Rolex Awards 2012: Celebrating innovation and excellence

News feature published in Ceylon Today newspaper, 29 November 2012

Rolex Awards for Enterprise celebrate innovation and excellence
By Nalaka Gunawardene in New Delhi

Five extraordinary individuals from as many continents came together in New Delhi on November 27 to be saluted and felicitated for their innovation, determination and pursuit of excellence.

At a gala awards dinner at Delhi’s Taj Palace Hotel, before an audience of leaders and innovators from all over the world, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise were presented to the five 2012 Laureates. They are: Sergei Bereznuk (Russia), Barbara Block (United States), Erika Cuéllar (Bolivia), Mark Kendall, (Australia) and Aggrey Otieno (Kenya).

The Laureates each received 100,000 Swiss francs and a Rolex chronometer. They will also gain substantial recognition and global publicity for their work.

They join 115 other individuals from 42 countries in a growing worldwide community of explorers, researchers and entrepreneurs.

During the two hour ceremony, each winner was profiled in a short video, and invited to make a brief acceptance speech. Their words illustrated how they simply refuse to accept the status quo in their respective fields of work – and strive to change it in different ways.

“Frustration has been a key motivation for me,” said Mark Kendall, a bio-engineer who is developing a ‘Nanopatch’ to replace needles in vaccination. “There are many big problems out there waiting to be tackled. They don’t come neatly packaged. We need to work across cultures and disciplines to solve these.”

“It’s a tragedy that so many women still die giving birth to children in this day and age. I am going to fight this in my own community,” said
Aggrey Otieno of Kenya, who is building a telemedicine centre in a large Nairobi slum to provide women with a lifeline to obstetric medical care.

Conservationist Erika Cuellar of Bolivia is training indigenous people in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina to conserve the biodiversity of one of South America’s last truly wild environments, the Gran Chaco.

She said: “Conservation today is highly political, and it’s a constant fight. But hard work and persistence can still make a difference. Nature needs all the allies it can get!”

“We know more about the soils of Mars than about the oceans of our own planet,” said oceanographer Barbara Block of United States, who is tracking marine predators (tuna and sharks) off the North American coast with a series of underwater listening stations.

She added: “By wiring up the ocean and making the data available online, we are hoping to make a personal connection between ordinary people and these lions and tigers of the sea.”

For Sergei Bereznuk of Russia, the biggest conservation battles are fought in the minds of people, especially of children. He is using technology and education targeted at younger people to protect the last Siberian tigers in the Russian Far East.

“I salute the brave wildlife rangers and teaches and other public educators in all tiger countries across Asia who are leading this battle at two fronts,” he said.

Celebrating Excellence

The original idea of the Rolex Awards, launched in 1976, was simple: to provide financial help and encouragement to outstanding projects that seek to break new ground and capture the spirit of enterprise. It is a prospective award that supports on-going work, selected from an open and competitive process.

“Anything in the world is possible with the right kind of passion and determination,” said Bertrand Gros, Chairman of the Board, Rolex SA, speaking at the Delhi ceremony.

He added that the Rolex Awards have a special place in the company because they reflect the ethics on which the company was founded — quality, excellence and performance.

The 2012 Laureates were chosen from more than 3,500 applicants from 154 countries by an independent jury of international experts drawn from around the world and across disciplines.

“Our task was a difficult one – we had to assess which ideas could best transform dreams into tangible results,” said jury member Subramaniam Ramadorai, Indian IT specialist who founded and is now vice chairman of Tata Consultancy Services.

The master of ceremonies was the celebrated Indian director Mira Nair, who said she was delighted to be back in the city where her 2001 film Monsoon Wedding is based.

At the end of the ceremony, former Indian tennis star and actor Vijay Amritraj – who served as a global juror for 2010 Rolex Awards – announced five more Young Laureates who will be felicitated in early 2014. They are all young activists or entrepreneurs below 30 already blazing new trails.

This was the first global Rolex Awards event held in South Asia. Previous Rolex Awards presentations have been held in Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland, and in New York, Tokyo, Singapore, Paris and Dubai.

Sri Lanka has produced two Rolex Laureates. Consultant surgeon Dr Wijaya Godakumbura, inventor of the safe bottle lamp, was a Laureate in 1998. Conservationist Rohan Pethiyagoda became an Associate Laureate in 2000 for his efforts to protect Sri Lanka’s biodiversity by reclaiming tracks of land to support endangered species.

Rolex Awards 2012 presented in Delhi - Ceylon Today, 29 Nov 2012

Rolex Awards 2012 presented in Delhi – Ceylon Today, 29 Nov 2012

Ray Wijewardene website: Celebrating a Man for All Elements!

Ray Wijewardene (1924 - 2010): A man for all elements

One year has passed since Ray Wijewardene’s death aged 86. In that year, I’ve been privileged to play a part in celebrating his life and preserving his legacy.

My main contribution todate is building the official Ray Wijewardene website, which was launched in time for Ray’s 87th birth anniversary. It can now be accessed at:

Here’s the promotional blurb I sent out to a few dozen people this weekend:

Philip Revatha (Ray) Wijewardene (1924 – 2010) was an extraordinary Sri Lankan who was rightly called a Renaissance Man. Educated at two of the most prestigious universities in the world (Cambridge and Harvard), he excelled in many different areas of human endeavour: agriculture, aviation, engineering design, inventions, renewable energy technologies and water sports. He also painted and played the violin.

The Ray Wijewardene official website went ‘live’ just in time for Ray’s 87th birth anniversary on 20 August 2011.

This informative website captures highlights of Ray’s rich and colourful life that covered different areas of human endeavour: agriculture, aviation, engineering design, renewable energy, transport and water sports. It promotes his vision for self-reliance, innovation and sustainable development in Sri Lanka and in other countries in the humid tropics.

Weaving the four elements: Ray's logo

The website introduces Ray as ‘a man for all elements’, and showcases his personal logo that symbolised the integration of the four elements in eastern philosophy: water, fire, air and matter/Earth.

It carries first person narratives written by five individuals who knew Ray in different capacities: aviator Capt Elmo Jayawardena, renewable energy specialist P G Joseph, science writer Nalaka Gunawardene, conservationist Dr Ranjith Mahindapala and biologist Rohan Pethiyagoda. It also collates links to tributes and appreciations that were published in the media following Ray’s death in August 2010.

In another section, the website has a photo gallery that includes many hitherto-unseen images drawn from the Wijewardene family albums and from various other institutional and media sources. These offer glimpses of Ray Wijewardene’s education, training, career and leisure activities that took him to the universities of Cambridge and Harvard, international service with the United Nations, the Olympic and Asian games and the grassroots in Sri Lanka.

The website was conceived and built by the Colombo-based non-profit media foundation TVE Asia Pacific. It is an entirely voluntary effort that involved the collaboration of many individuals from different backgrounds and geographical locations. Information and images were sourced from Ray’s family members, friends and associates.

More information, photographs and videos are to be added as new material becomes available. The website actively seeks memories, anecdotes and images for the Ray biography compilation project that is now underway.

The Ray Wijewardene Charitable Trust (RWCT) was established in early 2011 to promote Ray’s vision and ideas in Sri Lanka. The Trust will support innovation in areas that were close to Ray’s heart. This website is the Trust’s first public activity to preserve Ray’s legacy.