Rolex Awards 2012: Social and technological entrepreneurs shaping a new world

News feature published in Ceylon Today newspaper, 28 November 2012

L to R - Margaret Lowman, Rodrigo Jordan, Adrienne Corboud Fumagalli & moderator R Sukumar
L to R – Margaret Lowman, Rodrigo Jordan, Adrienne Corboud Fumagalli & moderator R Sukumar

Social and technological entrepreneurs shaping a new world
By Nalaka Gunawardene in New Delhi

A new wave of social and technological entrepreneurs is reshaping our world, blending the best of enterprise, innovation and compassion.

The old divides of for-profit and non-profit are fast blurring in this brave new world where emerging economies of Asia are taking the lead, a global gathering of change-makers heard this week.

The Rolex Leadership Forum, held at the New Delhi Municipal Council Convention Centre, was convened by the Rolex Awards for Enterprise. It heard from inspirational innovators, scientists and adventurers – all of who shared their personal journeys and passions as they discussed their views on leadership and enterprise.

The core values identifies by these remarkable individuals as guiding and sustaining themselves were passion, integrity, resilience and a sense of humour.

“Follow your passion, think outside the box and seek solutions,” was how Margaret Lowman, pioneering US canopy ecologist summed it up. “Early on, I realized that you expend the same amount of energy to complain as to exclaim. I’ve chosen to do the latter, making things better as I go along!”

She emphasised that solving problems is far more important than simply gathering and analysing data or publishing technical papers. As head of North Carolina’s new Nature Research Centre, she is heavily involved in taking children and youth back to nature, and in public engagement of science.

“I would recommend that we try not to blend in, but stand up and stand out,” said Adrienne Corboud Fumagalli, Swiss economist, media and technology transfer specialist.

Rodrigo Jordan, Chilean social entrepreneur, educationist and mountaineer, who in 1992 led the first Latin American expedition to Mount Everest, has been applying team building skills to business, education and social development. His recipe for successful teams: right proportions of passion, expertise, a sense of purpose and generosity among team members.

“It is imperative for good teams to have members with a good match of technical and personal skills,” he said. “I climb peaks not with climbers but with human beings.”

Nandan Nilekani speaks at Rolex Leadership Forum 2012
Nandan Nilekani speaks at Rolex Leadership Forum 2012

“Giving people a purpose larger than themselves usually leads to extraordinary results,” said Nandan Nilekani, the Indian techno-preneur best known for co-founding and building the IT giant Infosys Technologies.

He described challenges involved in his current public sector assignment as chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) – which is building the world’ s largest digital identification system that is web-based. When completed, it will store information on all 1.2 billion Indian residents.

Young change-makers

The forum also heard from three outstanding young Indians who have pursued their own passion for excellence, innovation and service.

Piyush Tewari, who was a Rolex Young Laureate in 2010, has left a lucrative corporate job to devote all his time to SaveLIFE Foundation that trains police officers and volunteers in roadside trauma care. His group responds to the highest road accident fatality rate in the world – an average of 15 deaths every hour. Yet, 80 per cent of victims don’t receive any emergency medical help within the first vital hour after injury.

Deepak Ravindran founded and heads Innoz, a tech company that runs SMSGYAN which serves 120 million users to access several Internet functions from simple mobile phones through text messages. By making every mobile phone smart, he aims to bring Internet within reach of more people in a country where Internet use is currently around 10 per cent.

Ishita Khanna is a social entrepreneur who runs EcoSphere that promotes community participation to achieve sustainable development in remote Himalayan communities through eco-tourism, renewable energies and indigenous wild produce.

These three mid-career professionals epitomise the new generation of Indians who are combining modern management methods and technologies with age old values of caring, sharing and taking on responsibility.

As Rebecca Irvin, director of Philanthropy at Rolex, asked: “The choice for today’s young people is: do you just want to do well in your lives, or do you also want to do good while pursuing your passions?”

The Rolex Leadership Forum 2012 in New Delhi was attended by over 300 people who came from all parts of the world and all walks of life. The distinguished gathering included past winners (laureates) of the prestigious award and its past judges along with journalists, activists and researchers.

Dr Wijaya Godakumbura, inventor of the safe bottle lamp and a Rolex Laureate (1998), was among the invitees.

Rolex Leadership Forum in Delhi, Ceylon Today 28 Nov 2012
Rolex Leadership Forum in Delhi, Ceylon Today 28 Nov 2012

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

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