Since 1998, Lee has provided scholarships and educational grants to outstanding young students via Yayasan Tan Sri Dato’ Lee Shin Cheng.
Twenty years later, Lee bought Dunlop Estate. In 2008, he recalled the happiest day of his life in an interview with the New Straits Times, saying, "My happiest day was in 1989 when I bought Dunlop Estate from Multi-Purpose Holdings Bhd. This was because during the late 1960s, I had applied for a job at Dunlop Estate but they did not employ me because I was not adequately qualified. If they had employed me, I would probably not have owned the entire asset of Dunlop Estate today. This purchase marked a significant milestone in my life".
Lee grew up northeast of Kuala Lumpur on a rubber plantation, where his Father ran a small Chinese food shop. He left school at the age of 11 to help support his family, selling ice cream on a bicycle for four years before returning to finish high school. He sought work with one oil palm plantation company for a supervisory job, but was turned down. The reason given—he didn't speak fluent English—important then because Europeans still owned most of the plantations. Lee, who was then only 22, was undeterred by Dunlop Estate's rejection. He went on to get a field supervisor's job with at another palm oil company.