Annually, the Aster DM Healthcare group sees over 20 million patients. But more important, the group spends ₹50 crore every year on charity, and if you haven’t heard much about that, it is “because normally we don’t publicise our charitable activities. But of late, and after taking a cue from philanthropists such as Bill Gates, we’ve realised that if we promote such work, and make some noise, others may follow and do charitable work for which there is such a huge requirement in our country,” says Dr Azad Moopen, Chairman of the Aster Group.
We are seated in his office at the MIMS Multispecialty Hospital in Kozhikode. Surely, there must have been some history of giving in his family, I ask Dr Moopen, as he pens an MoU with Rotary for rebuilding around 400–500 homes in the flood-devastated Kerala, with each partner committing $1 million. Dr Moopen smiles, and says, “My father was a freedom fighter and actively involved in the Independence movement and post-Independence he was deeply engaged in social welfare activities. My ancestors were landlords with a large amount of land growing paddy, coconut etc, and the rulers of that time gave us the title of Moopen, which means ‘leader’ in Malayalam.”
As a child he would sit with his social activist father and watch him work for the community. “Probably I imbibed the charitable gene, as you put it, from him. I studied in the local school and my father died when I was 15.”
They were five brothers and while the other four went into business, “because my father wanted one of his sons to become a doctor, I became one. Now of course, I love my profession.”
Among the organisations worldwide doing activities to help people, there is no doubt that Rotary stands tall. It is very transparent and the accounting system is so good.
Architect Abdul Hameed, a member of RC Calicut Midtown, D 3202, and a close friend of Dr Moopen for decades, discloses that after a stint in Farook College in Kozhikode, where he was an active student leader, Dr Moopen joined the Calicut Medical College for his MBBS and MD degrees in general medicine. “He is still in contact with his Farook College group, and they meet regularly. Their most recent get together was at his holiday home on the Wayanad hills.”
Dr Moopen says that he worked as a doctor and a medical teacher in Kozhikode and after a few years opted to go to Dubai, for a two-year stint, “but then decided to remain there and now it is 30 years. I have always believed that god plans things for us and you have to just flow with it. My friends persuaded me to start a clinic in Dubai and then we grew from there to what we are today.”
And that is a healthcare empire that is spread across 308 establishments in nine countries in the Middle East, the Far East and of course India.
So how difficult is it to make his fortune in a foreign country? “Initially it was difficult and it always takes time. I was lucky I went to a country like Dubai which is very friendly to foreigners; had I gone to some other country, I don’t know what it would have been like! I suppose that if you are at the right place at the right time and among the right people, half of the job is done. And then god gives you the opportunity. Of course, you have to work hard; no question about that!”
I ask Dr Moopen to take our readers down his journey in philanthropy. He says he was deeply engaged in social activities even before going to the Gulf. “And there also, one day in a week, I would practise without charging anything for my consultations. At that point, there weren’t too many doctors in Dubai with PG qualifications. Doing such charitable or voluntary work has been in my DNA from the very beginning, and I have always been happy to do such work. I believe that god has given people like me everything: health, wealth, education, a good family and a lot of position and prestige, and also awards. And it is our duty to give back to society.”
Asked about the 20 per cent of his wealth that he has set apart for charity, Dr Moopen says, “That is only a small part, because the rest of my wealth I have to keep for my family (his wife and three daughters). But what I intend to do is invest 80 per cent of my time for charitable activities in the future.”
We are sending food to Somalia where there is starvation, apart of course from the medical projects which we keep doing year after year.
So how supporting has been his family, particularly wife, with his philanthropic activities?
“Very supportive; my family has really tried to push me into philanthropy. My wife especially, makes it a point to give; she has what we call “open hands”, and is very generous in giving. I have three girls; I am like the warden of a ladies’ hostel, and four grandchildren and the fifth is due anytime! (The baby was delivered the same day!) My children also encourage me and are very supportive. They’ve been pushing me to do even more.”
On why he chose Rotary as a partner for building homes in Kerala, an activity for which his group has set apart $1 million, Dr Moopen says, “Among the organisations worldwide doing activities to help people, there is no doubt that Rotary stands tall. And our friends in the community, the local people I know — district governors, past club presidents, etc — have done so much work, maybe not always with money, but with their time and hard work… has really impressed me. I really appreciate Rotary as a movement. It is very transparent and the accounting system is good, and these are all big positives. And the idea of course came through Rotarian friends such as Dr Rajesh Subhash and Abdul Hameed from RC Calicut Midtown.”
He hastens to add that this “is only the beginning and I want to do more work in partnership with Rotary to help people in Africa, the Philippines etc. I believe we Indians can do so much to help other countries.”
Dr Subhash, who has known Dr Moopen for long years, says that as “any successful businessman, to his team he is to the point and a target achiever. But once out of the boardroom, he takes a keen interest in even the most personal affairs of his team. More a man of action than words, he believes in doing the right things without delay.”
Adds Hameed, “More than a successful entrepreneur, he is a wonderful person, with a rustic sense of humour which comes to the fore when he is with people really close to him. He has a clear vision of his goals and the ability to achieve them.” Once he has entrusted a job to his handpicked management team, he avoids the nitty-gritty, “choosing to spend maximum time with his family”.
On his charitable activities, Hameed says, “His empathy and compassion go far beyond the boundaries of community or borders of nations. Human race is the same for him everywhere.”
I’d like to be recognised in my epitaph as a good human being who loved his family, his country, the people around him and as a world citizen who wanted to see the goodness in everybody.
Dr Moopen says he has been in the healthcare business for 30 years; “we started very small and now have presence in nine countries with 20,000 employees. We are a public company with many trusts. This (MIMS) hospital has a separate trust called the MIMS Charitable Trust which by itself spends a substantial amount on charity. Overall, we spend about ₹50 crore a year on charitable activities, even though we are not mandated to spend anything by law because we don’t have a standalone company in India making enough profits to come under the government mandate of spending a percentage of our profits on charity. Most of our profits come from outside India. But it’s my commitment to the country I come from, to get significantly involved in charitable activities in India.”
He adds that his organisation also runs “a refugee medical camp in Syria; we are sending food to Somalia where there is starvation, apart of course from the medical projects which we keep doing year after year. Last year we joined with Sachin Tendulkar in a programme that is going to help 100 children to get cardiac surgery.”
Having seen India from both within and then from overseas (Dubai), where does he think India is headed in the future? “We all know that in the next 10–20 years India is going to be in the centre stage… we are already getting there… and will be among the two or three top countries of the world. The world’s power centres are shifting and it’s a matter of time before India occupies a central position. We have to prepare ourselves, and our children have to be ready to take on that leadership role.” With our ancient knowledge and wisdom, so many religions, philosophers and thinkers, India can offer spiritual and intellectual leadership of a high calibre. Our heritage and history give us the capability to do so.” Add to this our large young population, and “we know that our time is coming.”
I love to read; some of it is related to philosophy and history. I also enjoy spiritual writing.
But, adds Dr Moopen, what saddens him is that “we have been a little late. The other day somebody asked me what I wish for and I said I would like to live up to the age of 100 to see India at the top of the stage by 2050… India will by then be No 1 or 2.”
What is striking is that the core areas that Dr Moopen is interested in, such as paediatric surgery and other health care activities ranging from dialysis centres to training medical professionals from less privileged countries, and community welfare activities such as building homes for natural disaster victims, are among the core focus areas of Rotary. So why hasn’t he considered joining Rotary instead of just being the honorary member of a club?
He smiles and says, “I have not been active in any organisation, except for medical or educational associations. But now that we have begun this partnership (building homes in Kerala), I’d like to do that, going forward.”
RI Director C Basker, who was present at the MoU signing between Rotary and the Aster Group, is greatly enthused by the partnership, and says he will talk to the RI Board and the TRF Trustees about the opportunity to take this “engagement and partnership with the Aster Group much further.”
He adds, “He is a great human being, who has donated 20 per cent of his wealth to a charitable Trust for the poor and is now willing to spend 80 per cent of his time in philanthropic work through free consultation and training doctors from Africa, Philippines, Bangladesh, etc. He is keen to work with organisations like RI. This is exactly the kind of international collaboration and partnership that Rotary is seeking.”