Saturday January 5, 2013
The caring side of Syed Mokhtar
By WONG CHUN WAI
Making a difference: The caring Malaysian
Published by Albukhary Foundation
FRESH from the publication of his biography recently, tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary has released a 195-page coffee table book on his global charity work, which many ordinary Malaysians are not familiar with.
Until the release of his biography Syed Mokhtar Albukhary: A Biography by Premilla Mohanlall, where he opened up on many issues for the first time to put the record straight, the reclusive billionaire had always shied away from the media.
He has rarely talked to journalists, except a privileged handful and even then, it is always on an off-the-record basis. This continuous distancing from the media has only put him under greater media scrutiny.
“I wonder why I get bad press when others who have abused the system for personal gains have not been subjected to such media scrutiny. Perhaps it is time to come out and defend myself,” he said in his book.
Envy, jealousy, fascination and simply selfish politics may have been reasons why SM, as he is known, has found it difficult to get the kind of coverage he wants, and deserves.
Malaysians have always had a fascination for tycoons and entrepreneurs, so it came as no surprise that his biography is on the best seller’s list. A Bahasa Malaysia version will be in the market soon.
Much has been shed on the life of Syed Mokhtar, who had to leave school after Form Five when the family ran out of money. His eldest brother was in Pakistan studying medicine, two sisters were in college and the other three siblings were still in school.
As the second in the family, he went into the meat trading business. He transported it to suppliers, mostly based in Kuala Lumpur.
Their Alor Star home was an attap hut with no piped water or electricity while the toilet was a pit latrine and the bathroom was an outdoor open zinc shed.
“I never forget my roots and humble days. I remembered once when my father, a cattle trader, was away for a long period of time, and there was no rice at home.
“My mother turned to our Chinese neighbour who supplied us with the rice and we returned it when my family came back.”
Like many Malaysian tycoons, Syed Mokhtar has set up a charity foundation to enable his group of companies to help the needy in a professional and organised manner.
The Albukhary Foundation traces its roots to the first company set up by him in 1974, where he donated half of his income derived from his business to 15 needy families in the village.
“My mother urged me to contribute to the poor, regardless of race and religion. So I made arrangements for half of my income of RM1,500 to be donated. It is a practice that still goes on with poor families receiving RM50 each every month.”
In his biography, the author Premilla Mohanlall, quoted the tycoon’s friend, Peter Chong, as saying: “Maybe God wants him to be rich so that he can help the needy. He is selfless.”
But action speaks louder than words. The Albukhary Foundation is an international charity with a presence in almost every continent.
“Wealth has to circulate. When you make money, you have to give it away. My mother taught us nothing is yours until you have given it away with all your heart in the hope it will make someone’s life easier.”
It has partnered non-governmental organisation and voluntary organisations to improve living conditions – from Afghan refugees, who are given free medical aid and free education, to building an AIDS hospital in Uganda and a school for girls in Nepal. There is even a programme to help street children in South Africa.
To some Malaysians, the foundation has always given the perception that it is only involved in Muslim-based charity work and that its beneficiaries are only Muslims.
He has supported generously the building of the main campus of the Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman in Kampar as well as the Asian Institute of Medicine, Science and Technology University as well as the Wawasan Open University in Penang, where the foundation contributed RM25mil for the building of the tower block.
Via his financial backing, Malaysia is home to South-East Asia’s largest museum of Islamic art, housing more than 7,000 artefacts and since its inception in 1998, it has become the world’s largest private Islamic museum.
With 12 galleries, it has collections that showcased the multi-ethnicity of the Muslim world that spreads over 13 centuries and across more than 100 nations.
It has maintained its reputation by collaborating with institutions such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, British Museum, Stibbert Museum and the National Museum of New Delhi.
Another gem in the foundation’s work is the 35ha Albukhary International University in Alor Star with over 3,000 students, where the medium of instruction is English.
The coffee table book, with plenty of glossy pictures and interviews with ordinary people who benefitted from the charity, is currently in Bahasa Malaysia and English. Like his biography, there are plenty of reasons for Syed Mokhtar to make known the good work of the foundation. There is also a booklet on the work of the foundation.
Further information on the book can be obtained via www.albukharyfoundation.org