When Forest City won the United Nation’s (UN) Global Model of City-Industry Integration Award at the 2018 Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements Awards (SCAHSA) on Oct 30, 2018, it was a testament to the developer’s ongoing efforts “to create a better society with our existence”. As the developer of Forest City in Iskandar Malaysia, Johor, this principle is demonstrated not just through Country Garden Pacificview Sdn Bhd’s (CGPV) business operations, but even more in its three-pronged corporate social responsibility initiatives, which are youth education and empowerment, societal development and environmental awareness.
Invited to speak as the only Malaysian representative and panellist in the 2018 Annual Session of the Global Forum on Human Settlements (GFHS 2018) held at the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok during the event, Country Garden Malaysia and Forest City director of strategy Ng Zhu Hann stressed the importance of social inclusion. “For a project to be successful, you need to engage stakeholders, not only the government and other related businesses, but more importantly the local villages and community around you. You must take care of their needs, their education and their welfare.”
In 2019, the company plans to set up the Yayasan Forest City to further pursue its charity works. In early October, Forest City also committed to the National Housing Policy by assisting the government in building affordable houses at cost price. Additionally, the company has signed up as one of the developers to revitalise PPR projects under Dasar Komuniti Negara by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.
Youth empowerment and societal development
Education has always been close to the heart of Country Garden Holdings’ founder, Yeung Kwok Keung. Living in Guangdong, China then, Yeung almost got his schooling prematurely axed because his father couldn’t afford the school fees. Thankfully, his teacher went out of her way to persuade his father and secured the young Yeung a scholarship to complete his studies.
Impacted by this benevolence, Country Garden Holdings, through its Poverty Reduction Foundation in Rural Areas, has set up the Guo Hua Memorial School in Foshan, China to provide opportunities for the poorest of the poor to get a proper education. Since 2002, half of Yeung’s wealth has been poured into supporting this school and other philanthropic ventures. With the capacity to house 500 students, the Foundation pro-actively seeks out underprivileged children with excellent academic records across the country, offering them exemption from all charges including tuition fees, text books, meals and accommodation.
In Johor, the company has adopted seven government schools – providing them with the financial support to fund extra language classes and textbooks for the needy, to repair and rebuild the rundown teaching facilities, to decorate the compound, and to fix access roads near the schools.
Dubbed the Forest City Adopted School Revitalisation project, the initiative commenced in September by rejuvenating SK Tanjong Adang in Gelang Patah. With an allocation of RM550,000, the 100-year-old village school was given a facelift that included repairing the staircases; fixing plumbing and wiring; repainting the school facade and mural; and refurbishing the common areas, security guardhouse and sports facilities. Drawing on its own in-house expertise, the works received hands-on support from Forest City’s teams in project, landscape, design and construction.
According to school principal Noriah Md Jidin, the revitalisation has filled the school children with a renewed sense of pride in their school and the motivation to attend school.
“A conducive learning environment is important so that the children can study well, and the teachers can teach effectively, while the parents can have peace of mind knowing that the children are in a safe environment,” says Hann.
“Education and poverty alleviation have always been the hallmarks of Forest City and Country Garden Holdings. Apart from taking care of the villages and community near our development, we are planning to expand this initiative to other areas in Johor as we believe education will change one’s destiny.
“Forest City will continue to align with the government’s call for more public-private partnership in overall economic activities and social development, especially the upgrading of education infrastructure as per Budget 2019,” Hann states.
Besides these major projects, Forest City has other regular activities to promote learning such as English workshops for SPM students in Johor. It also established a scholarship programme amongst which the company offered eight full scholarships to Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Johor and 10 vocational scholarships to Southern College, Johor.
In cooperation with Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Forest City has given a RM5 million research grant to its renowned Department of Aquaculture and the Department of Biology to transplant and rehabilitate the sea grass around the Forest City project. As part of the five-year agreement, the UPM team has been constantly monitoring the growth of seagrass at Forest City and other Environmentally Sensitive Areas since March 2015. Since then, the Merambong seagrass around the development has fully recovered its original size of 26.5ha with 12 different species having been transplanted to the shelter area.
UPM Department of Biology head Prof. Dr. Japar Sidik said, “The team from Forest City has been working on the transplant of seedlings on a monthly basis, and the seedlings we have transplanted in 2016 are now growing well.”
“Having Forest City as our industrial partner has greatly benefitted the faculty, especially in providing hands-on experience to the students,” UPM vice chancellor Prof. Datin Paduka Dr. Aini Ideris added.
The company also provides financial support to Kelab Alami, a community-based initiative started by environmentalist Dr Serina Rahman, whose PhD work is on marine education and community empowerment. The NGO is also given exposure opportunities in Forest City to showcase its work on green nature preservation.
“Forest City believes in the potential of Malaysia. The future of the country lies in empowering the people and community, where the B40 and M40 are taken care of, especially in the area of education and self-development. As the company intends to stay for the long term, we will continue to contribute to the rakyat to the best of our ability for the good of the nation. A new Malaysia, a new hope, and no one should be left behind. We would like to be a part of that journey,” Hann concludes.