Shaw said that progress depends on the unreasonable man (or woman) – the person who persists in shaping the world rather than letting it shape them.
This award is for an individual who has shown enormous tenacity and stubbornness in pursuing an idea, despite the difficulties encountered along the way.
Having witnessed the loss of space shuttle Columbia and its seven crew members – his friends and classmates – NASA engineer and astronaut Dr Charles “Charlie” Camarda was determined to solve the problem of foam impacting the shuttle wing. But NASA was beset with an ageing workforce, deep hierarchical silos and a culture of organisational secrecy. Dr Camarda tried repeatedly to offer his assistance – but was rebuffed each time.
So, going under the radar, he put together his own team of researchers and built prototypes in secrecy in a friend’s garage-lab, testing dozens of ideas using rapid innovation and concept-development techniques.
But Dr Camarda still had to fight continuously with programme managers and the mission control team to ensure the experiments his crew conducted in space were the most promising repair options. (He fought so hard, in fact, that managers tried several times to remove him from his first space shuttle flight). Then, in July 2005, the crew of STS-114 – with Charles Camarda flying as mission specialist – completed a perfect mission, successfully testing the new technologies that would ensure the safety of all successive Shuttle missions until its retirement in 2011. The methodology Dr Camarda and his team pioneered – innovative conceptual engineering design (ICED) – is now taught to students around the world.
Arguably the most important of the many battles he fought and won, however, was overthrowing the culture of arrogance at NASA that led to a psychologically unsafe environment that punished dissenting opinions.
Before Arunachalam Muruganantham (Muruga) came along, more than 85% of the 497 million women in India did not use sanitary pads. They simply could not afford them, and unhygienic menstrual practices in the country were widespread, especially among the rural poor. Alarmed by this state of affairs, Muruga – the son of poor handloom weavers and a school dropout – resolved to manufacture a machine to produce low-cost sanitary pads, affordable to the masses. But there is a great taboo around the subject in India, even among women – yet alone men. So, when everyone – his wife included – declined to test his invention, he went to extraordinary lengths, testing it on himself using a fake bladder filled with animal blood. The result? His family and his village cast him out. The taboo around the issue was simply too strong.
But Muruga was on a mission: to produce low-cost sanitary pads for all the girls and women in his country. Lacking both technical expertise and financial resources, he used a lean-start-up approach to develop a machine costing a fraction of the cost of imported ones: Muruga’s weighs in at just US$950. His masterstroke was to leverage female unemployment in rural areas, empowering women to manage the entire supply chain and spread the service. Muruga has achieved nothing less than a revolution in his own country, creating jobs for women throughout rural India and selling 5300+ machine with over 27 countries. Several corporations have tried to buy his machine but he has refused all offers, instead preferring to sell to women’s self-help groups. It is an extraordinary success story; a true tale of blood, sweat and tears.
Former Formula Three racing driver and engineer Hugo Spowers quit motorsport for environmental reasons, driven by a desire to eliminate the environmental impact of personal transport, and set up Oscar Automotive in 2001, which became Riversimple in 2007, to manufacture hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). He developed his first fuel-cell car in 2008 with a consortium, including Morgan. However, Morgan deemed the project too expensive to go into production. Spowers continued alone, developing the Hyrban in 2009 – but the global financial crisis was in full swing and neither investment nor political approval could be secured. Undeterred, Spowers refused to give up on his hugely ambitious project and a breakthrough eventually came in 2015 when the Welsh Government awarded Riversimple £2 million to finalise and build a prototype of the Rasa (the company is based in Llandrindod Wells, a town in Wales). The culmination of 15 years of development, the Rasa is an exceptionally light carbon-fibre model with a range of 300 miles on just 1.5kg of hydrogen (the equivalent of more than 250 miles per gallon). It went through a full pilot trial on UK roads in 2018 and was awarded further government funding of £1.25 million in early 2019 to develop a test fleet of 20 vehicles.
Not content with creating a completely new type of vehicle, Spowers’ aim is nothing less than radically lowering the cost of mobility to the planet. Selling service rather than cars is a way of using as few resources as possible and making them last as long as possible – but without costing the customer so much that this new technology is only accessible to the few.
Spowers’ journey is truly one of extraordinary vision, conviction and determination to shape the world, rather than letting it shape him.
Follow on Twitter: @riversimple
Shoshana Stewart first travelled to Afghanistan in 2006 as a volunteer for Turquoise Mountain, a non-profit founded by HRH The Prince of Wales to revive historic areas and traditional crafts, to create jobs and skills. The organisation works with local artisans to create and sell jewellery, pottery, woodwork, and other traditional crafts, and restores buildings in historic communities.
When Shoshana arrived in Afghanistan, the old city of Kabul had been badly affected by decades of conflict and neglect, so the team got to work installing sanitation, electricity, and water. They also built a clinic and a primary school to serve the local community. Since then, and under Shoshana’s leadership as CEO, the organisation has expanded to include projects in Myanmar and the Middle East, restored 150 traditional buildings, exhibited traditional crafts at major museums around the world, and sold over $6 million on behalf of artisans.
Shoshana has worked hard to get to where she is today, persevering in often inhospitable environments, gaining the trust of co-workers, being patient and humble, and remaining determined to build civil society anew.
Follow on Twitter: @shoshanaclark
In 2010 banking was moving out of branch and going online, but lending decisions were still face-to-face and in-branch: a tedious and lengthy process out of step with the internet age. This gave serial entrepreneur and sometime bank exec Franz Thomas Fürst the idea for an online system using video identification. He pitched the idea to 20 German banks, but they didn’t get it – so he built a prototype himself. Still the banks were unmoved, telling Fürst he had no chance of getting approval from the German financial authorities.
Bloodied but unbowed, Fürst pitched the regulators, trying to persuade them that this was the future of banking. When the regulators wouldn’t listen, he went to the Federal Ministry of Finance itself. Incredibly – given the ultra-conservative nature of the German financial authorities – his perseverance was about to pay off. The Minister of Finance himself got it, enthused by the prospect of announcing an initiative that would propel German banking into the digital age. In 2014 WebID Solutions GMBH hit the market. The banks loved it and the company grew rapidly, breaking even in 2015 and now serving 110 banks worldwide.
George Bernard Shaw once said: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” To bring progress to the antediluvian German banking system required not merely extraordinary determination on Fürst’s part, but the belief he could change the minds of those who were not for changing.
Follow on Twitter: @WebID_Solutions