Cover image: Hindor Oumarou Ibrahim

Ninety-five years ago, Rolex unveiled the world’s first water- and dust-proof wristwatch, the Oyster. A year later, in 1927, professional swimmer Mercedes Gleitze swam across the English Channel wearing the Oyster. She was in the water for over 10 hours. The watch was still ticking at the end of the record-breaking attempt.

It was Gleitze’s feat – and several others in the ensuing decades – that inspired the watchmaker to launch the Rolex Awards for Enterprise in 1976, five decades after the unveiling of the Oyster. The ethos was simple: support and honour individuals who are doing innovative projects that “expand our knowledge of the world, protect the environment – helping to preserve habitats and species – and improve human well-being.”

Over the past 50 years, Rolex has supported 150 projects. This year, the watchmaker has added five more – Felix Brooks-church (US), Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (Chad), Rinzin Phunjok Lama (Nepal) Gina Moseley (UK) and Luiz Rocha (Brazil).

(Related: How the Rolex Perpetual Planet initiative uses exploration to save the earth)

Felix Brooks-church

Brooks-church with the "dosifer".
Brooks-church with the “dosifer”.

He’s tackling malnutrition in Tanzania through equipping rural flour mills with a “dosifier” machine, which adds critical micronutrients to fortify staple foods.

Hindour Oumarou Ibrahim

Hindour Oumarou Ibrahim with the indigenous people of Chad.
Hindour Oumarou Ibrahim with the indigenous people of Chad.

She’s working with the indigenous people and using their traditional knowledge to map natural resources and prevent climate conflicts in the Sahel.

Rinzin Phunjok Lama

Rinzin Phunjok Lama with the traditional community.
Rinzin Phunjok Lama with the traditional community.

He’s working with local communities to protect the richly diverse ecosystems of the Trans-Himalayan region, home of iconic and globally threatened mammals.

Gina Moseley

Gina Moseley during an expedition.
Gina Moseley during an expedition.

She’s aiming to lead the first expedition to explore the planet’s northernmost caves hoping to improve our knowledge of climate change in the Arctic.

Luiz Rocha

Luiz Rocha in a wetsuit.
Luiz Rocha in a wetsuit.

He’s exploring the mesophotic coral reefs and their biodiversity in the Indian Ocean so that he can learn how to not only protect them, but strengthen conservation of this unknown ecosystem.

A field of 1,659 candidates from 139 countries submitted their applications. Rolex slowly whittled this down to 15 finalists. Then, a panel of judges comprising 10 independent experts from all over the globe selected the final five.

And if you think you’re too young to change the planet for the better, according to Rolex, 26 per cent of the candidates were under the age of 30. The youngest was 18.

(Related: Check out Rolex’s new releases for 2021)