This week I was invited to the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, a nice dinner with nice people at The Royal Society in London. The Society occupies a grand residence on Carlton House Terrace just a short nip from Buckingham Palace. Cocktails would be served at 19.00.
Within minutes of taking my seat I was crying; not bawling but wiping away tears.
Rolex started the awards back in the 1970s and they are for people under 30 who, in the words of Rolex chairman Bertrand Gros, “have the vision, ingenuity and determination to improve life on Earth”. In his introduction to the awards book he added that the young laureates “show that with the right amount of passion and commitment, anyone can change everything”.
Now, we have all seen the results of similar award programmes and, yes, they find some nice souls. But over the following hours at The Royal Society the people who came on stage to collect their awards were some of the most disarmingly wonderful individuals I have ever seen. These were people who often had the most modest of support and yet did the most incredible things.
On my table was a softly spoken and humble man called Arthur Zang who is from Cameroon and has created a tablet-computer heart monitor, the Cardio Pad, that allows people in remote communities to be connected to the skills of a heart specialist. Cameroon has 20 million people and 50 heart specialists, so this simple device could save thousands of lives. And Zang is making it all in Cameroon. The Cameroonian high commissioner had come with him and both men exuded a calmness and sincerity that was truly special.
Then there was the conservationist Olivier Nsengimana from Rwanda, who came through the genocide to start working on gorilla conservation and now wants to defend the grey-crowned crane, a beautiful bird that faces numerous threats.
And there was an Indian doctor who has made a simple-to-use mobile device that can test the hearing of newborn babies; if problems are detected early, all sorts of help can be given to the child. It will especially help poor people in rural areas that cannot go to a hospital.
You get the picture.
In their simple thank-yous, in their complete lack of swagger, they made you see the world afresh. Greatness with humility is a glorious thing. Praise to them all.
Andrew Tuck is Monocle’s editor.