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The Rolex Awards for Enterprise ceremony at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, in June 2019. Picture: Supplied/Rolex
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise ceremony at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, in June 2019. Picture: Supplied/Rolex

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise has a long and prestigious history over the almost 50 years since they were started. The awards are now considered a springboard of support for bright minds that want to change the world.

In this series of articles, we take pleasure in introducing the Rolex Awards for Enterprise legacy and family, and invite you to meet the five Laureates for 2021 who are taking the fight to protect the earth and its inhabitants from the coral reefs of the Maldives to the caves of Greenland and beyond.

We give you a brief history of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise over the decades: forming part of the Rolex Perpetual Planet initiative that fosters scientific exploration, inquiry, invention and outreach, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise have always reflected the concerns of the day.

Zain Asher was the master of ceremonies at the Rolex Awards for Enterprise ceremony held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC in June 2019. Picture: Supplied/Rolex
Zain Asher was the master of ceremonies at the Rolex Awards for Enterprise ceremony held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC in June 2019. Picture: Supplied/Rolex

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise were started in 1976 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the world’s first waterproof watch, the Rolex Oyster. Since then, this pioneering platform of support has assisted 155 inventors, explorers, scientists, biologists, oceanographers and thinkers who are driving change through education, communication, conservation and preservation.

The first call for entries for the Rolex Awards for Enterprise in 1976 was a resounding success as applications flooded in to the Rolex head office in Geneva. A huge gap in corporate philanthropy was being covered as mainstream funding was not always able to support inventive, ground-breaking ideas from all over the world. The Rolex Awards for Enterprise answered a need that nobody realised was there, and the first five Laureates were chosen two years later by a panel of independent experts in 1978.

What was originally envisioned as a one-off awards ceremony quickly gained momentum through the 1980s. In 1983 and 1987, 10 more Laureates from multidisciplinary backgrounds and from countries far afield were awarded and given the scope to scale up their work.

The 1990s and 2000s dawned in a world that had changed in the blink of an eye, with a surge in new technologies, a growing global population and even more pressure on the planet’s dwindling resources. But the Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureates rose to the challenge by empowering, perhaps for the first time, a new generation of youth passionate about protecting the planet.

To date, there have been more than 35,000 applicants since the start of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise in 1976

Over the decades, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureates have piloted solutions that have been aimed at addressing the critical environmental concerns of the time.

The 1990s saw a growing awareness of the impact of CFC emissions on the atmosphere and a rising need to address the disastrous effects of global deforestation, while the start of the new millennium heralded the age of global warming and the advent of unknown diseases. All of these pressing concerns required pioneering new ideas and vibrant energy to address them.

To date, there have been more than 35,000 applicants since the start of the awards in 1976, and Laureates have ranged in age from 24 to 74. The Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate family is truly global, with more than 190 countries represented.

In addition to a financial grant and the international recognition that each winning Laureate receives, the Rolex Awards for Enterprise also regularly initiates contact and collaboration between Laureates. The Laureate family now consists of 155 members who periodically work together across oceans and continents to strengthen the work that they do. The Rolex Perpetual Planet initiative legacy is making our planet perpetual, one step at a time.

Navigate to Rolex.org to discover more. #PerpetualPlanet #RolexAwards

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