provide access to the labs and ultrasounds in our clinics as well as through our mobile app.”
To date, Dr Saeed has engaged 75 home-based female doctors and now runs 25 e-clinics across Pakistan; each administered by a nurse. Having served 900,000 patients since 2017, Dr Saeed’s plan is to expand the network to 100 e-clinics, thereby significantly increasing the number of patients who would benefit from primary healthcare.
Dr Saeed’s long-term vision goes beyond Pakistan. The medical problems faced by her country is “also a big problem for the region that we live in.” says Dr Saeed. “It’s also a global problem because 3.5 billion people in the world don’t get access to qualified healthcare. My vision starts with my country, but I believe this is a global problem that we can all solve together.”