Civil engineer Professor Peter Guthrie has won the overall Beacon Fellowship prize for his work for RedR-IHE, the Register of Engineers Disaster Relief.
Guthrie was nominated by the public for his work for the charity he founded, which supplies engineers to relief agencies involved in crisis situations.
"I'm slightly bemused," he said. "RedR-IHE was an organisation about which I was always very passionate, but it wasn't something I thought raised much attention among people." He said that he would donate the award's £20,000 prize money to the charity.
The chairman of Beacon, Martyn Lewis, said: "Peter saw how difficult it was for relief agencies to recruit skilled workers. The result is that the world now has an international body that deploys hundreds of specialists to all corners of the globe every year. His work is exactly the kind of endeavour that Beacon seeks to promote and encourage."
Guthrie was presented with the award by communities minister David Miliband on Monday.