For our 15th roundup of Asia’s top philanthropists, we scoured the region for prominent entrepreneurs and business tycoons who demonstrated a clear personal commitment to a number of causes. We kept the list to a select group of 15. The majority were new entrants, but we did include some previous honorees if they achieved a major new altruistic milestone that justified a relisting. One example is Vietnam’s richest man, Pham Nhat Vuong, who continued to contribute significantly to alleviate Covid-19’s impact in local communities. Starting last year, Vuong has given over $320 million for Vietnam’s pandemic relief.
Higher education was a main focus for some listees. Hong Kong’s billionaire siblings Gerald and Ronnie Chan donated $175 million to a medical school in Massachusetts while Japanese manufacturing tycoon Takemitsu Takizaki gave away shares of his company—worth almost $2.3 billion—to fund scholarships for university students in Japan. In Taiwan, property magnate Lin Chen-hai gave $100 million last year to establish a graduate school for economics and political science at National Tsing Hua University. Meanwhile Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal signed the Giving Pledge, joining ranks with some of the world’s most charitable individuals.
Australian tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes is also on the list. His efforts to save the planet include a pledge to donate over $350 million to nonprofits tackling the climate crisis.
The list, which is unranked, focuses on individual philanthropists in the Asia-Pacific region who are donating significant amounts from their personal fortunes, as well as giving their time and personal attention to their selected causes. It doesn’t consider corporate philanthropy unless the companies are privately held by a majority owner. While they share similar goals with our listees, we exclude fundraisers or heads of nonprofits, social enterprises or similar organizations; those highlighted on the list have a vision to support solutions that look to make the world a better place.
Edited by Rana Wehbe Watson
Research and Reporting: Jonathan Burgos, Karsha Green, Ralph Jennings, John Kang, Danielle Keeton-Olsen, Ramakrishnan Narayanan, Lan Anh Nguyen, Anuradha Raghunathan, James Simms and Yue Wang
Illustrations by Masao Yamazaki for Forbes Asia
Age: 57 • Hong Kong
CLARA WU TSAI
Founder, The Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation
Through the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation, the husband-and-wife team pledged $220 million in July toward a first-of-its-kind collaboration that studies the biology of peak human performance. “There have been huge advances in body imaging, bioengineering and AI, but none of it has been applied to sports and athletic performance,” Wu Tsai told Forbes in July.
The Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance brings together six public and private institutions, including Boston Children\’s Hospital, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Stanford University (Wu Tsai\’s alma mater). They will seek to better understand physical performance that could help combat the effects of disease, injuries and aging. “You can get breakthroughs when you cross-pollinate ideas among people that don’t usually get together,” said Wu Tsai. “These are top clinicians, athletes and practitioners working together with the deep scientists.”
Tsai, a cofounder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has a strong interest in sports. At Yale University, where Tsai received a B.A. and a law degree, he made the lacrosse team as a walk-on and played pickup basketball. In 2017, he bought a 49% stake in the National Basketball Association’s Brooklyn Nets for $1 billion; he bought the remaining 51% two years later for $1.35 billion. In total, it was a record amount for a U.S. professional sports team.
Outside of sports, the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation pledged $50 million in August last year to create a social justice fund. It\’s aimed at fighting systemic racism and promoting economic mobility in Brooklyn, and includes initiatives such as interest-free loans for Black-owned businesses. In February, the foundation donated an undisclosed amount to Yale to launch an institute to study human cognition.
PHAM NHAT VUONG
Founder and chairman, Vingroup
Age: 54 • Vietnam
The country’s biggest conglomerate run by Vietnam’s richest man has given over $320 million to pandemic relief in Vietnam since 2020. Vingroup’s donations to the national vaccine fund helped purchase 4 million Covid-19 vaccine doses and 33 million test kits. It also donated millions of doses of antiviral medications Remdesivir and Monupiravir to provinces hard hit by the pandemic.
The property, auto and technology group separately contributed $45 million to Vuong’s Kind Heart Foundation—launched in 2006—in the first nine months of 2021. The foundation has 30 programs to help the needy that range from scholarship to disaster relief, including support for 2,000 orphans in Vietnam, some who lost parents during the pandemic.
In 2020, Vingroup developed and produced a ventilator using an open-source design and locally made components; Nguyen Viet Quang, CEO of Vingroup, said the company doesn’t make a profit on the ventilators and donated several thousand to Russia and the Ukraine.
Founder and chairman, Pau Jar Group
Age: 74 • Taiwan
The billionaire property tycoon gave $100 million in May 2020 to establish the Taipei School of Economics and Political Science at National Tsing Hua University—one of Taiwan’s top-ranked universities. The largest-ever donation for social science education in Taiwan according to the university was made through TSE Foundation, a private group created by Lin and three others to launch the new graduate program; its first students enrolled in September.
Lin’s Pau Jar Group is the most prolific builder of new housing projects in Taiwan, says Erin Ting, head of research at Savills real estate in Taipei. It launched projects totaling $4.5 billion last year, Ting says, almost 50% higher in value than its nearest Taiwanese competitor. Founded by Lin three decades ago, the privately held group has expanded to Australia, China, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Vice chairman, SM Investments Corp.
Age: 71 • Philippines
As soon as Covid-19 vaccines became available this year, SM Group acquired 560,000 doses to inoculate the group’s more than 120,000 employees. SM also donated 150,000 doses to the government and marginalized communities. Through the SM Foundation, it has so far donated over 1.5 billion pesos ($30 million) in vaccines, hospital equipment and protective gear for healthcare workers. Sy-Coson—the eldest daughter of the late Henry Sy—spearheads the group’s philanthropy as vice chairman of the foundation established by her parents in 1983.
Over the past three decades, SM Foundation has supported the treatment of 1.2 million underprivileged patients, helped over 8,000 students attend college and technical-vocational institutions and funded the building of over 100 schools across the country. The Philippines’ richest family also established the Henry Sy Foundation in 2008 to build school facilities for major educational institutions.
Founder and chairman, Vedanta Resources
Age: 67 • India
Indian metals and mining magnate Anil Agarwal signed the Giving Pledge this March. In his pledge letter, the billionaire, who parlayed a scrap metal business into a natural resources behemoth, referenced his humble start in life. “Like many young men and women in India, I started working when I was just 15 years old,” he said.
Agarwal also talked about how he built his business from his first acquisition in 1976 to later capitalizing on the opportunities in an economically liberalized India. He added that his philanthropic focus would be on programs in India that work toward the \eradication of poverty, child welfare, and women empowerment.”
In July, Agarwal announced a five-year, 50-billion-rupeee ($660 million) initiative under his Anil Agarwal Foundation to support programs ranging from healthcare to animal welfare. At least 60% of this outlay is expected to be from his personal fortune.
Nand Ghar, the flagship project under this initiative, aims to establish early childhood care centers in partnership with the Indian government. It has also tied up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to address health and nutritional needs in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. In total, Nand Ghar is expected to benefit about 70 million children and 20 million women across the country. Two other projects under the initiative include bolstering healthcare in 1,000 villages in 12 states for 2 million people and a skills training program in over 35 trades across 200 centers in India.
Founder and honorary chairman, Keyence
Age: 76 • Japan
The billionaire founder of Keyence gave 3.65 million shares—worth around $2.3 billion— to his Keyence Foundation last year to fund scholarships for new university students. Started in 2018, the foundation annually gives 500 Japanese and international undergraduates in Japan about ¥80,000 ($708) a month for four years of school. It selects recipients based on academic achievement, financial need and an essay.
According to Takizaki’s statement on the foundation’s website, the purpose of the scholarships is to enable financially disadvantaged high school students to attend college and to prevent graduates from being burdened with student loans after graduating.
Takizaki, who started the manufacturer of sensors used in factory automation in 1974, is only one of a handful of executives at blue-chip corporations in Japan without a college degree. His stake in Keyence is worth about $33 billion, making him one of the country’s top billionaires. He stepped down as chairman in March 2015 but remains on the board of directors and is honorary chairman.
Founder, MBK Partners
Age: 58 • South Korea
The founder of one of the largest private equity firms in Asia (by AUM) pledged to donate 30 billion won ($25.5 million) to the Seoul government for a new public library in the South Korean capital. The five-story, 9,000-square-meter library, to be named the Seoul Public Kim Byung-ju Library, is to break ground in 2023 and open in 2025. “My lifelong love of books inspired me to help create a communal space where people may gather to read,” Kim said in August at a ceremony announcing the donation.
It\’s the latest in a string of donations made by Kim to support education causes. In 2010, he donated $7.5 million to establish a new dorm at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, where he studied English as an undergraduate. The dorm was completed in 2012 and was named Kim Hall as a tribute to his father, Kim Ki-yong, a scholar who passed away 20 years ago from lung disease. In 2018, Kim donated $7 million to endow an associate professorship at Harvard Business School, another alma mater. “Education is the engine for changing the world,” Kim says by email.
Kim founded his buyout firm in 2005 after leading the Asia arm of U.S. private equity giant Carlyle Group. Two years later, he launched the MBK Scholarship Foundation, one of the first nonprofits in Korea to award education grants on the basis of financial need versus merit-based scholarships. More than 150 MBK scholars to date have received full tuition to attend the country’s universities.
Chairman, Sunway Group
Age: 76 • Malaysia
Malaysia’s education and hotel group tycoon Jeffrey Cheah announced in September last year a plan to launch an endowment fund worth over 1 billion ringgit ($240 million). Through this fund, the billionaire hopes to move his Sunway Education Group schools away from a tuition-dependent model to become self-sustaining and able to offer more scholarships.
According to an emailed response, the endowment will come from Cheah’s personal funds. But first Cheah’s foundation is urging the Malaysian government to amend a policy that requires charitable organizations to spend at least 50% of their income by the following year, so the tycoon\’s donation can be invested and grown like endowments at American universities.
The endowment is on top of the tycoon’s promise in 2009 to, over time, donate his entire stake in Sunway Education Group, comprised of 18 schools, to his philanthropic arm, Jeffrey Cheah Foundation. Last year Cheah donated 88 million ringgit in grants and scholarships.
Cheah has said he has donated more than 600 million ringgit for scholarships so far, and he intends to donate a total of 1 billion ringgit in grants in his lifetime.
Founder and Chairman, Wipro
Age: 76 • India
Premji, who consistently tops the list of biggest givers among India\’s philanthropists, donated in 2021 an estimated $1.3 billion of his family\’s wealth to social causes through his eponymous foundation. Since it was established in 2001, the Azim Premji Foundation, which focuses on giving equal access to quality education, has been working with government-run schools in rural areas to improve learning outcomes.
In 2020, the foundation and Premji’s tech company Wipro allocated about 11 billion rupees ($148 million) to fight Covid-19. This year they increased their commitment by an additional 10 billion rupees, with an assurance to provide more if required. The foundation has been working in rural areas in 10 states to boost vaccination coverage while also providing critical equipment to treat Covid-19 patients.
In 2019, Premji renounced more of his personal assets, earmarking them to an endowment fund that supports the foundation\’s programs. He has transferred about 74% of his shares in Wipro to the foundation. The endowment is now valued at nearly $35 billion.
Premji was the first Indian to sign the Giving Pledge in 2013 and continues to be one of the most generous philanthropists worldwide with over $20 billion donated so far.
WEE WEI LING
Executive director, Pan Pacific Hotels Group
Age: 69 • Singapore
Hotelier Wee Wei Ling—the eldest daughter of billionaire banker and real estate tycoon Wee Cho Yaw—wanted to do more than checkbook philanthropy. So she and her cousin, Wee Boon Kuan, who has business interests in health and wellness, cofounded Extra•Ordinary People in 2017 to provide performing and visual arts programs for children, teenagers and young adults with special needs. To date, the charity has raised S$1.2 million ($881,380) from philanthropists and corporate sponsors. It organized two concerts—dubbed Extra•Ordinary Celebration—over the past three years that showcased the talents of differently abled performers to a combined audience of over 20,000.
Wee, executive director of Pan Pacific Hotels Group, also champions inclusivity in the workplace; the group offers a school-to-work program for persons with disabilities in Singapore. She is the chairperson of Project We Care—a private sector collaboration with the Singapore government—to promote volunteerism among companies. Under her leadership, the charity has mobilized more than 11,800 corporate volunteers from 383 companies in the city-state, raising S$5.5 million in cash and in-kind donations that have helped over 80,800 people.
Chairman, Hang Lung Group
Age: 72 • Hong Kong
Cofounder, Morningside Group
In September, the Chan family’s charity, the Morningside Foundation, donated $175 million to the University of Massachusetts Medical School, marking the largest gift ever to the UMass system. The gift, which more than doubled the medical school’s endowment, prompted the university to rename it the UMass Chan Medical School. Its three graduate schools were also renamed: the T.H. Chan School of Medicine (after the family\’s late patriarch, Chan Tseng-hsi, who died in 1986 of complications from a botched surgery), the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing (after the family\’s matriarch, who was a nurse) and the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
“In choosing to support UMass Medical School, the Morningside Foundation. . . . wants to recognize the importance of public-private education. Blessed with many outstanding private universities, it is all too easy for us in Massachusetts to lose sight that it is the state universities that bear the bulk of the burden of educating the young people of this country,” said Gerald Chan, cofounder of investment firm Morningside Group and director of Hong Kong property group Hang Lung, in September at a donation ceremony at the school.
This is the Chan family\’s latest donation to U.S. universities. In 2014, the Morningside Foundation pledged $350 million to Harvard University, where Gerald earned a master\’s degree and a doctorate in radiation biology. It was the largest donation in the 385-year history of the world\’s wealthiest university. Fewer than two weeks later, Ronnie and his wife pledged $20 million to the University of Southern California, the alma mater of Ronnie and his two sons.
RINA LOPEZ BAUTISTA
Founder and president, Knowledge Channel Foundation
Age: 61 • Philippines
Daughter of Filipino tycoon Oscar Lopez, Lopez Bautista in 1999 founded and now runs the edtech nonprofit Knowledge Channel Foundation, Inc. (KCFI). Its content is designed to meet the educational standards set by the Philippine Department of Education for K-12 students and teachers in the country.
Funded by Lopez group companies and others, KCFI last March launched the Stay at Home, Learn at Home campaign for students during Covid-19 lockdowns. In its first few months, the campaign produced 1,500 educational videos. At present, KCFI has over 150,000 followers on Facebook and more than 200,000 subscribers on YouTube.
In September, KFCI partnered with theAsianparent Philippines app, reaching a further 500,000 users. KFCI estimates it is now reaching over 10 million Filipino households. Over 7,000 Filipina principals, teachers and parents have also attended KFC’s webinars and online training programs on Facebook, the company says.
CHO TAK WONG
Founder and chairman, Fuyao Glass Industry Group
Age: 75 • China
Cho’s Heren Charitable Foundation pledged $1.6 billion in May to build a science and technology university in Fuzhou, the capital of his home province Fujian, to train tech talent for China’s advanced manufacturing industry. Two months later, the foundation donated $15.6 million to flood-relief efforts in China’s central Henan Province after record rainfall led to hundreds of deaths and widespread damage.
The founder of Fuyao Glass Industry, who dropped out of junior high school to support his family, established Heren in 2011 with a donation of 300 million shares—then worth about $500 million. The foundation has used dividends and share sales to support more than 233 projects in education, environmental protection, poverty relief and cultural heritage preservation. According to stock exchange filings, the 215 million shares that Heren still owns in the global auto glass supplier, listed in both Shanghai and Hong Kong, have a market value of about $1.5 billion.
Cofounder and co-CEO, Atlassian
Age: 42 • Australia
Tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes—one of Australia\’s top tycoons—wants to help save the planet. He\’s pledging to donate A$500 ($357 million) by 2030 to nonprofits fighting climate change. At the same time, he is doubling down on renewable energy and green technologies, aiming to invest A$1 billion into the sector, on top of A$1 billion that he’s already deployed through his self-funded investment firm Grok Ventures.
The transition from fossil-fuel dependence to renewable energy “requires both financial and philanthropic investments,” Cannon-Brookes says in a video call last month. One group benefitting from his largesse is the local Beyond Zero Emissions, which has been rallying the Australian government to deepen its commitment to climate change initiatives. The transition to clean energy is the single biggest economic opportunity for Australia, Cannon-Brookes says. He\’s partnered with local mining billionaire Andrew Forrest to bankroll Australia-based Sun Cable, which is constructing the world’s biggest solar farm and energy storage facility in the Australian desert to supply electricity to Darwin and Singapore via the world’s longest undersea high-voltage electrical cable.
Age: 53 • South Korea
The founder of one of South Korea’s largest online gaming companies (market cap) has donated a total of 6.3 billion won ($5.3 million) to two children\’s hospitals. He has given 3.8 billion won to Daejeon Chung-nam Public Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital since 2019 and 2.5 billion won last year to establish the Nexon Children’s Palliative Care Center at Seoul National University Hospital, set to open in 2022.
Kim, who has two teenage daughters, plans to donate an additional 2.5 billion won to the palliative care center and 1.3 billion won to the Daejeon hospital next year. “Since its foundation, Nexon has been able to grow thanks to the great love and interest it has received from children and teenagers,” Kim says by email. “For the past 10 years, I have been looking for ways to help the rehabilitation and treatment of children with disabilities in Korea, while constantly thinking about how to repay them.” Nexon\’s most successful game titles include MapleStory and KartRider—both are popular among teenagers. From 2013 to 2015, Nexon donated 20 billion won to build the Purme Foundation Nexon Children\’s Rehabilitation Hospital in Seoul, which the company says is the first rehabilitation hospital for children in Korea. The 10-story, 18,580-square-meter hospital opened in 2016.
Kim is a founding member of C Program, a venture philanthropy fund launched in 2017, along with fellow Korean internet entrepreneurs Kim Beom-su (Kakao), Kim Taek-jin (NCSoft), Lee Hae-jin (Naver) and Lee Jae-woong (Daum, which merged into Kakao in 2014).