Four visionary women and six men – from nine countries have won Rolex Awards for Enterprise, presented in Los Angeles on 15 November.

The 2016 winners include a polar scientist, a robotic suit designer and an eye specialist who wants to save millions of people from going blind. Other winners have projects as diverse as technology to stop hunger and conservation initiatives to save species and habitats.

The five Laureates and five Young Laureates were honoured at a ceremony held at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, a Hollywood landmark renowned as home of the Academy Awards.

Hundreds of luminaries, leading scientists, environmentalists and business people from Los Angeles and abroad gathered to celebrate the spirit of enterprise demonstrated by the winners chosen in this commemorative 40th year.

Rolex usually presents five Awards for Enterprise every two years; however, for this year’s 40th anniversary of the launch of the Awards, 10 prizes were announced – five for Laureates and five for Young Laureates (aged 18 to 30). 

“We are celebrating a very significant occasion in the history of the Awards and in the history of Rolex,” said Rebecca Irvin, Head of Philanthropy at Rolex. “Forty years ago the company initiated the Rolex Awards to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Oyster in a manner that reflected the spirit of enterprise on which the company was founded.

“What better place to pay tribute to this enterprising spirit and the pioneering work of the 10 Rolex Awards winners than a city – Los Angeles – that embraces diversity and innovation.”

The new Laureates were chosen by an international Jury of 12 eminent experts, all of them present at the presentation of the Awards. The Jury members selected the winners early this year after meeting the finalists who had been shortlisted from among 2,322 applicants representing 144 nationalities.

Each Laureate receives 100,000 Swiss francs (US$104,000) and each Young Laureate 50,000 Swiss francs ($52,000) to advance their project; all receive a Rolex chronometer and worldwide publicity for their projects.

The five Rolex Laureates honoured at the Los Angeles ceremony are:

Andrew Bastawrous, 36, United Kingdom – is an ophthalmologist whose team’s smartphone-based portable eye examination system, Peek Vision, is radically changing eye care in sub-Saharan Africa and other resource-poor settings.

Kerstin Forsberg, 32, Peru – is a biologist protecting giant manta rays by helping fishermen pursue ecotourism as an alternative income source and training them alongside ecotourists to collect data on the distribution and abundance of this species.

Vreni Häussermann, 46, Chile/Germany – is exploring Chilean Patagonia’s fjords to document the unknown and unique life at the bottom of the sea at three remote areas by combining exploration and science in an attempt to create support for conservation through public outreach.

Conor Walsh, 35, Ireland – is a mechanical and biomedical engineer, based at Harvard University in the US, who is tackling the mobility problems of stroke sufferers and others by developing a soft robotic suit that can be worn under clothes and will enable physically impaired people to walk without assistance.

Sonam Wangchuk, 50, India – is a Ladakhi engineer who is solving the problem of a lack of water for agriculture in the desert landscapes of the western Himalayas by building “ice stupas”. Named after Buddhist monuments, these conical ice mounds behave like mini artificial glaciers, slowly releasing water in the growing season.

The five Young Laureates announced in Los Angeles are:

Joseph Cook, 29, United Kingdom – is a pioneer in the field of glacial microbiology who, through his Ice Alive mission, is exploring polar ice microbes in the vast “frozen rainforest” of the Greenland ice sheet.

Oscar Ekponimo, 30, Nigeria – is addressing the problems of food poverty through Chowberry, a cloud-based application that automates the monitoring of food products approaching the end of shelf-life, ultimately helping to alleviate hunger in the country.

Christine Keung, 24, United States – emigrated to the US at the age of four and is using her education as a force for good by empowering women in north-western China to work with doctors and industry to act as environmental stewards and agents of change.

Junto Ohki, 29, Japan – is improving communication among hearing-impaired people worldwide by expanding a crowdsourced, online sign-language database dictionary called SLinto.

Sarah Toumi, 29, France/Tunisia – is spearheading a grass-roots initiative, Acacias for All, in Tunisia, to fight the country’s desertification caused by climate change and reduce poverty among farmers through reforestation and crops more suited to a lower rainfall.

The 2016 winners become part of the community of the Rolex Laureates and Associate Laureates who have helped to reshape the world in the 40 years since the Awards were created.

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