Tycoon with a gift for education

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Stephen Riady, president of the Lippo group of companies, does not wish to be just a businessman. The Indonesian entrepreneur, who oversees a conglomerate, including 10 publicly listed companies from Singapore to China, says he derives greater satisfaction from giving to worthy causes.

“There are still so many people who are backward and uneducated, especially in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, China and India. This is one area where we can do something to help – it’s our social responsibility.”

Over the past 12 years, the Riady family has been committed to expanding its philanthropic work throughout the region, mainly through the development of education and healthcare.

One of the institutes to benefit from its funding recently is the National University of Singapore Business School, which received £6.7m ($14m, €10m) from the Lippo group. The gift is the single largest private donation and will attract a matching donation to the school from the Singapore government.

“NUS is a top university and it’s located in Singapore,” says Mr Riady. “I believe the country can play a pro-active role because the government has put in place a good education infrastructure and it has the ability to attract global players and resources. We hope to give to Asia through NUS, since it’s a global school.”

Mr Riady’s mild manner hides his inner passion to transform the lives of people. “So much wealth is being created within Asia, yet there are so few educational opportunities. There are widespread disparities in wealth, healthcare and education. This social gap isn’t healthy for growth in the longer term for any country. It can lead to upheavals,” he says.

“The solution lies in providing education. It will help to narrow the imbalances within society. If more people can learn to read and write, it will create the right kind of mindset. Through education we can empower the people of Asia.”

Christopher Earley, dean at NUS business school, describes the donation as a “milestone” for the school and feels honoured to have received a gift from the Riadys.

The business school will use £4.8m of the fund to help develop its flagship building, named the Mochtar Riady building, in recognition of the Lippo group’s gift and to honour its founder and chairman, at Kent Ridge campus. It will use the remaining £1.9m to form an endowment fund for two professorships, to retain and attract international professors to join its faculty.

Prof Earley hopes the financial aid by the Lippo group will encourage more Asian entrepreneurs and corporations to come forward to help fund university developments.

“The Riadys are ahead of the pack. The US has nearly 100 years of tradition behind it of foundations and people donating money to the arts and education. In Europe, there has been less of a tradition,” he says.

Inspire

“To some extent, Asia is like Europe, where education is seen as an entitlement to be provided by the government . . . It’s the biggest irony; our largest donor is an Indonesian not a Singaporean.”

Recently, universities in the city-state have seen their traditional funding dwindle due to more demands on government resources.

“What we’re doing is really very small,” says Mr Riady. “There’s only so much we can do and give. But by doing this, we hope to encourage and inspire many more businessmen to do the same. To give whatever they can within their capacity.”

To instill a sense of philanthropy among businesses, NUS is planning to use some of the Riady donation to set up a centre for social entrepreneurship and philanthropy early next year. It will be a fully fledged centre within the business school. “Through the centre we can offer specialised courses on philanthropy to help entrepreneurs who may be keen on setting up foundations or want to know how their gifts can go further,” says Prof Earley.

Leaders

NUS also wants to use the Riady funding to help raise the global standing of the business school by producing leaders who will have a positive impact on society. Prof Earley says the focus of the MBA is to ensure students not only have intellectual rigour, but have the leadership ability and the commitment to do things better for others.

“We want to create leaders who can work in a whole range of industries. We’re not just interested in developing talents who can work in big financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs. We also want to create people who are willing to work for YMCA, for instance. These are not going to be big salary jobs. Here you can have a big social impact.”

The school’s mission philosophy dovetails with Mr Riady’s own vision of wanting to develop talented individuals who are not just business savvy, but also socially responsible.

“There are a lot of smart leaders or managers coming out of schools, but most are only keen on making money and don’t have the inner capacity to touch people through their work,” says Mr Riady. “It’s a challenge for all business schools globally to produce leaders with a good character and heart, who are willing to look after and serve people well. This is what I hope to change through our philanthropy work.”

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