From The Straits Times    |


Working with the World Bank opened Denica Riadini-Flesch’s eyes to the struggles of local communities in her native country, Indonesia. She realised that what rural workers needed was not aid, but fair and commensurate wages. Having moved to Rotterdam to study and work, she made a conscious decision to return to her homeland with a mission: to change the textile industry in a way that would benefit everyone.

In 2016, she founded Sukkhacitta, a farm-to-closet enterprise. Despite the fact that Indonesia is one of the world’s largest clothing manufacturers, less than 2 per cent of its garment and textile workers, the majority of whom are women, earn a living daily wage.

Determined to change the narrative, Denica built an e-commerce platform dedicated to selling high-quality, traditionally crafted clothing handmade by indigenous female artisans. Since then, Sukkhacitta has expanded its scope, and built craft schools for women to perpetuate their indigenous culture. These endeavours have resulted in a 60 per cent average increase in wage earnings, with a ripple effect on the overall well-being of families and societies. As women increasingly take charge of their household’s finances, the nutrition and education of the village’s children improve, laying the foundation for continued sustainable development.

The second problem Denica faced was an environmental one. It is standard practice in the fashion industry to use toxic dyes. Also, almost all of Indonesia’s cotton is imported, and grown on enormous monoculture farms using harmful chemicals. She found her solution in the traditional farming techniques of the very communities she is working with.

Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate Denica Riadini-Flesch is the CEO and founder of Sukkhacitta, an Indonesian-based social enterprise that empowers rural craftswoman, and provides social and environmental benefits all along the value chain. PHOTO: ROLEX/ SEBASTIEN AGNETTI

Denica and her team found an older generation of Indonesian cotton farmers that remembered how their grandmothers integrated cotton into the forest ecosystem, alleviating the need for chemicals. Using the existing local wisdom of these smallholder farmers, Sukkhacitta started growing its own cotton through regenerative farming, planting the cotton alongside 23 other species to maintain biodiversity and restore the health of the soil. This technique makes and uses natural dyes from plants grown by Sukkhacitta farmers as sustainable colourants for the fabrics.

For her work in uplifting local communities and protecting the local ecosystem, Denica is one of the recipients of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, a biannual award ceremony that celebrates the endeavours of individuals who are looking to advance human knowledge and well-being.

“The Award will allow us to amplify our model by scaling physically across schools, and digitising our curriculum so we’re able to reach more women across Indonesia,” says Denica. “That’s why we celebrated together, because we know what this opportunity means for so many “The Award will allow us to amplify our model by scaling physically across schools, and digitising our curriculum so we’re able to reach more women across Indonesia,” says Denica. “That’s why we celebrated together, because we know what this opportunity means for so many women, who can now feel seen and valued again.”

Enacting change with action

2023 Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate Beth Koigi, who is committed to delivering clean and sustainable water sources to communities in Kenya. PHOTO: ROLEX/EVA DIALLO

Selected by a panel of 10 world-renowned experts and leaders, the other four Rolex Awards Laureates for 2023 include: Peruvian biologist Constantino Aucca Chutas, Kenyan sustainability social entrepreneur Beth Koigi, Ivorian primatologist Inza Kone, and Chinese remote sensing specialist Liu Shaochuang.

The Rolex Awards were first conceptualised as a one-off celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster in 1976. Given its tremendous success, it has since become a biannual tradition, one that supports individuals that are using science and technology to help solve our planet’s most pressing issues.

The impact of the Rolex Awards cannot be overstated. According to the brand, since the inception of the awards, 28 million trees have been planted; 52 endangered species and 32 major ecosystems have been protected, including 57,600 sq km of Amazon rainforest; hundreds of new species have been discovered; 53 challenging expeditions have been completed; and 49 innovative technologies have been developed for a range of applications.

Since 2019, the Rolex Awards form part of the Rolex Perpetual Planet Initiative, an umbrella programme that’s dedicated to providing support to individuals and organisations that protect the environment.

Interestingly, unlike traditional award ceremonies, the Awards do not look at past achievements – instead, they aim to support current and ongoing projects. The 2023 Laureates are no different.

Protecting the planet

Each of the five 2023 Laureates was selected for their commitment to protecting the planet for future generations. They’re intrepid adventurers, using science and technology to target challenges that are facing the world.

Kenyan social entrepreneur Beth, for example, is looking to solve the issue of water scarcity in her country by installing solar-powered generators in 10 communities. These generators have been constructed to harvest water from air, hence providing a clean water source. Since the inception of her company in 2017, these generators have produced 200,000 litres of clean water per month for over 1,900 people.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Laureates are all committed to protect the diverse ecosystems in their respective countries.

Under his organisations Asociacion Ecosistemas Andinos and Accion Andina, Constantino has planted 4.5 million trees, and designated 16 protected areas in the mountains across Peru and other Andean regions.

Similarly committed to protecting the biodiversity in his country, Inza is a primatologist whose work has resulted in the Tanoe-Ehy rainforest becoming a community-managed nature reserve, which is home to more than 60 endangered and endemic flora and fauna. Finally, Shaochuang, who played a key role in developing China’s Mars and Lunar rovers, has built a satellite system to monitor the habitat of wild camels in China and Mongolia for their protection.

Their work is a testament to the Rolex Awards for Enterprise’s mission since its inception: to support the incredible individuals who are benefiting the planet and people.