The phenomena of Bernard Li Kwong Ken – a humanitarian with a good nose for business
and a heart filled with passion for those less fortunate.
Two years ago I saw a photo of my beloved Le Morne Mountain – absolutely the most beautiful I’ve seen. I can’t recall for how long I stared at the photo. This was the beginning of my friendship with Bernard Li Kwong Ken. Today that image is a ”no-go-item” for me. And just what may that mean? More than 30 years as an airhostess entails that I’ve aquired a certain ”air-lingo” that I use privately as well. An example of a ”no-go-item” is that the water tanks aren’t filled, the lavatory waste tanks haven’t been emptied, food for the staff is lacking (a starving crew is no hit). The engines aren’t started unless this is done – the delay is a given. Privately my ”no-go-items” are – what I always carry in my purse – I do not leave the house without keys, creditcard, drivers license, lipstick and Bernard’s picture Le Morne at full moon. The ”purse-size model” of the photo equals that of a deck of playing cards. The truth is that I always carry several copies for others to enjoy. Because sharing with others and allowing his fellow beings to grow, is his field of expertise – Bernard Li Kwong Ken.
Bernard was born in 1957 on Mauritius and grew up in the Chinese part of Port Louis. I asked how is it that capitalist can have such a burning interest in aid-organizations. What is the common nominator? Bernard says that he was never a capitalist – ”power of money corrupts” is how he frazes it. The list of charitable organizations that Bernard has chaired is long. Everything from PILS – Aids and Hiv fighting, Organizations for the handicaped to Rotary. What stands him apart from other leaders is that he himself participates in the rough work alongside all the volunteers. He is an enthusiastic person who relates well to people of all ages and backgrounds. And what is his predominant strength? Bernard says that he is quick to grasp the lay of the land and out of that make a snap decision. I can see that it’s true, Bernard is totally a 100% present as I talk to him – this is usually the trademark of a great leader.
He was 14 years old when he first came into contact with charity work. The gardeners daughter of the school Bernard attended couldn’t afford to continue her studies. With the ”go-ahead” of the dean Bernard along with some friends collected money for the girl to finish her college years.
In his business life he has been General Manager, Managing Director and Executive Director for, to mention a few, Bel Ombre Foundation and Gazelle Shoe Factory and also a partner of IV-PLAY. The first IV-PLAY Store was launched by Bernard in partnership with Mario Guillot as the in-house designer in 1995 and after 12 years of existance, there were 12 sales outlets, seven of them being licensed retailers and five fully owned by IV-PLAY, with a yearly turnover of around Rs 50 million.
Bernard left the success-story that was IV-PLAY, to on a 50 – 50 basis pursue business as a consultant and charity work. On top of that he is an excellent photographer, his pictures taken at sunset and sunrise are simply the best. Well, on top of that this man has taken up painting – aquarelles! This one i for me – the original. Beautiful, isn’t it?
I ask Bernard when he feels his best. He answers ”when I sleep peacefully at night”. I’m sure that’s right – but I also believe that it is when he spends time with these – his four grandchildren – life’s dessert. Bernard got to enjoy that early, he had his first grandchild at the age of 44. They call him Koung Koung – a loved one has many names!
I extend a warm welcome to this months guest Bernard Li Kwong Ken. And greetings all readers – make yourselves comfortable and enjoy the tales off a role model.
I was born in October 1957 in Port Louis Chinatown where my Parents and their Family of three shared a single rented room while having to share the common kitchen, toilet and bathroom with some other 10 Families… a common thing in those days… Mum would very often recount that I was born in the compound belonging to the Seeyave Family at « rue la Rampe » and that soon after the Family moved to Arsenal Street in another place belonging to the Lam Hang Family that was partly destroyed during the ill-famous Carol Cyclone of the early sixties… following which we moved to the back office of Dad’s first shop on Little Mountain Street.
My Parents initially arrived from China to Mauritius some twelve years earlier, penniless with a huge debt… Dad was the first one to come as a General Assistant in a shop owned by his close relatives and Mum joined him a few years later, thanks to a loan granted to Dad by some kind Soul and both toiled endlessly for years to pay off these.
Am the 4th. Child of a Family of 5 kids – 2 Brothers and 2 Sisters and incidentally, my 2 Siters and my younger Brtother are all living overseas in Canada and Australia since the 80’s…
The best moments of my Childhood are those long days spent playing in the neighbourhood… hide and seek, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Kite flying, marbles… etc… Those were the days when the radio was the only means of communication with the outside world as otherwise we lived in a fish bowl… and I can still remember watching the Communist propaganda films shown on the nearby basket ball field of the local Chinese Middle School. It was the only time we were allowed to go out after dark.
For my studies, I attended Villers Rene Primary School and St. Esprit College in Quatre Bornes. My fondest memories of that time were the school holidays I spent in the rural areas where my relatives had their grocery shops… It was a real treat as I loved this new experiences :- catching birds with homemade glue, pigeon hunting, catching live fishes in rivers n breeding them in glass jars… etc… I can still vividly remember these places :- Saint Hubert Village, Terracine and Pagoda Street in Plaine Verte…
My worst souvenirs were the period of the Racial Riots in the 60’s between the Muslims and the Creoles… as well as the Trade Union Riots prompted by the Strikes by the Dockers… I would watch the Riot Police chasing after the Rioters, from the balcony of Ciel Belu Hotel as well as from the top of the walls of the Chinese Middle School. That was the first time that tear gas was used in Mauritius. Witnessing these riots has taught me a precious lesson :- Violence only bring chaos and destruction and only Losers…
PHOTO TAKEN AROUND 1962-3… PARIS STUDIO – ROYAL ROAD, Port Louis.
My secondary schooling was done at St. Esprit College from 1970 to 1975 and following that I went to study in England in 1976. I did a Diploma in Business Studies and also completed a Hotel and Catering Management Diploma. I came back to Mauritius in 1980 and since I could not find an appropriate job, I initially joined my Dad’s business and finally set up my own businesses in 1988 by taking over my Dad’s Shoe Factory.
In 1993, I closed down the Shoe Factory and started a new venture by opening my first retail shop in Orchard Centre in Quatre Bornes and very soon I had three shops and one of them was IV-PL@Y STORE. In 2007, after having opened at least a dozen shops, I decided to retire from Business and to devote all my time to dong socila work, a task that I had initially started at 15 years old, when still at College. Between 2004 and 2007, I did my postgrade studies and obtained an Executive MBA from the University of Birmingham, UK.
From 2008 to 2011, I was the General Manager of the « Bel Ombre Foundation for Empowerment » and further to that I started my Consultancy in Strategic Development as well as Corporate Social Responsibility.
My rich experience of Social Work and General Business environment in Mauritius has given me the opportunity of meeting and lived side by side with people of all walks of life and I can proudly say that it feel good to be a Mauritian and I strive in my daily life, to make my Motherland, a real Paradise on Earth…
LONG LIVE MAURITIUS !!!