Award belongs to every student, says Sonam Wangchuk

July 28, 2018 01:21 am | Updated 02:39 am IST - Srinagar

Sonam Wangchuk. File

Sonam Wangchuk. File

Innovator Sonam Wangchuk, 51, inspired the famous Bollywood character Phunsukh Wangdu, the unconventional genius in the 2009 blockbuster 3 Idiots . The real-life innovator has taken on both manmade and natural challenges over three decades to improve life in Ladakh.

Conferred the Ramon Magsaysay Award on Thursday, Mr. Wangchuk is hopeful that the prize “will provide youth a boost in finding indigenous solutions to the problems of mountain people.”

“I don’t feel I deserve it alone as an individual. It belongs to every student, every teacher, every leader and every dreamer in Ladakh,” said Mr. Wangchuk.

Mr. Wangchuk, who graduated with a degree in engineering in the late 1980s, founded the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) in 1988.

The school experimented with syllabus by doing away with “alien knowledge”, focusing instead on local knowledge for answers to the challenges posed by the difficult terrain. With each passing year, SECMOL’s results were for all to see.

In 2013, he built the prototype of an ice stupa to meet the demand for water in Ladakh.

Mr. Wangchuk is currently setting up the ₹150 crore Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL) in the Phyang Valley, 14 km from Leh.


What does this award mean for the idea of innovation?

It is the acknowledgement of innovation by a minority in a challenging atmosphere, and of the adversity of the mountains.

It is the acknowledgement of the courage to find solutions to those problems rather than cursing them or planning to migrate or running away from them.

It is a recognition of the spirit of taking on the challenges and innovating to address the problems.

What motivated you to be an innovator rather than a conventional professional?

Necessity is the mother of invention. I did not choose, but the conditions were such that you do what it takes to solve the problems. One cannot solve the problems in Ladakh by using the tools of New York or New Delhi.

I did nothing special. I did what it takes to address the problems.

What is lacking in India to promote innovation?

I think the originality in thought is lacking. Because of past colonialism, we have started looking up to the West and others to give us solutions. Courage is also what we lack.

We need to have confidence in ourselves. It should be us who do it. We don’t need New York or London to give us answers.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.