Model and actress Lin Chi-ling

For our 12th annual philanthropy roundup we’ve sifted through dozens of candidates to compile a list of altruists attracted to causes in the Asia-Pacific region.

The 40-member honor roll spans entrepreneurs, executives and one celebrity, and unlike our wealth lists, these selections are subjective. The goal is to capture individual philanthropists–those making donations with personal funds and not through their businesses (unless they own a substantial stake in the companies, in which case we consider the giving a part of their fortune). We also don’t include fundraisers or heads of nonprofits, though they play an important role. Forbes Asia zooms in on names with the financial or social capital to put their stamp on issues of importance.

Countries such as China and India traditionally have more names than one like Japan, where cultural sensitivities on celebrating individual generosity can limit our scope. As in previous years, we aim to unearth new names, unless a past donor has made a significant pledge or contribution.

Some people have been fervent in the arts, while many others are committed to efforts in education and healthcare across the region. Indian tycoon Kochouseph Chittilappilly gave not only his time and money but donated one of his kidneys to a total stranger. See our story on him here. For the first time, a philanthropist from Cambodia makes the list: Suwanna Gauntlett, an American residing there for 18 years, has dedicated herself to guarding rain forests and wildlife in the country.

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Kochouseph Chittilappilly, 67

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of V-Guard Industries Ltd

As his 60th birthday drew close, Kochouseph Chittilappilly couldn’t help but acknowledge that life was good as he had built from scratch an empire comprising electrical and electronic equipment and amusement parks. Nonetheless, Chittilappilly was overcome by the urge “to do something larger with my life.” In 2011, two months after he turned 60, the tycoon agreed to donate the organ to an ailing trucker, who was a complete stranger.

Puneet Dalmia, 46

Managing Director, Dalmia Bharat

Cement czar Puneet Dalmia and his family set up the Avanee Foundation (named after his daughter) this year with nearly $3 million. This is aimed at education for kids from grades 3 to 8–promoting values like kindness, compassion and respect for elders. The foundation rolled out a “happiness” curriculum in July incorporating these values and has trained 22,000 teachers to date. It’s now reaching a million school kids. Puneet is also working on content relating to ancient Indian philosophy, which can be applied to management training.

Anand Deshpande, 56

Chairman & Managing Director, Persistent Systems

Software maven who runs the $471 million (fiscal 2018 revenues) Persistent Systems is on a mission to convert job seekers into job creators. He does that through his deAsra Foundation, which has $3 million. The Pune outfit has assisted nearly 9,000 small businesses. Deshpande helps entrepreneurs start, manage and grow their businesses by offering a range of support services. His goal is to support 25,000 enterprises by the year 2020.

Kishore Lulla, 57

Executive chairman & CEO, Eros Group

Earmarked $20 million for causes centered on females and children. Lulla’s $261 million (fiscal 2018 revenues) film company acquires, co-produces and distributes Indian films across the globe. Through his Eros Foundation, he will be focusing on education of girls, particularly in the western Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. He also funds two or three scholarships a year for women at the UCLA Film School and supports a Mumbai organization called Arpan, which works to prevent child sex abuse.

Sunil Mittal, 60

Chairman, Bharti Enterprises

Telecom tycoon and his brothers, Rakesh and Rajan, pledged to donate 10% of their wealth, including a 3% stake in listed telecom flagship Bharti Airtel, (currently valued at $500 million), to their Bharti Foundation. The funds will partly be used to set up the Satya Bharti University, which is due to open in 2021 and will offer free tuition to the underprivileged. Their foundation has so far provided free education to more than 45,000 children.

Infosys Chairman Nandan Nilekani (Photo: Associated Press)

Nandan & Rohini Nilekani, 63, 59

Cofounder, Infosys; founder, Arghyam

Pledged to donate 50% of their wealth in November 2017 under the Giving Pledge and said, “Wealth comes with huge responsibility and is best deployed for the larger public interest.” Past contributions include $5 million to the premier Indian Institute of Technology Bombay in Mumbai, Nandan’s alma mater, and a $21.4 million endowment to Arghyam, a foundation set up by Rohini, which addresses water and sanitation issues. The two have also set up the EkStep Foundation, an open-learning platform that has pooled resources to advance literacy and numeracy.

Abhishek Poddar, 50

Managing director, Matheson Bosanquet

With his family, donated $7 million and 7,000 pieces from their personal collection to the Museum of Art & Photography in Bangalore. As the first major private art museum in India’s tech city, set to open in 2020, it will have more than 15,000 works covering the gamut from modern and contemporary Indian art to photography and popular culture. Poddar, who hails from a family with interests in tea plantations and industrial explosives, became interested in art in high school and is the museum’s founder and chief patron. After an initial plan to partner with the state government got delayed, the Poddars went ahead on their own, raising funds by selling 41 prized works from their collection through a Christie’s auction.


Anthony Pratt 58

Global Chairman, Pratt/Visy Industries

Anthony Pratt

In August 2017 Pratt pledged to donate $700 million over his lifetime to charitable causes, including medical research and the arts. His family’s Pratt Foundation, founded by his late father, Richard, and mother,Jeanne, has also donated more than $175 million since 1978. He built his grandfather’s box manufacturer, Visy, into one of the world’s largest privately owned packaging and recycling companies.

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Suwanna Gauntlett, 69

Founder of Wildlife Alliance

Suwanna Gauntlett

One of Asia’s most ardent environmental and animal-welfare advocates, Suwanna Gauntlett, has founded a series of conservation groups that have devoted decades to protecting vital habitats around the globe.

American-born Gauntlett, an heir to the Upjohn pharmaceutical fortune who’s resided in Cambodia for 18 years, was a founder of WildAid, which has battled the slaughter of sharks for their fins as well as ivory hunting in Africa. She later formed Wildlife Alliance, in Cambodia, and is hailed for combating rampant land clearing and animal poaching. A former environmental consultant for multinational firms, Gauntlett estimates that she has spent $30 million to finance Wildlife Alliance, which oversees conservation in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains. “It’s one of the most important areas of biodiversity in the region,” she notes.

Besides holding some of Southeast Asia’s last rain forests, the area is home to wild elephants and the rare forest variety. In an innovative approach, Wildlife Alliance leased over 18,000 hectares in 2009, forming a privately run wildlife sanctuary. There it trains and pays its own rangers, ensuring enforcement in an area rife with poaching and land grabs. More than 100 rangers make over 3,500 patrols each year, seizing thousands of illegal traps. It has also lobbied to scale down or cancel dozens of concessions for mining and agro-industry throughout the Cardamom region’s millions of acres.

Last year, Wildlife Alliance partnered with Thai billionaire William Heinecke’s Minor Group and Khiri Travel’s YAANA Ventures to open a tented camp in the sanctuary. Nine comfortable tents offer “glamping” in the wilderness with walks by the rangers. All proceeds go to the environmental group to finance further conservation work.


Sunil Mittal, 60

Chairman, Bharti Enterprises