Hong Kong electricity tycoon willing to help Nepal, but not yet ready to invest in hydropower
ROAD TO RECOVERY: Michael Kadoorie (left) inspects a hydrotherapy pool built
with support from his foundation for patients at the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre near Banepa on Thursday.
When one of Asia’s richest men whose family fortune came from electric power flew into Kathmandu in his own Gulfstream 3 executive jet last week, some thought he was here to invest in hydropower.
Sir Michael Kadoorie, 73, the descendant of Iraqi Jews who settled in Shanghai in the 19th century and set up China Light and Power Holdings Ltd, has a net worth of $9.5 billion and is on the Forbes list of the world’s biggest billionaires. His company provides 75 per cent of its electricity in Hong Kong, and has invested in power plants and hotel chains across Asia and in Australia.
“I have been hearing about Nepal’s enormous hydropower potential and talk of selling it to India ever since the 1970s,” Kadoorie said at a stopover during his whirlwind tour of Nepal last week, “I would love to feel that this is the time, but Nepal is in transition and the investment climate has to be right.”
Kadoorie is involved in electricity in Nepal, but in providing it to villages in remote parts of Nepal with grants for microhydro plants. Last week, he inaugurated a 60 kilowatt project in Chaurikharka near Lukla that will provide power to 250 households. The charity is also involved in installing solar units in Dolpo, building foot bridges across Nepal, helping leprosy and burns patients.
The family’s involvement in Nepal began with Michael Kadoorie’s uncle, Horace, who had been involved with helping refugees from China in Hong Kong in 1949. A British Gurkha officer convinced the family that retiring soldiers needed help with agriculture back home in Nepal. What started out with Horace Kadoorie’s involvement with Gurkhas has now diversified into health, education and infrastructure even after he died in 1995.
“The joke in the family was that my father Lawrence earned money and my uncle Horace spent it,” Kadoorie says. “My uncle had a deep attachment with Nepal and the Gurkhas and we are carrying on the work he started.”
Michael Kadoorie’s hobbies include photography, flying helicopters and collecting classic cars. It was while driving a restored Ferrari in 1998 that he had an accident and spent two months recovering from serious injuries. This prompted the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation to support the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre near Banepa in 2008. Last week he inaugurated Phase 2 of the Centre for physiotherapy, occupational therapy and Nepal’s first hydrotherapy pool for patients undergoing rehabilitation (pic, above).
“I know from my own experience that rehabilitation needs a lot of passion that comes from the heart,” Kadoorie said, “and it was a facility like this in Nepal, especially the hydrotherapy, that enabled me to recover quickly.”
The Centre helps with long-term rehabilitation of spinally injured patients, most of them women who have fallen from trees while collecting fodder. But there are an increasing number of patients who are injured in highway accidents.
After inaugurating the hydrotherapy unit that he helped support, Kadoorie’s parting quip was: “Next time I come here, I may plunge into the pool.”
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