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.