Philanthropist Pioneer
    Category: Philanthropy By : Lan Anh Nguyen Read : 1234 Date : Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 05:32:00

    Courtesy of Lan Anh Nguyen

    Before Bill Gates joined a power dinner with some of the richest families in Asia on a Saturday night in April in Singapore, he signed an MOU with Le Van Kiem, a Vietnamese entrepreneur to found the Vietnam Health Fund. Kiem, the chairman of Long Thanh Golf, a holding company with investment in golf courses, real estate and mining in Vietnam and Laos, is the first Vietnamese philanthropist to pledge $5 million to the Vietnam Health Fund, but hopefully not the last. The aim is to raise more funds from other Vietnamese donors. Gates will match dollar for dollar all funds raised from Vietnam.

    Kiem belongs to the first generation of Vietnamese entrepreneurs that emerged after the Vietnam war. A former military man, he started his own small business making animal feed in his own backyard in the early 80’s, while working at his day job as a government official overseeing road buildings in Ho Chi Minh City. After Vietnam allowed private enterprises in the late 80’s, Kiem founded a garment company and grew it into one of the biggest garment companies during the late 90’s. Unfortunately, it went bankrupt during the 1997 Asia financial crisis. Kiem paid off his debt few years later, and at the same time built one of the largest golf courses in Ho Chi Minh City, along with other projects, mostly in real estate and mining.

    Now 69, Kiem is spending most of his time doing philanthropic work, a cause he started doing 10 years ago. Kiem says that he has donated over $20 million during the past decade to support charitable works in Vietnam. “Kiem’s commitment is an inspirational example of the philanthropic activities’ influence in assuring that everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy and useful life,” said Gates in a joint announcement.

    According to the plan, nearly 80% of the total value of the Vietnam Health Fund will be used to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, poliomyelitis in Vietnam, and the rest of the money will be used to eradicate polio around the world. According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $100 million is expected to be spent over the next five years. Most of the fund will be given to the Global Fund and GAVI Alliance, both already active in Vietnam. Kiem’s next move, together with the Gates Foundation, is to call for donations from other Vietnamese businessmen to jointly commit a total of $50 million over the span of five years.