Cover Jack Ma (Image: Amanda Friedman/Trunk Archive)

Businessmen transforming their factories into clean rooms for face mask production. Tycoons donating medical supplies to desperate nations around the world. Doctors rising above politics to deliver guidance for the public and clear reports on the progress of their efforts. Throughout our communities, powerful voices are using their influence to bring hope through their actions, their ideas and their examples

1. Li Ka-shing, business magnate and philanthropist

Superman by name, Superman by nature. Ninety-one-year-old Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing—who was given the nickname decades ago for the huge influence he wields over the city’s economy—sprang into action soon after the Covid-19 virus emerged in Wuhan, donating HK$100 million to the Chinese city in early February. That money was used to support healthcare workers through the magnate’s Li Ka‑shing Foundation, the second largest private foundation in the world after that of Bill and Melinda Gates.

A week later, he gave 250,000 face masks to 13 social welfare organisations and six homes for the elderly in Hong Kong, as well as medical supplies to doctors in public hospitals.

Some of Li’s previous philanthropic work—he has donated more than US$3 billion so far—is also bearing fruit during the current crisis. His HK$214 million donation to the University of Alberta in Canada in 2010 led to the establishment of the Li Ka-shing Institute of Virology, which is currently researching into the best ways to test, treat and vaccinate against Covid-19.

Similar research is being conducted at the Li Ka-shing Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong.

The faculty’s website on the subject of Covid-19 has become a go-to resource for governments and the public, offering everything from the latest research papers to easy-to-understand fact sheets on the virus.

Neither Li nor his foundation has announced what initiative or organisation they will be supporting next. But like Superman, he is likely to appear when you need him most.

2. Jack Ma, former executive chairman, Alibaba

Jack Ma once said, “When you are a millionaire, the money is yours; and when you have tens and tens of billions, the money is not yours any more but a social responsibility. And it means more contributions.”

In the chaotic days following the government’s decision to lock down the city of Wuhan, Alibaba announced an RMB1 billion fund for purchasing medical supplies and equipment to donate to medical institutions in Wuhan and Hubei province. The Jack Ma Foundation simultaneously gave RMB100 million to support the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Alibaba also set up a special team of workers from 18 Hema Grocery Stores in Wuhan to provide daily meals for key hospitals in the city and food supplies to 21 medical units. Hema also took the lead to provide more jobs in the region during the crisis. 

Meanwhile, Ma’s gifts of equipment, testing kits and masks to hard-hit countries, including the US, Iran, Italy and 54 countries in Africa, have stood out all the more distinctively against a backdrop of xenophobia and imperilled international diplomacy.

3. Tan Min-Liang, CEO and co-founder, Razer

When Tan Min-Liang announced that Razer would donate one million surgical masks, the lifestyle brand for gamers reconfigured its factory lines in China from making keyboards to masks. “The team at Razer understands that all of us have a part to play in fighting the virus—no matter which industry we come from,” Tan tweeted. In April, he also announced that Razer would set up a fully automated mask production and packing line in Singapore to fill orders by Frasers Property, JustCo and PBA Group worth US$50,000 each. Shipments started going out to health authorities around the world in April, beginning with Singapore.

(Related: Covid-19 Changemakers: Tan Min-Liang's Razer To Make and Donate 1 Million Surgical Masks)

4. James Dyson, founder, Dyson

In just 10 days billionaire inventor James Dyson unveiled the prototype for CoVent, a new model of ventilator engineered in collaboration with Cambridge-based The Technology Partnership to deliver high-quality, filtered air by harnessing Dyson’s air-purifying technology. One key feature is that it has been designed to be portable so that it can be used in different settings, such as in field hospitals or during the transportation of patients. Most importantly, CoVent “can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume”, Dyson said. The motors for the CoVent machines are being produced in Dyson’s Singapore Advanced Manufacturing facility in the Tuas industrial district.

(Related: Covid-19 Changemakers: James Dyson’s New Ventilator for Hospitals)

5. Martin Tan, executive director, The Majurity Trust

Led by executive director Martin Tan, philanthropic organisation The Majurity Trust launched the Singapore Strong Fund to encourage people to start their own initiatives. Individuals, groups or charities can propose ideas to help others, and approved applicants will receive up to 80 per cent of their project cost with a cap of S$5,000. “We realised early on that our ability to overcome Covid-19 isn’t the job of the government or the charity sector alone, but that of every segment of society,” Tan says. Among the 50 projects already approved are the creation of a site called for freelancers, initiated by Nicholas Chee, founder of Sinema Media; and various grassroots efforts to pack and distribute care packages to healthcare workers, cleaners and other heroes.

(Related: Covid-19 Changemakers: Martin Tan Drives The Majurity Trust's Singapore Strong Fund)

6. Manny Pacquiao, world champion boxer and senator in the Philippines

Manny Pacquiao’s story began when he was a stowaway on a boat bound for Manila with nothing but dreams of becoming a boxer to lift his family out of poverty. Now at the pinnacle of his career, Pacquiao remains committed to helping those in need through his foundation with continuous donations to charitable organisations.

The boxing champ and senator, who was elected in 2016, was quick to send aid, having loaned five buses for the use of frontliners to the Metro Manila Development Authority and pooled money to donate 700,000 face masks.

Through his foundation, Pacquiao joined forces with Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, who pledged to bring in PHP400 million worth of test kits. The 57,000 kits were turned over to the Department of Health in March, and were received by San Lazaro Hospital and the Philippine General Hospital. Ma also donated an additional 500,000 face masks.

“Not only is Ma a true friend but he’s also a kind and compassionate person who never fails to help people in times of need,” says Pacquiao. “We had to work on special provisions for the shipments to clear local customs, but given the necessity, we were given immediate government clearance.”

Pacquiao promises these resources will be prioritised for the poor. “Because of my humble beginnings, I know what it’s like to be poor. And to be poor during such a crisis is a serious matter that needs to be immediately addressed by the government.”

7. Melinda Looi, fashion designer and president, Malaysian Official Designers’ Association

In an initiative led by the Malaysian Official Designers’ Association (Moda), Malaysia’s biggest names in fashion came together to use their skills to sew PPE for medical frontliners. The fashion community, including Radzuan Radziwill, Khoon Hooi, Celest Thoi, Alia Bastamam and their teams of seamstresses and volunteers, worked to cut fabrics and sew thousands of PPE items to meet the never-ending demand from local hospitals.

Touched by the countless acts of kindness she’s seen, Moda president Melinda Looi posted an Instagram video in which she said, “I have so much emotion going on. I can cry anytime but these are tears of happiness to see people coming together.”

Moda has joined forces with FashionValet in a fundraising campaign to buy non-woven hospital-standard materials. It is also working with the Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia, which will distribute the gowns to its network of hospitals.

Meeting the demand is a major challenge even with a host of designers and volunteers who is working non-stop, as the production is entirely home-based. To let the public know the stakes, Looi noted, “A consumption of 15,000 sets of PPE items are needed per week per hospital.”

Her call didn’t go unheeded as more people are coming forward to help in whatever way they can, whether by monetary donations or lending their much-needed skills.

8. Anthony Tan, group CEO and co-founder, Grab

As early as February, Grab began offering myriad initiatives to help its community of drivers and merchant partners ride out the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. The company, which has evolved from a ride-hailing platform to include food delivery, insurance and e-payment services, extended financial assistance to drivers affected by the virus as well as insurance protection and earnings support for eligible drivers. These are funded in part by voluntary Grab employee donations that are matched dollar for dollar by the company.

Besides introducing initiatives such as GrabCare, an on-demand service that allows frontline healthcare workers in Singapore to secure rides to and from hospitals at any time of day, Grab also announced that its senior leadership team would take a 20 per cent pay cut.

“It’s in times of need when we know who our true everyday heroes are. I truly believe that this kampung spirit, caring for each other as one community, is what will get us through this,” group CEO and co-founder Anthony Tan said on LinkedIn.

When circuit breaker measures were introduced in Singapore in April, the company responded by rolling out more initiatives. Among them, commissions that drivers usually pay Grab per ride were cut by half, while rental fees were also reduced.

(Related: Covid-19 Changemakers: Anthony Tan’s Grab Adapts and Rolls Out Initiatives To Aid Drivers)

9. CapitaLand

While the world was learning about the existence of Covid-19 in January, CapitaLand, one of Asia’s largest real estate companies, had already established an RMB10 million healthcare fund to support China’s relief efforts through its philanthropic arm, CapitaLand Hope Foundation (CHF). Not only has its prompt action effectively aided the situation on the ground, but it has also convinced like-minded corporate donors to contribute to the healthcare fund, doubling it to some RMB20 million.

“CapitaLand is committed to helping the communities where we operate to overcome this challenging time together,” says Tan Seng Chai, chief corporate and people officer for CapitaLand Group and executive director of CHF. “With Singapore and China being our core markets, the company has swiftly pledged to support healthcare workers and affected communities in the two countries. China has since shown signs of recovery.”

(Related: Covid-19 Changemakers: CapitaLand Supports Healthcare Initiatives Both In Singapore And China)

10. Tom Kong, scientist and co-founder, Master Dynamic

Since 2011, Master Dynamic, the company scientist Tom Kong co-founded, has specialised in research and development for various industries, including techniques to distinguish natural diamonds from lab-produced ones or counterfeits, and biotechnology applications that have great potential for saving lives.  

But since the outbreak of the coronavirus, Kong and his colleagues have pivoted to something more practical—the production of protective face masks to address severe shortages around the world. Master Dynamic is making tens of thousands of them daily in its facilities.

Meanwhile, Kong has also fast-tracked the development of a more experimental design, a reusable mask with a specialised nanodiamond coating. If that mask, which is currently being tested, proves successful, it would neutralise the virus upon contact with the nanodiamonds, which are statically charged to act like microscopic stun guns that “zap” bacteria and viruses.

“They instantly disintegrate,” Kong says. “It’s almost like magic.”

(Related: Covid-19 Changemakers: Master Dynamic's Tom Kong Uses Technology in Fight Against Coronavirus)

11. Panachit Kittipanya-ngam, president, Thailand Tech Start-up Association

Panachit Kittipanya-ngam, the Thailand Tech Start-up Association president, gathered colleagues to form a group called Ped Thai Su Phai. One of the group’s first initiatives was to create an online patient screening system. People can enter details of their symptoms—the data is then sent to hospitals to establish consultations with potential patients. The project’s latest effort is an app called PedKeeper, which classifies the temperature of the users as high- or low-risk based on their recent travels overseas, using data supplied by the Department of Disease Control.

12. Pasar Glamour

Following the nationwide closure of all entertainment venues and the cancellation of arts-related events, freelancers—who make up over 47 per cent of the labour force from the arts sector—have taken a rough hit.

To aid the community, actresses (pictured above, from left) Petrina Kow, Janice Koh and Pam Oei—the founders of annual charity pop-up, Pasar Glamour—announced an initiative, Pasar Glamour Art Aid, to raise $100,000, of which $50,000 has been committed to matching any donation, dollar for dollar. 

“While the government has stepped up to support the self-employed and freelance workers, there are some who fail to meet the eligibility criteria of these schemes and need our help,” shares Koh. She notes that “through the matched funding campaign, Art Aid is Pasar Glamour’s way of rallying everyone, together with our arts audiences, to contribute towards supporting those who are struggling financially during this period”.

The committed funds for Art Aid have been raised from its pre-loved clothing charity sale in 2019, along with a generous donation from an anonymous donor. It hit its target of $50,000 in three days and at press time is close to making the $75,000 mark. Successful applicants will receive a one-off grant of $500, with priority to those with heavier financial burdens.

“Our home-grown performing arts scene has always been proactive and resilient as a community,” says Koh. “We all need to play our part in ensuring the survivability of our cultural scene so that Singapore will have a thriving and vibrant arts sector to return to.”

(Related: Here's How You Can Do Your Part For The Covid-19 Relief Efforts)

13. Wesley Ng, founder and CEO, Casetify

Sanitising our phones is one of the most overlooked habits we should be adopting now. To this end, Hong Kong start-up Casetify has launched a UV sanitiser that uses radiation-free lights to kill 99.9 per cent of bacteria as part of its #CasetifyProtects initiative. “The UV sanitiser was actually something we’ve had up our sleeve for a while now, already developed and tested by Casetify,” says founder and CEO Wesley Ng, adding that with the current situation, it made sense to release the product now. “We want to protect those in need and the quicker we’re able to do it, the more people we can help.”

14. Han Li Guang, chef and owner, Labyrinth

In early March, chef-owner of one Michelin-starred restaurant Labyrinth, Han Li Guang began a charity initiative to send free meals to the staff of Singapore’s National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). He contributed $20 per dinner customer, $40 for every full bottle of wine sold, and $80 per bottle of corkage charged at his restaurant to the initiative. He also roped in F&B outlets Keng Eng Kee Seafood, Jam at Siri House, Sanity Coffee and Pezzo Group for this drive.

“Working in the F&B industry has provided us with so much joy,” he said. “And I hope that in our own small way, we can contribute meaningfully to the people on the front lines.”

Jam at Siri House had pledged to donate a portion of the restaurant’s sales to the initiative, while Keng Eng Kee Seafood had donated $2,000 to the purchase of halal food from Pezzo Group, and it matched every dollar in food value for orders placed by Labyrinth or Jam At Siri House to be delivered to NCID. Pezzo Group also matched these food orders one-for-one, and Sanity Coffee offered all NCID staff a discount and complimentary coffee.

While all F&B outlets have stopped dine-in services since the circuit breaker in Singapore began in April, these eateries have managed to make a real difference with their collective contributions in the month of March.

(Related: Local F&B Brands Join Forces To Say Thank You To The Unsung Heroes Fighting Coronavirus)

15. Jaime Augusto and Fernando Zobel de Ayala, chairman and president, Ayala Corporation

Ayala Corporation, led by brothers Jaime Augusto and Fernando Zobel de Ayala, allocated a PHP2.4 billion response package for employees and businesses that are part of its ecosystem. It comprises income support for its workers and rent relief for its mall tenants during the lockdown period of the Philippine island of Luzon. Through its foundation, Ayala also distributed N95 masks to key hospitals and health institutions in Metro Manila, as well as to its partner institutions outside the city.

(Related: 50 Philanthropists In Asia Who Are Changing The World)

16. Audrey Tang, software programmer and Taiwanese executive cabinet member

Audrey Tang has been called “Taiwan’s genius IT minister” for having applied her technology expertise to its disease prevention efforts, and she has been an instrumental figure in Taiwan’s fight against the coronavirus.

Tang united civil and governmental agencies to create a “mask map” app, which helped residents efficiently find the closest location where masks were available in real time. She also developed an alert system to inform citizens where passengers had visited in order to evaluate whether they needed to monitor their health, and to issue timely rebuttals to the spread of any misinformation or rumours.

17. Saleemah Ismail, co-founder, New Life Stories

While many Singaporeans are fortunate enough to have the financial reserves to stock up on food and other essentials in a time like this, low-income families just don’t have the means. Life, for some of them, is a matter of survival with access to daily necessities not always guaranteed, and books and vitamins, a luxury.

Thankfully, New Life Stories spearheaded a project to provide and distribute cleaning and self-care packages to equip underprivileged children with the necessary resources to protect themselves during this pandemic. The non-profit organisation, which was co-founded by Saleemah Ismail in support of preschool education for the children of incarcerated mothers, launched a campaign on to raise funds to purchase the items for the kits.

Altogether, 84 such care packages were delivered to beneficiaries in March, thanks to generous donors who helped New Life Stories supersede its fundraising goal of $6,000, reaching almost $8,000 with 22 days left to go for the campaign.

The organisation also took its Early Reader programme digital, with its team of volunteers connecting with some kids via mobile platforms like Skype, so they didn’t have to miss out on the weekly reading sessions, despite the social distancing measures that have been implemented.


18. David Ho, infectious diseases expert

In 1996, Dr David Ho, the world-famous HIV researcher, became the first doctor chosen specifically for his work on a disease as Time’s Person of the Year, so it raised hopes to see him appear in March on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek, this time with the headline “The Cure Starts Here”. He has spent nearly two decades conducting in-depth research on coronavirus prevention, studying diseases such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and now Covid-19. Since February, Ho has been in charge of a research and development project on coronavirus medicine and antibodies

19. Maia Estianty, music producer, singer and businesswoman

People power is a force to be reckoned with, especially when it comes to the ardent fans of a star, which explains how Maia Estianty has raised more than RP3.4 billion since the coronavirus first appeared in Indonesia. The fundraising is an ongoing project between the music producer and singer with actress and businesswoman Cathy Sharon, who have a combined total of 16.1 million followers on Instagram. Both of them belong to a group of charitable women called the Tempe Gang.

“Since the virus spreads so quickly and Indonesia has experienced a shortage of supplies for its medical teams, we have to help out not only in Jakarta but also in other provinces where the situation is even more desperate,” Maia says. As of mid-April, funds have been distributed to 168 hospitals in eight provinces to purchase vitamins, supplements, disinfectants, soaps and many other essentials.

Some donations have been given directly to daily wage-earners. A soup kitchen is also being planned to reach more people around Jakarta.

“This pandemic is a hard hit for the small enterprises that make up a large amount of the country’s workforce,” she says. “By staying positive and connected to the consumers, ideas will come from this time of relearning and regrowth to remain afloat today, or to make a fresh start later on.”

20. Jackie Ying, scientist and head, Agency for Science, Technology and Research's NanoBio Lab

Professor Jackie Ying is head of the NanoBio Lab at Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research. Her team has developed a Covid-19 test, which delivers results in under 10 minutes—the fastest available once approved. Using a rapid amplification method, the test looks for the genetic material of the virus in a swab-collected sample of a patient’s secretions. Preliminary clinical validation has shown the test to be very sensitive and accurate. Ying notes that the challenge is to develop a rapid and accurate test kit without needing the use of expensive machines.

21. Keppel Corporation

To help the local community weather the effects of Covid-19, Keppel Corporation has provided a second package to support ongoing national efforts. This follows its donation of over $900,000 to the same purpose earlier this year. This package will be funded by voluntary contributions from directors, senior management and staff, and matched dollar for dollar by the group.

Keppel CEO Loh Chin Hua and the heads of key business units have all volunteered a month’s salary to support this effort, while its directors will contribute an equivalent amount of their annual fees. Other senior management members will donate half of their monthly salaries with the remaining employees in Singapore choosing to contribute any sum.

In all, funds totalling $4.2 million are expected to be gathered.

22. Zatashah Idris, environmentalist and member of the Selangor royal family

Zatashah Idris is renowned for her many social initiatives, from #saynotoplastic and #zerofoodwastage campaigns to her work feeding the needy through Kechara Soup Kitchen. She is also on the board of trustees of the Food Bank Malaysia Foundation.

When the lockdown took effect, she heard from many daily-wage earners that they could not afford to put food on the table when they are unable to go to work.

“Our main concern was to continue getting supplies to vulnerable communities,” says Zatashah. “It has proven tough, as the restrictions meant putting a halt on distributing food and supplies for a period of time.” Kechara Soup Kitchen revised its procedures to incorporate minimum distancing and protective masks, gloves and sanitisers.

“I’ve been helping from a distance by helping gain funding as well as getting approvals from the relevant parties,” Zatashah says.

“Despite the challenges, there is a silver lining,” she adds. “I was touched when several corporate sponsors and individuals reached out to me to ask how they can help out.”

23. Hans Sy, director, SM Group

The Sy family’s business empire SM Group is one of the first major companies in the Philippines to give support, allocating PHP100 million to assist government-owned hospitals. SM Group has equipped health workers with gowns, masks, gloves, visors and hospital shoe covers. It has also waived retail rents to the tenants of its SM Supermalls during the nationwide lockdown. SM Foundation has donated more than PHP170 million to help ensure that front line workers are provided with additional supplies. It has also orchestrated delivery of more than 6,700 relief packs to depressed communities nationwide.

24. Danny Yeung, CEO and founder, Prenetics

Hong Kong-based genetic testing and digital health company Prenetics—better known by its signature product, CircleDNA—has announced that it will work with several collaborators to expand Covid-19 testing across the city. The non-profit Project Screen will allow people to receive and return at-home test kits, with results in 24 hours, at a cost of HK$985, of which HK$300 will be subsidised for frontliners and their families by Prudential Hong Kong. “No one company can do it all and it’s just amazing we have the support of so many industry leaders,” Yeung says. “We felt it was our responsibility to do everything we possibly can for the community.”

A Special Tatler Asia Report—We salute those in Asia who are leading the fight against the Covid-19 crisis: James Dyson | Tan Min-Liang | Anthony Tan | Capitaland | Martin Tan | Tom Kong | The Full List

The May 2020 issue is now available with our compliments on Magzter.

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.