Winners of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise Named

The Rolex Awards for Enterprise are given to five Laureates who "embody the spirit of enterprise to benefit their communities and the wider world." The winners each get $100,000 to continue projects already under way and a Rolex Oyster, the world's first waterproof watch (not bad for a little extra treat). Offered in five categories: science, technology, exploration, environment and culture, they represent a range of visionary projects.

Elsa Zaldivar's houses made of recycled plastic, cotton netting, corn husks and loofah sponges are particularly ingenious. She works in the poor regions of Paraguay encouraging rural women to grow loofahs, a plant that had once flourished but had fallen out of style. First she organised the women into a co-operative; starting with a group of 16, now there are 200 growing and selling the sponges.

Then she had the brilliant idea to use the unsaleable ones and their husks to make wall and roof panels for low-cost housing. Working with an engineer, they developed a machine that would melt a mixture of plastic waste and loofah to make panels out of the resultant product. With 90% of the forest gone, this could be an answer to the severe housing shortage. Her Rolex grant will be used to finance the construction of three model houses and hopefully set the villagers on their way to better and cheaper housing.

Tuk-tuks are auto rickshaws or motorized tricycles. They are ubiquitous all over developing countries: easy to build, cheap to operate and provide cheap and quick transport. However their two-stroke engines result in serious emissions and are major sources of air pollution. These engines are used in 94% of all motorcycles in the Philippines. Tim Bauer, winner of a Rolex Award,is an industrial engineer and with a partner, developed a snowmobile engine using direct fuel injection. They decided to expand this idea and develop a commercial product for the Asian market to cut air pollution.

They created a kit that transformed two-stroke tuk-tuk engines into direct fuel-injection mechanisms. It reduced particulate emissions by 70 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 76%. They founded a non-profit organisation, Envirofit and set about working in 2 resorts in the Philippines. They have published a manual, held courses and launched a microcredit program. Drivers can easily pay back their loan since they work daily. To date over 260 drivers have fitted out their taxis. The Rolex grant will help them to expand the kit more widely in Asia.

Other winning ideas include a reliable way to predict volcanic eruptions, and vocational training to heal AIDS orphans. Rolex Awards

Tags: Air Quality | Awards | Public Transportation