Meet the philanthropist who goes the distance in inspiring and impacting lives

Lionel Li shares how moving to Singapore has enlarged his capacity to create impact – in the lives of everyone from preschoolers to teenagers to the elderly.

By SGN | 24 Jul 2023

To Lionel, running isn’t just a sport. It’s a way of life. 

“Running has changed my life entirely,” he says. “Apart from maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it has improved my stamina and resilience. I have become a better person and gained many friends in the process. 

“Through the sport, I have also learned a lot about life. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” he waxes philosophical. “To run fast, you may run alone. But, to run far, we have to run together.”

An epic journey in marathons

Lionel, who took up long-distance running in his 40s, has accomplished the astounding feat of conquering 70 full marathons. Several of these races were completed under extraordinary and immensely challenging circumstances.

There were the sub-zero temperatures of the North Pole Marathon (dubbed ‘the world’s coolest marathon’), the interminable 1045km ultramarathon encircling the entire island of Taiwan, and the gruelling World Marathon Challenge, which comprised seven marathons on seven continents in seven consecutive days.

Previous slide
Next slide

Lionel has completed more than 70 marathons around the world.

Embracing a new life in Singapore

Lionel’s passion for marathons developed soon after moving from China to Singapore with his wife and two sons in 2013.

The love of sport runs strong in the family. Lionel’s elder son Leo represented Singapore in powerlifting at the Southeast Asian Cup 2022, where he finished with a 467kg total and broke multiple U59 Sub-Junior records.

Leo is the current U59 Sub-Junior powerlifting recordholder in Southeast Asia.

On his motivations for relocating to Singapore, Lionel cites the country’s excellent infrastructure, safe environment and world-class education. He also notes that the way Singapore embraces diversity – a characteristic reflected in its vibrant food culture – has made his family feel very much at home. 

“Singapore’s food culture is an undeniable joy of living here,” he says. “Regardless of where one comes from, there will be a makan (eating) place to suit your taste and satisfy your cravings.”

Lionel has two sons: (far right) Leo, who will soon enlist for National Service, and (far left) William, who is studying at the Singapore American School.

A heart for philanthropy

Moving to Singapore has been good for business too. “Not only are investment opportunities abundant, but the environment is also conducive to the setup of my family office,” says Lionel, who is a partner at FengHe Group, a fund management firm with roughly $4 billion in assets. “Singapore is a pro-business jurisdiction with excellent financial infrastructure, robust regulations and a highly skilled workforce.”

In 2020, Lionel founded Li Foundation, consolidating the CSR projects that he leads at FengHe with his own philanthropic pursuits. ‘Li’ refers not to Lionel’s family name () but to the Chinese character for ‘encouragement’ (), signifying the foundation’s mission to inspire and impact lives by maximising everyone’s potential.

Li Foundation received the Corporate Giving Inspiration Award from President Halimah Yacob at the SportCares Awards 2022.

“When I decided to relocate my life and work to Singapore, I wanted to continue my philanthropic journey here,” he says. A charter member of the Beijing Lions Club, Lionel remains active in the global charitable movement while venturing into other forms of philanthropy and impact investment. 

In terms of the beneficiaries that Li Foundation reaches out to, Lionel believes in casting a wide net. Projects range from researching early childhood development, to supporting assisted living facilities for the elderly, to creating low-cost, ethical migration pathways for construction workers.

In 2021, Leo and his schoolmates at the Singapore American School launched Code For All, a coding club that equips disadvantaged children with digital skills. With the support of Li Foundation, the programme has reached close to 200 students in Singapore, Detroit and Madrid.

Changing lives through sports

A long-running project close to Lionel’s heart is the SportCares–Li Foundation MultiSport Programme. In line with his conviction that sport has the power to shape lives and inculcate good values, the programme trains youth in activities such as swimming, cycling and running to set them on a healthy development pathway.

The benefits are manifold. Engaging in sport helps promote good health, build resilience, develop friendships, and steer participants away from negative influences. “These youths realise their potential through sports coaching sessions and leadership development workshops,” Lionel explains. “They are also encouraged to give back through volunteering.”

After a successful two-year pilot, a second iteration of the programme began in 2022 with a five-year runway. This round, its scope has expanded beyond the primary target of at-risk youth aged 13 to 20 to children aged 10 to 12 as well as youth with mild special needs. 

“For youth with special needs, we hope to not only improve their physical fitness and cognitive health, but also equip them with social and teamwork skills that will help them to integrate confidently with mainstream society and develop into independent and empowered individuals,” he says.

The SportCares–Li Foundation MultiSport Programme sets youth on a healthy development pathway through sport.

Whether it’s supporting at-risk youth, the elderly or migrant workers, Lionel intends to go the distance with philanthropy and continue dedicating his energy and resources to various worthy causes. In the long run, he hopes to document and share stories of lives changed to inspire and encourage others.

“I believe that in every person’s heart is a tiny flame. Each inspiring story is like a piece of firewood that can light up hearts to burn a little more brightly. This is what it means to influence the lives of one another.”

Giving back has become a big part of Lionel’s life in Singapore. He encourages others relocating to the city to do the same and to join networks like Singapore Global Network to connect with like-minded individuals.

“Keep an open mind, free from biases, and focus on seamlessly integrating into the country,” he advises. “Explore ways in which you can actively contribute to the progress and development of the nation.”

About Lionel

Lionel is a partner at Singapore-based fund management firm FengHe Group and the founder of Li Foundation, a philanthropic organisation whose mission is to inspire and impact lives by maximising everyone’s potential.

Learn more about Li Foundation at their website.

Hello, Welcome to Singapore Global Network

Already a member?
Sign up with us as a
member today
Skip to content