Dato Kim Tan — Double Bottom Lines for Business

SpringHill Management, Malaysia / UK

Growing up in Asia, I saw the Asian tiger economies that 30-40 years ago had a lower GDP than Uganda or Kenya, transform themselves through enterprise. Not through aid and philanthropy.

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Dato Kim Tan—Pioneering an Industry

Biotech entrepreneur Kim Tan already had made a name for himself in Britain when he returned to his home country of Malaysia in 2003 to pioneer a life-sciences sector there. Partnering with the investment arm of the Malaysian government, Tan founded SpringHill Biotech Ventures, now known as SpringHill Management Ltd., Malaysia’s first biotech venture-capital fund. Focusing on early stage investments and development capital for start-ups in the field of life sciences and social ventures, SpringHill laid the foundation for the now thriving biotech landscape in Malaysia. A fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, Tan serves as an advisor for a number of companies and government agencies around the world. He chairs the NCI Cancer Hospital in Malaysia, the West Surrey and North Hands Innovation and Growth Team in the UK, and serves on the board of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Life Science Forum. 

Dato Kim Tan—Personal History

Kim Tan’s father emigrated from China before Tan was born. Arriving in Malaysia with nothing but his intellect, his father built a successful company from the ground up. Tan made the most of the opportunities his father’s success opened up for him, eventually earning his PhD in biochemistry, founding several successful companies, and emerging as an influential leader for his field, his country and the developing world. He was conferred the title “Dato” by the Penang State Government in 2006.

Dato Kim Tan—Social Ventures

Tan is the co-founder and trustee for the Transformational Business Network (TBN), which empowers developing world entrepreneurs, specifically those participating in small and medium enterprises, by connecting them to mentors, resources and capital. TBN’s current outreach includes 60 businesses in 22 countries worldwide with around $40 million of direct or indirect investments. One of TBN’s ventures is the Kuzuko Game Park, which, since 2007, has been a boon to the economic, social, and environmental sectors in its region of South Africa. In an area of 85% unemployment, the park provides employment for over 250 people earning substantially more than minimum wage. It also serves to regulate and protect the growth of wildlife in the area, which was previously widely abused. Driven largely by Tan, the project has demonstrated how a successful business can be a powerful force for both environmental and economic good. Tan is also the co-founder of the Hagar Social Enterprise Group in Cambodia and a former Chairman of Jubilee Action, a multinational human rights organization focusing on street children. Tan expounds on the social role of business in his book Fighting Poverty through Enterprise, which he co-authored with Lord Brian Griffiths.

  • Dato Kim Tan on Enterprise, not Aid

    Growing up in Asia, seeing the Asian tiger economies—that thirty, forty years ago had a lower GDP than Uganda or Kenya—transform themselves through enterprise, not through aid, not through philanthropy … that’s been a really important influence on my thinking.

  • Dato Kim Tan on Unintended Consequences of Aid

    When we come into a country and provide a whole load of aid in the form of grant money that a small country just can’t absorb, that has a whole load of unintended consequences to its economy. Or when we bring in goods that are manufactured here in the West, and unfortunately then that creates a real problem for local manufacturers and producers. It affects them in terms of their economics. So these are some of the unintended consequences.

  • Dato Kim Tan on Multiple Bottom Lines

    I think it’s by inspiring a generation of entrepreneurs and investors who look beyond just making a single bottom line return on investments. We need to be thinking of double, triple, quadruple bottom line returns. We need to think in terms of a financial return, sure, but we need to be thinking of a social return, a spiritual return, and an environmental return.

  • Dato Kim Tan on Dignity of the Poor

    I think what people want if you ask the poor—if given a choice between a handout or a hand up that helps them really to have a sense of dignity and independence, to be able to put food on their table by themselves through their own effort—they all want to be able to do that. You know, that is, that is a part of the human aspiration, and I think we need to find ways of doing that; and it’s enterprise that can really help people do that.

  • Dato Kim Tan on The Poor Lacking Freedom

    In terms of nutrition, they’re deprived. In terms of their housing, they’re deprived. In terms of education, they’re deprived. In terms of opportunities, they’re deprived. See, one of the things that the poor don’t have is they don’t have choice. They don’t have freedom.