Meet Mohd Lutfi Fadil Lokman, the young Malaysian who made the Forbes ‘30 Under 30: Asia – Social Entrepreneurs’ list in 2017. Find out more about the CEO of Hospitals Beyond Boundaries, and what fuelled this truly inspiring initiative
An unassuming, affable KL native, Mohd Lutfi Fadil Lokman became a household name when he made the Forbes ‘30 Under 30: Asia – Social Entrepreneurs 2017’ list, a deserving honour that ensued not long after the inception of Hospitals Beyond Boundaries, a Malaysia-based organisation building healthcare facilities in Cambodia and Malaysia which Lutfi co-founded with the intention of providing sound medical care for the underprivileged.
Growing up around doctors, Lutfi naturally gravitated towards the noble profession and ended up with a medical degree both in Malaysia and Indonesia. Here we chat with the inspiring 32-year-old husband and father of one, who is currently based in Boston where he’s pursuing a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree at Harvard University.
For starters, could you briefly tell us a little bit about yourself?
Lutfi Fadil Lokman (LFL): I’m a medical doctor at the Ministry of Health Malaysia. However, I’m on a study leave and currently live in Boston, Massachusetts (USA) with my wife and my 10-month-old son, Umar. Currently, I’m pursuing a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree at Harvard University – expected to graduate in May 2020.
I did my medical degree both in Malaysia and Indonesia; it was a twinning programme between Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and Universitas Padjajaran in Indonesia. After graduation, I worked at Hospital Sungai Buloh in Selangor for two years, then at the Institute of Health Systems Research for a year. It was in Hospital Sungai Buloh that I met my wife, Kamaliah. She’s also a medical doctor, working as an obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G) medical officer at Hospital Port Dickson before accompanying me to Boston. She gave birth to our son Umar in April 2018 here in Boston.
With wife Kamaliah and son Umar in Monument Valley, Utah, USA
Have you always wanted to be a doctor?
LFL: I wouldn’t say that – but it was the only profession I was most exposed to growing up. My father is a doctor, as well as my uncle and three of my aunts. My mother was a pharmacist. I never thought seriously about being a doctor until after high school. To be honest my studies were not that good during my final years of high school, so being a doctor was not on my list. However, my SPM results were pretty good, and it was then that I realised that I could actually make the cut to be a doctor. Medicine was the most familiar profession to me at the time, and so I went on to pursue medicine. Once I was on the medical pathway, I realised that I was especially interested in the branch of medicine called ‘public health’, which applies a lot of social sciences into the world of health and medicine. My special interest within the field of public health is ‘health economics’, a field of study that applies economic principles to health policies or health in general.
What is Hospitals Beyond Boundaries (HBB) all about?
LFL: Hospitals Beyond Boundaries is all about helping communities in low-resource settings take care of their own health. We achieve this by helping local doctors establish and run health centres as social enterprises. Often in low-income countries, communities are only given the choice between profit-motivated healthcare providers or government/charitable health centres which are often understaffed and underequipped.
A social enterprise bridges this gap by being a healthcare centre that focuses on impact rather than profit. This is not to say that social enterprises don’t generate profit. We generate profit from those who are better off and use them only to sustain and expand services as well as subsidising the cost of healthcare for the poor. This ensures business-like sustainability except that no one gains private profit from the suffering of others. Currently we have one clinic and a maternity centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that serves the local Cham-Malay ethnic minority there. Their community remains largely poor and underserved despite recent developments in the country.
Kamaliah and Lutfi doing medical house visits for one of the poor communities in Koh Kong, Cambodia
What inspired the inception of Hospitals Beyond Boundaries? Who were the key persons and factors involved in its formation?
LFL: The key persons would be my parents. They first came up with the idea to start a healthcare centre for the Cham-Malay community in Cambodia after one of the Cham community members came to our house to raise funds for a school that he runs. HBB’s co-founder, Dr Wan Abdul Hannan, was also instrumental in the inception of HBB because in the beginning, it was just the two of us registering the organisation and trying to recruit more people to join.
At that time, we were still in medical school and all of the core team members were also students. It was a challenge for us to raise initial funds as it wasn’t easy to gain the masses’ trust. After all, we were a group of students wanting to build clinics and ultimately hospitals.
But we persevered and started small, initially with health screening programmes, which later grew into a mobile clinic. These activities garnered confidence and support of funders. And in 2015 we managed to raise enough funds to buy a piece of land in Cambodia. That same year our first clinic was launched, followed by our first maternity centre in 2017.
You were among those listed in the Forbes ‘30 Under 30: Asia – Social Entrepreneurs 2017’ list. Has the recognition had any impact on your life as well as HBB?
LFL: At that time, I was recently selected as a United Nations Young Leader for Sustainable Development Goals along with 16 others; heard about it through the U.N. Young Leader’s WhatsApp group. The honour has certainly had an impact on HBB in terms of international recognition and credibility.
What are some of the constant challenges you face in relation to HBB?
LFL: The constant challenge is trying to maintain a good financial health for the clinic. We’re one of the few social enterprises in the world that runs an actual clinic and maternity centre, so there are not many business models we can emulate or look up to. We managed to subsidise the cost of treatment for a lot of patients using revenues we gain from the better-off patients, but we still depend on donations to help cover overhead costs. Our aim is to one day become fully self-sustainable while maintaining high social impact to the poor.
During house call to a patient too sick to visit the clinic in Cambodia
What are your plans for HBB in 2019 and beyond?
LFL: My plan is to apply the things I have learnt here at Harvard to HBB. The overarching goal is to transform it into a self-sustainable organisation, while having a broad and deep impact to the community that we serve. We want to be one of the few business models in the world that proves a social enterprise is a feasible model to provide health care in low-resource settings.
Share one life lesson that has helped shape you to be the person you are today.
LFL: I think it’s important to know and embrace the fact that life doesn’t follow a linear path. We can make the best of plans but God is the best planner of them all. Take comfort in the fact that in any given moment, we are perfectly where we are meant to be, so don’t get hung up on the other things we think we should’ve done. Focus on what we can do at the moment to make the present better than the past.
Do you enjoy travelling to different countries?
LFL: Yes, I’ve been travelling since I was young, but especially enjoy it more after having a family. I think that travelling is a great way to understand each other better and foster relationships. My wife and I make a good travel partners because we complement each other; I am the one who plans the ‘big picture’, while she zooms in on the details.
With wife Kamaliah and son Umar in San Diego, California,USA
What are some of your favourite destinations?
LFL: Recently my wife and I went to San Diego, California … it’s such a beautiful city. I love that the bustling city, the beautiful beach, the dessert, nature and wildlife are all within close vicinity.
I also had a similar impression of Cape Town, South Africa, which I went to when I was younger. It also has everything within close vicinity, plus the majestic Table Mountain that is absolutely beautiful!
Cape Town wonders: Table Mountain and penguins at Boulders Beach Exploring the Antelope Canyons
in Page, Arizona with the fam
Photos courtesy of Mohd Lutfi Fadil Lokman (except 'Cape Town wonders'; credit: iStock by Getty Images)