Rolex has announced the winners of the inaugural series of the Young Laureates Programme. This year, five Young Laureates, whose vision and tenacity present innovative solutions to challenges in Science and Health, Cultural Preservation, Environment, Exploration, and Applied Technology will be awarded US$100,000, a Rolex chronometer, and the benefits of international publicity. Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, Nigeria and Bruktawit Tigabu, Ethiopia are two of this year’s winners. The award ceremony will take place on 11 November, at EPFL Rolex Learning Center, Geneva. The event will be attended by 600 leading experts from all around the world, including the following: former Jury members or Rolex laureates from Africa: Engineer Sanoussi Diakite from Senegal, Botantist Sebastian Chuwa from Tanzania, technology entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Shuttleworth and Vertinary surgeon Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka from Uganda.
The 2010 Young Laureates from Africa
Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, Nigeria
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.
Nnaemeka 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 of his country.
Bruktawit Tigabu, Ethiopia
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.
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.
Watch the video of “Tsehai Loves Learning” creator Bruktawit Tigabu explaining how “Tsehai Loves Learning” started.
What qualities of your personality are most reflected in your project?
The first quality that comes to mind is my work ethic, which I think I inherited from my father. But my husband reminds me that I’m very committed to my work, which is born out of a deep love for the children I serve in Ethiopia. I also persevere; I wish hard work was enough.
What do you admire most in other people?
I admire people who are passionate about making other people’s lives better and people who make sacrifices or endure difficulties to make other people’s lives easier, be it their family, neighbours or people they don’t know.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
My favourite memory is when my older sister who had been raised by my grandmother because my parents couldn’t afford to care for her when she was born returned to live with our family.
What is your idea of happiness? When and where are you most happy?
Happiness is when I do the things I am the most passionate about and see it working. I am most happy when children are smiling and learning and getting comfort from the programmes I create for them. This could be at home watching the programme with my daughter or sitting under a tree surrounded by hundreds of kids who have gathered to watch the programme.
What aspects of your personal life have motivated you the most?
Growing up in poverty, and [being] surrounded by poverty as part of day-to-day life, it is only natural to want to help. I have an absolute need to help my country emerge from poverty. Rescuing children from preventable disease, educating children and teaching them to think critically, to be problem-solvers and to have a desire to serve others – this is the best hope for our future.
What is your most treasured possession?
I guess my computer, which has brought me information about anything I need and has helped me develop my knowledge, helped create this programme and allowed me to communicate with people around the world.
What is your favourite quote or motto?
“Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”
Which three words describe the way you feel when you see someone positively affected by the work you are doing as a Young Laureate?
Emotional, satisfied and energized.
What activities/hobbies do you like to do in your free time?
Free time? What is that? I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question. Seriously though, I enjoy playing basketball with my husband, playing with my daughter, beating everyone I know at games like SET [a card game] or Blockus [a board game], and watching [television programmes] “Friends”, “The Office” or “Lost”.
What is the most important lesson that someone has taught you? Who taught you this lesson? How old were you?
My Dad taught me that you can overcome great challenges through hard work. As long as I can remember, he taught me this through his example.
Other than being selected as a 2010 Young Laureate, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m proud of being a Mom. I am also proud of managing to overcome countless roadblocks to make and broadcast “Tsehai Loves Learning”. This is a bigger accomplishment than I think anyone can really understand. I try to remember that; no matter if this project manages to become sustainable or not, what we have done so far is already something I am very proud of.
Who is your favourite fictional hero or heroine?
If you could pick one person in history (living or dead) to be your role model, who would it be?
Nelson Mandela. He’s a symbol for peace, perseverance, forgiveness, and he overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles through the power of his upright character.
Do you like to listen to any music while you work? If yes, who are your favourite artists?
The Beatles, Aster Awake, Ethopiques collection, Bob Marley, Tracy Chapman, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Jason Mraz.
What is the most difficult challenge that you’ve overcome in the last year?
I managed to get “Tsehai Loves Learning” broadcast on Ethiopian Television again after it had been stopped for an unknown reason.
Who is the most interesting or memorable person that you’ve met while carrying out your project?
David Kleeman, who runs a centre for children’s media in the U.S. He seems to know everyone in the world of children’s media. I have met him four times in my life, each time on a different continent.
Project Location:United States
Project:To enable smartphone users to become volunteers by donating spare minutes to charitable, scientific and community organizations
Project: To establish an innovation centre to assist impoverished women to earn a decent wage by creating ‘eco-ethical, elegant’ products
Project:To train a network of police officers and volunteers to provide rapid medical care to road accident victims in Delhi.
For complete information about the Young Laureates Programme, please visit Rolex Awards
The next Rolex Awards for Enterprise will be presented in 2012 to five new Laureates for their projects that demonstrate innovative thought and benefit the world we live in.