Business with a heart

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 19 Oct 2014

Pose for posterity: Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah pose with officials from JCF and recipients of the scholarships during the presentation ceremony last month.

The spirit of giving to society is embedded in Sunway Group’s business model, operating strategies, and corporate culture.

LATE last month, Sunway Group again showed that when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility, it really walks the talk. With Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who is also Education Minister, in attendance, it handed out scholarships to some 400 recipients of the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation (JCF) Scholarship at an awards presentation ceremony in Bandar Sunway. 

The recipients were among 3,500 students at the Sunway Education Group who were awarded scholarships this year, with the Foundation dispensing over RM33mil, a sum double the amount given out in 2013, which was RM17.2mil, by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The JCF Scholarship, which aims at advancing and providing high quality education, has awarded over RM165mil to more than 20,000 deserving students as of 2014.

For Sunway Group founder and chairman Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah, AO, who is also founding trustee of the Foundation, the award of the scholarships is just one of the group’s many efforts at “giving back to society”.

“I like to see young minds being educated,” Dr Cheah says. “Education brings out the best in young people, and that is why I am so passionate in giving to society through education.

“This is a legacy of far-reaching impact that I wish to give the future generations.”

Dr Cheah set up Sunway Group as a mining company 40 years ago and has nurtured it to become the business conglomerate it is now. This year, it is celebrating its 40th anniversary with the theme “40 Years: A Part of You”, which, says Dr Cheah, is a “tribute to the many Malaysians who have inspired us to come thus far.”

Over the years, he says, he has built a very capable team and nurtured good leaders in various business areas, and this has enabled him to turn his efforts to education since 1997.

“Quoting the late Nelson Mandela, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.’ This resonates very deeply with me because, while building Sunway’s townships and communities is the business side of my interest, education is where my passion lies. It is an area on which I am spending a great deal of my time, not from a commercial standpoint but to contribute what I can towards elevating the quality of education in our country and to make quality education accessible to as many deserving as possible.”

Towards this end in 1997, he established the Sunway Education Trust Fund and consequently converted it into the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation (JCF) in 2010 for perpetuity. “All the equity of 12 educational institutions of Sunway Education Group valued at more than RM720mil have been endowed into the JCF which is now governed by a distinguished board of nine trustees with His Royal Highness Sultan of Selangor as the Royal Patron,” he explains.

“From the outset, I wanted a structure with strict governance that will be in place for perpetuity. Today, this structure is unique in the field of private education in Malaysia and it is now the largest social enterprise in terms of value and the lives we touched.”

Sunway Group has touched many lives through education in other ways too. Under its Public School Adoption and Restoration Works, it has helped six schools that were once threatened with closure because the facilities were found to be substandard.

“We have adopted six schools and donated RM12.5mil for restoration and upgrading works nationwide. Classrooms are where children’s lives are shaped,” Dr Cheah says.

One of these schools is SMK Bandar Sunway, which was restored by Sunway Group at a cost of RM3mil in 1995 after the previous contractor had abandoned its work.

“We adopted the school and we still do lots of maintenance for them,” says Dr Cheah. “We also provide assistance to students with learning disabilities at the school.”

Another school that sent an SOS to Sunway group was SK Convent Klang. According to Dr Cheah, the school came to them for help in 1996 when its physical condition was so bad it was in danger of losing its CF. They estimated an amount of RM100,000 for the repair work but by the time it was finished, it had come to over RM1mil.

“We decided to go all the way, and now the school is doing very well,” Dr Cheah says with a smile.

There are various initiatives that Sunway Group provides through education to help the community. Among them is the Jeffrey Cheah Distinguished Speakers Series to encourage life-long learning through free public lectures by eminent international speakers. He also supports the Teach for Malaysia Partnership, where the JCF has formed a collaboration with Teach for Malaysia, an independent not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to reduce the academic inequity gap between rural and urban schools and poor and rich schools in urban areas.

Despite the emphasis placed on education, it, however, is not all that CSR is about in Sunway Group. It has adopted three pillars of CSR with healthcare and C.A.R.E (Community Aid, Reach-out and Enrichment) Projects added to education.

One would think that with all that’s on his plate, Dr Cheah personally would not have much time for other charitable pursuits. But he is a member of the Board of Trustees and deputy president of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and also the Malaysian Liver Foundation, and Sunway Group has successfully raised more than RM5mil from fund-raising dinners in 2006, 2010 and 2014 for these bodies.

Where CSR in healthcare is concerned, the legacy of Sunway Group is being formed through a number of programmes including holding an annual campaign on Diabetes awareness, public forums and symposia to educate the public on various medical related issues, and health screening and road shows to talk about prevalent diseases such as diabetes.

In healthcare, too, Dr Cheah has pledged the Group’s commitment to drive Sunway-owned buildings in Sunway Resort City towards being a 100% smoke-free township by 2018.

C.A.R.E, as the acronym denotes, is related to enhancing safety and security among the communities in Sunway Resort City. In this aspect, Sunway group has partnered with the Police, the Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation (MCPF) and the state of Selangor to launch the Safe City Initiative in a concerted effort to reduce crime in Selangor.

The C.A.R.E Projects also encompasses the Elevated Electric Bus Rapid Transit-Sunway Line and Elevated Covered Canopy Walk to enhance connectivity, accessibility and mobility for people in the area, road widening works, the beautification of Sunway Resort City, the Cruyff Court in Iskandar and efforts to promote a green environment through recycling, among others. About 500,000kg of recyclable wastes per year in Sunway Resort City are recycled. In addition, Sunway is in the process of doing water treatment of its two big lakes.

“We have a lot of CSR,” Dr Cheah says. “I have encouraged our people to do CSR in many forms and in many ways. In fact, all our business units do their own CSR to help society.”

And what’s in it for them? “Here at Sunway, we believe in creating shared value for everyone by running corporate responsibility projects that matter. We invest in both the hardware and software in infrastructure in order to contribute to our communities. We have invested more than RM200mil in road expansion and upgrading works in Bandar Sunway, Subang Jaya and USJ,” says Dr Cheah.

“By aligning our CSR efforts with our business interests, and embedding our core values of integrity, humility and excellence into our daily working life, we aim to create a positive and far-reaching impact on our society and the nation.

“Sunway is doing what it can and I’d like more business titans out there to do the same. If they do it, then it would make a big difference to society and the country.

“I aspire to inspire before I expire.”

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