Executive Director

Dato’ Dr Ooi Kee Beng (黄基明博士) has been studying the process of nation-building in Asia and analyzing Malaysian politics over the last three decades. He was appointed Executive Director of Penang Institute in 2017.

He received his Ph.D. in Sinology from Stockholm University, Sweden. Before returning to the region, he worked at Ericsson Electronics in Sweden for 22 years during the heyday of that company’s mobile phone era, while studying in Stockholm University. Courses that he taught at Stockholm included Chinese History, Chinese Philosophy and General Knowledge of China. His major academic interests were in Language Philosophy and Ancient Chinese Political and Strategic Thinking

He joined Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (now ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) in 2004, becoming its Deputy Director from 2011 to 2017.

He writes regular opinion pieces for regional and global mass media on Malaysian matters and regional matters. These have been compiled in seven separate volumes. Many of these works can be accessed at (www.wikibeng.com). He was Visiting Associate Professor at the City University of Hong Kong (2009-2012); Adjunct Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore’s Department of Southeast Asian Studies (2009-2011); He is the Founder-Editor of Penang Monthly and ISSUES (Penang Institute) and ISEAS Perspective (ISEAS). He is also Series Editor for Trends in Southeast Asia (ISEAS).

He has written several biographies on important political personalities of Malaysia and Singapore. His books have won the following awards:

1. Award of Excellence for Best writing published in book form or any aspect of Asia (non-fiction) at the Asian Publishing Convention Awards 2008, for The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (ISEAS 2007)

2. Top Academic Work awarded in 2008 by ASEAN Book Publishers Association (ABPA) to Continent, Coast, Ocean: Dynamics of Regionalism in Eastern Asia (ATMA &amp ISEAS, 2007), co-edited with Ding Choo Ming

Other major works include the following:

  • Catharsis: A Second Chance for Democracy in Malaysia (2018)
  • Yusof Ishak: A Man of Many Firsts (2017)
  • The Eurasian Core & Its Edges: Dialogues with Wang Gungwu on the History of the World (2015)
  • Merdeka for the Mind. Essays on Malaysian Struggles in the 21st Century (2015) (Editor)
  • The Third ASEAN Reader (2015) (Editor)
  • Done Making Do: 1Party Rule Ends in Malaysia (Genta Media & ISEAS 2013)
  • The Right to Differ: A Biographical Sketch of Lim Kit Siang (2011)
  • In Lieu of Ideology: An Intellectual Biography of Goh Keng Swee (2010)
  • Malaya’s First Year at the United Nations (2009) (co-edited with Taufik Ismail)
  • March 8: Eclipsing May 13 (2008) (co-authored with Johan Saravanamuttu & Lee Hock Guan)

Executive Director’s Office

Being one of Malaysia’s major think tanks, Penang Institute is prone to respond in timely fashion to issues and trends that require special and immediate attention. Presently, such vital areas include “Social Anthropology”, “Journalism in Malaysia”, “Education for the 21st Century” and “Towards a Digital Economy in Penang”.

His Officers are:

Tan Zhi Xian (陈智贤)
Executive Secretary & HR Executive

She earned a Commonwealth Executive MBA from Wawasan Open University. She is also the personal assistant to the Executive Director.


Fazil Irwan Som
Director of Communications

Fazil Irwan Som is a communication strategist with a keen interest in digital leadership, the convergence of biotech and infotech, geopolitics, and nation-building in Malaysia. His diverse career spans the world of entrepreneurship, government, strategic studies, and civil society.

Previously, Fazil served as the CEO of Penang Halal International, a government agency responsible for promoting the Halal business sector in Penang. He also held positions such as the Head of Human and Sciences Department at the Islamic World Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (ICESCO) in Rabat, Morocco, and the Executive Director of the International Strategy Institute (ISI), as well as the WIEF Foundation. Additionally, he advised the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva.

Fazil’s creative spirit led him to found the Marketplace of Creative Arts (MOCAFest), an international creative arts festival bridging talented artists and the corporate world. He also pioneered the IdeaLab, an early-stage startup convention in Malaysia, connecting highly fundable ASEAN startups with global investors.

Fazil’s academic qualification include a BSc (Hons) in Economics and International Studies from the University of Warwick and an MA (Hons) in Southeast Asian Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, during which he was a British Chevening Scholar. His thought leadership extends to writing articles on technology and economic development for platforms such as the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Bangkok Post, Jakarta Post, NST, Business Times among others. He also founded and hosts the podcast series Future Things Radio on Spotify, a thought-provoking podcast series that delves into life in the future beyond capitalism and democracy, and its impact on our lives, society, culture, music and financial systems.

Fazil is also the founder of the award-winning Che Beach House in Terengganu, a tranquil beach retreat nestled in a coastal village in Terengganu, opposite Pulau Kapas.


Ong Siou Woon
Director of Operations

Ong Siou Woon is the Director of Operations of Penang Institute, Malaysia. Prior to joining Penang Institute, she was an assistant Town Planner at a Malaysian architecture and planning consultancy firm. She was selected to participate in the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Professional Fellows Programme funded by the US Department of State in 2015 as a Professional Fellow representing Malaysia. She is actively involved in policy discussions in Penang related to urban and regional planning, especially in the areas of sustainable development. She currently sits on the advisory panel of the Penang Green Agenda and Penang2030, the Penang state vision to become a Family-focused Green and Smart State that Inspires the Nation.


Dr Tan Lee Ooi (陈利威)
Director of Research

He obtained his PhD in Southeast Asia Studies from National University of Singapore. His main research interests are about cyber politics, religious modernity and contemporary Malaysian politics. He was formerly an academician in private higher education institutions. He has published two books and several academic journal articles. His first book was published by the Penerbit UKM on the dynamics of cyberspace during the Reformasi Movement, Dinamik Ruang Siber dalam Gerakan Reformasi di Malaysia in Malay language. His second book Buddhist Revitalization and Chinese Religions in Malaysia was published by the Amsterdam University Press. He also writes opinion pieces for local media on politics, culture and media in Malaysia.