India's leading IT service provider Wipro's chairman Azim Premji and biotechnology major Biocon's chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw are among the forty-eight Asians to feature in Forbes magazine's list of Asia's top philanthropists.
The list titled, 48 Asian Altruists, also includes London Stock Exchange (LSE)-listed Vedanta Resources' chairman Anil Agarwal, IT bellwether Infosys Technologies' co-founder and former CEO Nandan Nilekani's wife Rohini Nilekani, and Indian-origin Nishita Shah.
These people, says Forbes, are the good deed doers who certainly don't stumble when it comes to philanthropy.
Most made their fortunes starting businesses. Others inherited their wealth. Many have foundations. All open their checkbooks wide for dozens of causes, Forbes says, adding that the funds are usually given for education, health care, aid for the rural poor.
Billionaire Azim Premji, says Forbes, started the Azim Premji Foundation in 2001, earmarking Wipro shares worth $125 million. The focus of the Foundation is to improve government-run primary schools in India's rural heartland by training teachers and upgrading the curriculum. The Foundation, which is also working on reforming India's examination system, has so far benefited 20,000 schools and 2.7 million children.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who gives half of the annual dividends she earns to the charity, has donated more than $10 million directly to projects aimed at providing drugs and health care to India's poor, Forbes says. Besides setting up the Biocon Foundation in 2005 after the successful listing of her biotech firm, Biocon, in 2004, Mazumdar-Shaw has also teamed up with noted cardiac surgeon Dr. Devi Shetty to launch a micro health-insurance program for the rural poor, which includes opening four health cities, or multi-specialty hospitals by 2010.
Rohini Nilekani's goal is the absolute reduction of poverty, which is so shameful in this country. A former journalist, Nilekani chairs the Akshara Foundation, which focuses on elementary education, and Pratham Books, a publisher of children's books. Besides pledging $25 million in 2005 to Arghyam, which helps India's rural poor get better access to water and sanitation services, Nilekani recently made a donation of $12.5 million, mainly to Arghyam.
Anil Agarwal has ambitious plans of setting up Vedanta University spread over a 6,000 acre campus that will ultimately accommodate 1,00,000 students. Agarwal, who has pledged $1 billion in 2006, plans to present the university as an elite institution, modeled on the lines of Stanford University. It would target the young Indians who now leave the country in droves to study overseas, says Forbes.
Indian-origin Nishita Shaw, who controls biggest share of listed Precious Shipping and serves as managing director of parent GP Group in Thailand, made a long-term commitment to a hard-hit fishing village, Baan Talay Nok of Thailand, after the tsunami of 2004 devastated the coastal regions of the nation, promising to help it recover and to cover the educational costs through university for children who lost one or both parents, roughly 20 in all, Forbes says.
She is also a patron and fundraiser for the Queen Sirikit Center for Breast Cancer. With her mother, Anju, she recently gave the center $160,000 for education, research and construction costs, the report says.
Some of the notable Asian philanthropists listed by Forbes are Australia's Andrew Forrest (founder, main shareholder and chief executive of mining company Fortescue Metals Group in Perth), who has set up the Australian Children's Trust with his wife, Nicola, a decade ago to help underprivileged children and gave the trust $68 million in Fortescue shares, in-the-money options in miner Poseidon Nickel and cash last September; China's richest person, Yang Huiyan (owner of majority stake in real estate developer Country Garden), and her father, Yeung Kwok Keung, who donated $32 million to charities last year; Chinese language martial-arts film star, Jet Li, whose One Foundation of Beijing draws on his star power to raise money for mental health and disaster relief; Hong Kong's billionaire Li Ka-shing (chairman of Hutchison Whampoa and Cheong Kong Holdings), who has donated or committed $1.1 billion to philanthropic causes and has pledged to leave one-third of his $32 billion fortune to charity; Hong Kong's Lee Shau Kee (founder and chairman of Henderson Land Development), who pledged $42 million to address poor rural health care in China by training 10,000 village doctors and building 1,000 clinics; Hong Kong's Shih Wing-ching (founder of real estate brokerage firm Centaline), who has promised to give his entire stake worth $640 million to a charity foundation that will fight poverty and provide disaster relief; Indonesia's Putera Sampoerna (netted nearly $5 billion by selling the family's cigarette company to Altria in 2005), who recently pledged $150 million to the Sampoerna Foundation, which he established to improve public education in the country, train teachers and support model schools, for the next decade; Japan's Kazuo Inamori (founder and chairman emeritus of Kyocera), who founded the Inamori Foundation in 1984 with $85 million worth of his stock in the company he founded, Kyocera; Japan's Kenkichi Nakajima (founder of Heiwa), who gave $185 million in cash and $275 million in shares of his pachinko-machine (Japanese slot machine) maker Heiwa to fund one of Japan's largest college scholarship programs which supports nearly 200 undergraduate and graduate students every year; Malaysia's Syed Mokhtar Albukhary (majority shareholder of Malaysia Mining Corp., holds big stakes in Johor Port and other businesses too), who donated $30 million in 2006 and $25 million in 2007 to the Albukhary Foundation which he founded in 1996 - a Muslim charity that assists the needy, regardless of color and runs a college scholarship program for 300 students from more than 40 countries; New Zealand's Richard Chandler (chief executive of investment firm Orient Global in Singapore), who started a $100 million fund early last year that invests in private schools in India and other developing countries; Philippines' John Gokongwei Jr. (founder and chairman emeritus of conglomerate JG Summit Holdings), who announced at his 80th birthday celebration in August 2006 that he was giving half of his shares of the company - worth $200 million then - to the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation, which he chairs; Singapore's Sim Wong Woo (founder, chairman and chief executive, Creative Technology), who may have reportedly given away $35 million over past decade for various charity causes, earning him title of Singapore's Bill Gates; South Korea's Huh Chang-soo (chairman of conglomerate GS Corp), who has set up the Namchon Foundation (which conducts various medical, educational and cultural activities, such as granting scholarships and creating endowments for festivals) in 2006 and since then has donated shares in GS Engineering & Construction worth a total of $14 million; Taiwan's Y.F. Chang (chairman of container shipper Evergreen Marine), who has given $64 million to the poor in the past two decades through his Chang Yung-Fa Foundation; Taiwan's richest man, Terry Gou (chairman of Taiwan's largest electronics company, the contract manufacturer Hon Hai Precision), who said last year he plans to turn over his wealth, estimated at $5.5 billion, to charity before he dies. He also announced last year, a $500 million fund for medical research at National Taiwan University; and Thailand's Vikrom Kromadit (president of industrial-estate developer Amata Holding), who plans to turn over most of his $170 million fortune to the Amata Foundation, which promotes arts and culture.
The list of 48 Asian Altruists, four from each of the twelve countries covered by Forbes, is a first of its kind, the magazine says. We don't pretend these are the 48 biggest givers. That would be an impossible list to compile, unless each person agreed to let us peek at his or her bank records, it says.
So our list is somewhat subjective: We aimed to identify not only some of the largest donors but also some of the most interesting - generous folks who may not make one of our rich lists but who put a hefty share of their money into much-needed, and sometimes unusual, projects. Wee Lin is worth only $3.5 million, but he's opened a home for the mentally ill in Singapore and donated numerous items to North Korea, after seeing what was needed during trips there. Malaysia's Leonard Linggi Tun Jugah, for example, puts his donations into preserving the culture of the Ibans, an indigenous group on Borneo, it adds.
Undoubtedly we missed some big givers, others we just didn't have room for - especially in Hong Kong, India and Australia. What we most tried to avoid are people who donate their company's money. Giving away shareholders' assets certainly isn't charity, though tycoons and chief executives engage in a lot of this and then get credit for being generous. For our list, we tried to make sure that people were giving away their own money and not their company's, but the line is fuzzy. Sometimes philanthropists do both, and sometimes they own such a large share of their company that corporate giving is personal giving, the magazine says.