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Agents of change

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HELPING OUT: Piyush Tewari (centre) won the Young Laureate award in 2010 for his SaveLife foundation that trains volunteers and the police to respond quickly to road accidents

The 2012 Rolex Social Enterprise Awards will be held in India for the first time. Ahead of the ceremony in Delhi on November 27 where five winners will be announced, TOI-Crest spoke to Rebecca Irvin, global head-Rolex philanthropy, on how the nature of social enterprise is changing.

The second highest number of entries this year was from India. Is social entrepreneurship catching on here?


Yes, I am pleased to say that we received 209 entries from India, second only to the United States which had 425 entries. Since the inception of the awards in 1976 we have received 1, 541 applications from India. This number, we believe, reflects the spirit of social enterprise that prevails in India today. We received some impressive Indian projects this year, with subjects ranging from education, to adopting new technologies and preserving the environment.
Over the years, we have had a number of excellent projects implemented by Indian pioneers and by those who have come to India from abroad to empower disadvantaged communities in India. To give a few examples: Shekar Dattatri, the 2004 associate laureate, has produced more than 30 films that not only document wildlife, but try to protect it. With her project to revive the craft of Kutchi embroidery, Chanda Shroff, the 2006 laureate, has socially, culturally and financially benefited more than 20, 000 women from 120 villages across Kutch. Then there is Piyush Tewari, a 2010 Young laureate, who has set up the SaveLife Foundation in Delhi to train a network of police officers and volunteers to respond quickly to road accidents and administer rapid medical care in order to stem the thousands of fatalities that occur on Indian roads each year.

What have been the main criteria for choosing this year's winners?


The jury - the eminent, multidisciplinary panel of a dozen or so voluntary experts - looks for that very special inner determination and originality of thought that are found only in those with true enterprise. The winners are individuals from all walks of life and all nationalities who through initiative and ingenuity are dedicated to expanding knowledge and to finding innovative solutions to today's challenges, especially conserving our environment for future generations. There are four main criteria used to select the winning projects - feasibility, is it likely to succeed;originality, does it break new ground;impact, does it have a sustained impact on the community and the world at large;and, above all, does the candidate demonstrate a spirit of enterprise.

Tell us about this year's laureates.


This year, as in the past, the laureates are a diverse group who hail from all parts of the world - from the Russian Federation, to Bolivia, to Australia - and cover areas as diverse as using technology to protect the Amur tigers in the Russian Far East, to revolutionising the delivery of vaccines in the developing world, to conserving our oceans. I will give you some specific examples of what the jury members said about what attracted them to specific projects. For example, Gururaj 'Desh' Deshpande, a global philanthropist, described his support of Mark Kendall's Nanopatch project (a cheaper alternative to needle vaccines) thus: "Here is an opportunity where a very advanced technology does not have to wait for another 30 years to benefit the huge masses of the world. " About Russian conservationist Sergei Bereznuk's Amur tiger project, Subramaniam Ramadorai, said: "Tiger conservation is one of the most critical needs in India, the country I come from. [This project ] is going to be truly remarkable and transnational. "

The list of awardees includes scientists and conservationists. Is your definition of a social entrepreneur broader?


First let me say that although many of the people we reach out to, and who, ultimately, become Rolex laureates, are, in fact, social entrepreneurs, our remit has from the start been much broader. Initiated in 1976, the Awards pre-date the notion of social entrepreneurism. Social entrepreneurs can be defined as "individuals with innovative solutions to society's most pressing social problems". While many of our winners fit this description, many have careers and projects that do not conform to the definition. Take, for example, two of the 2012 laureates, Barbara Block and Mark Kendall. Both are accomplished scientists and professors who are making their mark on society. They cannot be classified as social entrepreneurs.
One of the features of the Awards programme that sets it apart is the diversity of the individuals it supports. When listing some of the more unusual people who have won Rolex Awards, we often cite a former Parisian taxi driver and self-taught expert on insects, Pierre Morvan, a former laureate who has made his mark on science;and former teacher and carpenter, Dave Schweidenback, who runs the world's largest bicycle recycling operation.

As the world around us changes, have the parameters of choosing the Rolex Laureates also changed?


It is interesting to note that, despite massive changes in the world, the parameters have not changed dramatically. The nature of the projects submitted has changed, however, to some degree. As there are fewer remote regions of the world left to explore, we receive fewer projects in the traditional exploration category. And those that we do receive mainly relate directly to the environment. A majority of the applications we receive are concerned with preserving the natural and human environment. Also, our jury members are aware of how new technology has become integral to solving some of the most complex problems and how it is important to involve local communities and engage young people in meeting current challenges.

Why was Delhi selected as the venue for the Awards?


Rolex is coming to Delhi to pay tribute to the spirit of enterprise driving the dynamic Indian social and economic landscape. In addition, Rolex has developed strong ties with India since 1947, when the company opened a subsidiary in Bombay. We also have historic links to India through former winners, three of whom I have mentioned, and through a number of Indians who have participated in Rolex sponsorships, such as golfer Jeev Mikha Singh, tennis legend Vijay Amritraj and musician Anoushka Shankar. In addition, through our other major international philanthropic programme, the Rolex Mentor and Protêgê Arts Initiative, we have forged a close relationship with Anish Kapoor, Amitav Ghosh and Mira Nair (who will be the master of ceremonies at the Delhi event).

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