Friday, November 19, 2010

A Young Nigerian bags the Rolex Young Laureate Award 2010

Victoria Pam, a Parasitologist from Jos, Pleteau State is one of the 27 finalists, 2010 Young Laureates Programme. Mrs. Pam who is currently a Ph.D student serves as a researcher and lecturer in Parasitology, Entomology, cell biology and research methodology at the National Veterinary Research Institute in Jos. She applied for the 2010 Rolex Awards to establish a permanent molecular biology laboratory in the National Veterinary Research Institute facilities to screen parasites infections and implement awareness campaigns about prevention and control measures. For her, educating the local community is key to success and to sustainable change. Although she did not get the $50, 000 award, Pam said she was still expectant. Her expectation for the event is to network, get advices from the jury and research on future funding opportunities for her project.

Like Pam, 29 years old Preven Chetty, a graduate from University of KwaZulu-Natal with a degree in Geography and environmental management was also one of the 27 finalists. As a child, Chetty was fascinated by rivers in South Africa. He applied for a Rolex Award to produce a socio-visual collage about the Umgeni River, which flows 225 kilometers from the mountains to the Indian ocean on South Africa’s east coast. His aim is to highlight the importance of rivers and put the issue of water conservation on the world stage. The two finalists, like the others are currently focused on strengthening their project ideas in order to give them better chances of winning next year.

The winners, five Young Laureates- Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, Nigeria; Bruktawit Tigabu, Ethiopia; Piyush Tewari, India; Reese Fernandez, Philippines; and Jacob Colker, United States were honored the Rolex Learning Center at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Geneva on November 11.

An Era of Generosity

Polymath Brian Eno, the British record producer, composer, singer, multimedia artist and a noted technological innovator, was the keynote speaker at the award ceremony. Long concerned with the future of society and the global environment, he congratulated the winners and encouraged everyone to imbibe the culture of altruism. According to him, we are now in an era of generosity.

The Awards ceremony which took place between November 10 to 12, at the new Rolex Learning Center at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), one of Europe’s leading science and technology universities had in attendance some of the world’s foremost scientists, explorers and environmentalists who converged to celebrate winners of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise: Young Laureates Programme. Programme seeks to foster a spirit of enterprise in the next generation with innovative projects and encourage knowledge exchange between older and younger generation.

Young Laureates Pitch

The five Young Laureates, all aged between 25 and 30 for the first time, explained their projects to the public- a diverse international participants and students who converged at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) during Venture Ideas at EPFL: Entrepreneurs’ Journey with Impact session. Ventures Ideas is an initiative for promoting innovation at EPFL and stimulating entrepreneurship among students.

Their projects, which range from transforming volunteering for the 21st century to enabling impoverished women to create eco-­ethical fashion goods, from developing interactive radio in order to promote sustainable farming, to training volunteers to provide rapid care to road accident victims and developing TV programmes to improve children’s health, all had the innovative use of technology in common.

Nnaemeka work with farmers in rural Imo State. Through his interactive, mobile radio network facilitated by Small Holders Foundation, hundreds of thousands of rural listeners receive and exchange information on sustainable farming practices and health issues. Bruktawit Tigabu who has recorded 26 episodes of “Tsehai Loves Learning” broadcasted to about 2.6 million children, is very passionate about disseminating educational programmes through the Mass Media. Jacob Colker, is 27 years old. His project is focused on recruiting “Micro-volunteers”, such as Smartphone users to become volunteers by donating spare minutes to charitable, scientific and community organizations. From the Philippines, 25 years old Reese Fernandez won the 2010 Rolex Awards to expand the impact of her Project “Rag2Riches” that aims to improve the lives of women in Manila’s Payatas Waste dump. Rag2Riches is set to “establish an innovation centre to assist impoverished women to earn a decent wage by creating ‘eco-ethical, elegant’ products”. Piyush Tewari from India is 29 years old. His project, SaveLIFE Foundation (SLF) train a network of police officers and volunteers to provide rapid medical care to road accident victims in Delhi. So far, they have trained over 2,000 Dehli Police officers and 300 community volunteers.

Rolex used the opportunity to showcase both the winners and their visionary projects and to foster intellectual exchange between them and some of the best thinkers from Switzerland and abroad. ”Our ultimate goal is to encourage an enterprising spirit among under- 30s worldwide and to stimulate innovation in the region in order to help ensure a better future for the next generation.” said Rebecca Irvin, head of the Rolex Institute, the company’s philanthropic and educational arm.

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu

Growing up in an agriculture-oriented environment in Nigeria, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu spent his after-school hours raising poultry and cattle. After high school, as he participated in youth and citizens’ associations helping farmers, Ikegwuonu quickly became aware that the rural community had little access to information about farming practices and environmental issues. In 2003, he founded the Smallholders Foundation to provide the rural community with information – via the radio – on contemporary agricultural techniques and environmental conservation. Ikegwuonu, who has a bachelor of arts in history and international studies and a master’s degree in cooperation and development, is becoming known as a change-maker who fights poverty using new interactive technology.

His Project:

Ikegwuonu wants to build on the achievements of his Smallholders Foundation – which is already broadcasting 10 hours daily to 250,000 listeners on Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio – by establishing a communications network reaching 3.5 million farmers in almost 5,000 villages in his own region, Imo State, in south-east Nigeria. Not only will farmers receive advice on a wide range of topics – from sustainable farming practices to HIV/AIDs and opening and running a bank account – they will also be able to contribute information, thanks to interactive mobile radios, known as AIR devices. These small, solar-powered machines allow listeners to send voice messages, free of charge, to radio stations, which can, in turn, broadcast them. Imo State’s farmers will have a platform to share experiences, ask questions and receive answers in their own language. Ikegwuonu’s long-term ambition is to extend the service to other regions in Nigeria.

Sharing his experience on how he felt when he got the news that he won the Rolex Young Laureates award, Nnaemeka said “I was a bit surprise because there were other young people with so much brilliant ideas. I was surprised not because we are good but because it was another recognition of our relentless effort to promote our agricultural development.” His advice to young people aspiring to initiative their ideas, he said “You can do what ever you want to do. It does not come easy. There are people who will discourage you but come one, pursue your dreams, you will achieve it.”

Giving an example of how SmallHolders foundation has impacted farmers in Imo state, Nnaemeka said “There is what we call rain water harvesting. Rain-water harvesting is a an age-long indigenous practice. It means during the raining season, we conserve the rain. But the practice has been abandoned over the years. We started doing a radio programme that educates farmers on the importance of rainwater harvesting.
Not because they need to harvest rainwater but because there is an agricultural benefit that comes with rain water harvesting…such as, when you conserve water during raining season, you use it to plant crops during dry season…instead of you relying on one season farming of vegetable, you can do two season farming and make money from it.”

Bruktawit Tigabu

Bruktawit Tigabu began her professional career as a primary school teacher in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Determined to reduce child mortality rates in her country, she looked for ways to educate children on health matters. In 2005, with her husband, Tigabu set up Whiz Kids Workshop. Working from their living room, using sock puppets, computer graphics and their own voices, they began producing “Tsehai Loves Learning”, a television programme about a young, female giraffe, named Tsehai, which covers many health-related issues. Twenty-six episodes of this highly successful programme (in Amharic, Ethiopia’s principal language), have now been created, each one seen by an estimated 2.6 to 5 million children.

Her Project:

Bruktawit Tigabu’s project goal, listed under the Science and Health category, is to develop a health-education television programme for preschool children in Ethiopia.

For Bruktawit, an Educator-cum-Entrepreneur from Ethiopia, the three greatest resources that has continue to drive her are persistence, hardwork and passion. “I have a passion for children, which I can’t let go and I work hard for it.” She said.

A learning ceremony

As part of the interaction between the young Rolex entrepreneurs and the EPFL community, visits were organized to two of the university’s research labs: the Blue Brain Project, in order to understand brain function and dysfunction; and the Global Health Institute, created to contribute to the understanding, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. In addition, there were presentations of the university’s landmark research in areas such as health and diagnostics, and water and sustainability.

“We are honoured to co- host the ceremony and to welcome the young innovators and other Rolex guests to our campus,” said Adrienne Corboud Fumagalli, vice president of Innovation and Technology Transfer at EPFL and a member of the 2010 Young Laureates Jury. ”The EPFL wants to stimulate entrepreneurship among students, and the Rolex Young Laureates Programme is a great match for us.”

Rolex Young Laureates Programme

An expansion of the long- standing Rolex Awards for Enterprise, the Young Laureates Programme, launched in January 2009, honours men and women between the ages of 18 and 30 with inventive ideas to solve tomorrow’s challenges in science and health, applied technology, exploration, the environment and cultural preservation. Each Young Laureate receives US$50,000 over the course of two years, giving the winners time to focus on their pioneering projects and move forward in implementing them.

The fourteenth Rolex Laureate Award launched the 1st Young Laureates:

Since the inception of the Award in 1976, this was the first time the event was being hosted in Switzerland. Below is more information about the five young laureates honored:

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, 27, Nigeria – intends to boost the living standards of millions of Nigerian farmers through his interactive, mobile radio network. Hundreds of thousands of rural listeners are already receiving and exchanging information on sustainable farming practices and health issues.

Jacob Colker, 27, United States – is changing the way people get involved in community service. His internet-based programme allows volunteers to use their smartphones to donate spare minutes to charitable and scientific organizations.

Reese Fernandez, 25, Philippines – is committed to alleviating poverty by training people to become social entrepreneurs. Her Rags2Riches enterprise has already empowered hundreds of women to earn a living by turning scrap materials into elegant fashion accessories.

Piyush Tewari, 30, India – has set up a foundation to train a network of police officers and volunteers to respond quickly to road accidents and administer rapid medical care. By providing immediate assistance to victims, he hopes to stem the thousands of fatalities that occur on Indian roads each year.

Bruktawit Tigabu, 28, Ethiopia – is building on the success of a television programme on health that she and her husband are producing for preschool children and their parents.

Facts & Figures: Rolex Award for Enterprise

· 25,800 applications received and evaluated

· Since the Awards were founded in 1976, 110 Laureates have been selected

· 95 world-renowned experts have served as judges

· Youngest person to win a Rolex Award: 28 years old

· 47 was the average age of applicants in 2008

· Oldest person to win a Rolex Award: 74 years old

· Women made up 23% of applicants in 2008

Published in The Nation

Read Nnaemeka's interview on CP-Africa

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