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ACLC 2023: Co-op leaders look at sustainability, data protection and grooming leadership
2023-11-22 07:17:00

ACLC 2023: Co-op leaders look at sustainability, data protection and grooming leadership

To steer the co-operative movement forward, ACLC 2023 visited topics on sustainability, data protection and grooming good leadership.

By Sng Ler Jun

ACLC 2023 took place at Taipei, Taiwan. 

More than 120 participants attended the Annual Co-operative Leaders Conference (ACLC) in Taipei, Taiwan this year.

“This year, we have taken a powerful theme to heart, diving deep into the very essence of our co-operative DNA: that is Running Sustainable Businesses,” said Mr Tng Ah Yiam, Chairperson of the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) at the annual flagship event, which aims to help co-operatives strengthen their processes and capabilities to learn, stay relevant and continue serving their members in Singapore.

Chairperson Mr Tng Ah Yiam at ACLC 2023. 

This year’s conference theme was “Running Sustainable Businesses”, which pays homage to co-operatives’ propensity to be self sustaining businesses that can impact societies and empower communities. “At our core, we believe that businesses can be a force for good, not just for profit but for the empowerment of the communities,” said Mr Tng.

108 co-operative leaders from 26 co-operatives attended ACLC this year. Representatives from the Registry of Co-operative Societies (RCS) and the Central Co-operative Fund Committee were also present.

Sustainable businesses start with the people

ACLC 2023 - New EXCO
From left to right: Mr Tng Ah Yiam, and new EXCO members Ms Evelyn Siow, Dr Leong Choon Kit, and Ms Mavis Ren at ACLC 2023. Mr Sanjeev Tiwari, also a new EXCO member, was not present. 

To run sustainable businesses, people matter, said Mr Tng. Along this vein, members and leaders within co-operatives have to work hand in hand to do good and do well.

At ACLC 2023, Mr Tng took the opportunity to introduce SNCF’s new Executive Council (EXCO). The new EXCO board was convened following the Triennial General Assembly election which took place in September this year. They will serve a three-year term from mid-2023 to mid-2026,  as well as to drive the leadership direction at SNCF.

Ms Evelyn Siow (Seacare Co-operative), Ms Mavis Ren (Singapore Teachers Co-operative) and Dr Leong Choon Kit (GP+ Co-operative) were three of four fresh faces within the EXCO present. In a candid conversation on stage, the trio, all of whom hail from different backgrounds and expertise, shared their aspirations for the Singapore Co-operative Movement.

ACLC 2023 - Emerging Leaders Programme 2023
ACLC 2023 also featured representatives from the Emerging Leaders Programme. 

Several participants from SNCF’s pilot talent development programme, the Emerging Leaders Programme (ELP) were also called on stage. Presented as a talkshow, SNCF’s Mr Alex Shieh and EXCO member Ms Fenny Halim (NTUC FairPrice Co-operative) quizzed the eight ELP participants, all of whom have been picked from their co-operatives to attend a four-month long leadership training programme, on their key takeaways and learning experiences.

These emerging leaders had to attend an overseas leadership bootcamp, undergo a training curriculum that pays emphasis on problem-based learning by lecturers from Singapore’s Republic Polytechnic, research and brainstorm unique solutions to modern problems, before presenting their group project findings to a panel of judges at the end of the programme.

SNCF endeavours to nurture 100 emerging leaders in five years.

Cyber threats are getting complicated, cybersecurity remains relevant

Mr Bryan Tan an SNCF EXCO member, reemphasised the importance of cybersecurity and data governance at ACLC 2023. 

In 2021 and 2022, SNCF brought forth keynote speakers to shed light on data protection and cybersecurity. This year, SNCF’s EXCO member Mr Bryan Tan (NTUC Enterprise Nexus Co-operative) revisited the same topic, albeit in new light.

Today, cyber actors are using complex methods to gain access to victims’ personal data, said Mr Tan. According to him, co-operatives, as with other organisations, need to “build their defences in layers.”

“Cyber incident is no longer a question of if, but rather when and how,” said Mr Tan. He also highlighted three macro-strategies for co-operatives to emulate to bolster their defences. Firstly, co-operatives should invest in their people in the domains of cybersecurity, whether providing relevant training or engaging third parties to run simulations, such as a phishing email test.

Secondly, co-operatives can put in place processes that would safeguard their members and employees. “User access review and sharing password policy best practices are even more important today,” Mr Tan said. He also recommended reviewing who in the organisation can have what information, as well as categorising documents into different tiers: restricted, private, internal, and public.

Thirdly, co-operatives can leverage modern technology and tools to combat against the rising threats. These include using paid and reputable antivirus softwares, having multi-factor authentication to emails and office systems, and updating softwares regularly.

ESG practices are next for co-ops, said thought leader Professor Ang Hak Seng

Former executive director of the Registry of Co-operative Societies Professor Ang Hak Seng at ACLC 2023. 
Former executive director of the Registry of Co-operative Societies Professor Ang Hak Seng at ACLC 2023. 

Co-operatives, with the support of the regulator and the federation, have long been able to practise good governance while committed to doing social good, said Professor Ang Hak Seng from the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

The former executive director of RCS and deputy secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth listed several reasons co-operatives should embrace Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives.   

First, ESG can help lower operational costs. “Should co-operatives use less utilities, or less water, or less power, they save on costs,” said Professor Ang. “Leveraging lean management to weed out waste and improve resource efficiency is another way to help lower these costs too.”

Second, there is potential to create new products for a new market via ESG. Credit co-operatives, for instance, can consider giving green loans to members, he added. For example, if someone was to renovate a home and promises to adhere to prevailing green standards (like using eco-friendly paint), he or she could benefit too.

Former executive director of the Registry of Co-operative Societies Professor Ang Hak Seng at ACLC 2023. 

Third, co-operatives could embark on their ESG journey for brand equity, or the social value of a brand. The impacts of climate change and global warming are dire and very real. Co-operative pursuing the green agenda and are seen doing it can appeal to this burgeoning community and protecting the planet we live on. Fourth, many youths believe in sustainability and co-operatives stand to retain and attract young talents this way too.

“Finally, if organisations do not start looking at ESG and sustainability, they risk becoming obsolete,” said Professor Ang, before elaborating on the rising focus on sustainability in Singapore. It’s important for co-ops to recognise that the market is competitive and understand that perhaps in the future, disincentives may be given to organisations who do not embrace ESG.

In a separate interview with SNCF, Professor Ang addressed why some co-operatives might be hesitant about embracing ESG. “It boils down to some of the myths surrounding sustainability and ESG,” he said. On one hand, some co-operatives may think that embracing ESG is an expensive effort. On the other hand, some may think that their members do not care about ESG. “The reality is that many do care about ESG! Engaging members in the journey of sustainability is critical in the success of sustainability pursuits in the movement.” 

Sustainability practices by co-operators from Taiwan

ACLC 2023 also invited co-operative representatives from Taiwan to share about the Taiwanese co-operative movement.

Prof Sophie Liang
Professor Sophie Liang at ACLC 2023. 

Having spent several months researching and consolidating the findings for ACLC 2023, Professor Sophie Liang, an adjunct associate professor for the department of finance and co-operative management from the National Taipei University, provided a detailed overview of the co-operative landscape in Taiwan. Co-operatives in Taiwan cater to a variety of communities including the indigenous tribes, farmers and caregivers, said Professor Liang.  

The proliferation of credit co-operatives began as early as 1844, with people-centric credit union or mutual banks sprouting up from the mid-1960s. The professor also showcased the rise and fall of co-operatives between 2018 and 2023. “Consumer co-operatives and campus co-operatives have fallen over the years, while agricultural and workers co-operatives have risen,” she added. “Though the reality is that most sectors, with the exception of credit co-operatives and credit unions, are seeing declining membership rate.”

HUCC's Sandy Peng
HUCC's Chairperson Sandy Peng at ACLC 2023. 

Local co-operative representative Ms Sandy Peng, the Chairperson for the Homemakers United Consumers Co-operative, also shared different sustainability practices her co-operative used in recent years. This includes waste and plastic reduction, as well as leveraging community connections to do good.

If anything, the sessions highlighted the saliency of community partnership and membership engagements to drive social change and continued business viablity. Or as Mr Tng said it best: “The success of our movement depends on collaboration, innovation, and the nurturing of talents.”

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Who we are

SNCF is the apex body of Singapore’s Co-operative Movement, and secretariat of the Central Co-operative Fund (CCF). Formed in 1980 with the aim of championing Singapore’s Co-operative Movement, the apex body represents majority of co-operative members in Singapore through its affiliated co-operatives.