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How can we make our world a better place?
When co-operators come together with the power of empathy.

Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by putting oneself in that person’s situation and feeling what he/she must be going through. It’s a much-needed virtue in today’s world, where people are just too concerned with self-preservation and their own needs.

Co-operator reached out to two co-operatives to find out why empathy matters and how this is expressed in their work.

Treat others better

The motto of Runninghour Co-operative (Runninghour Co-op) – run to bond, run so others can – has in essence, a desire to build an inclusive society. Through its activities, Runninghour Co-op seeks to cultivate self-reliance, collaboration, advocacy and respect.

In order to build a supportive environment, Runninghour conducts running guide training to allow its volunteers to understand the challenges faced by its members with special needs and how they can be best supported physically and socially.

Empathy is at the forefront of how the co-op runs its activities. “To us empathy means treating every member in the co-op the way they like to be treated regardless if they have a disability.” - said John See Toh, Chairman of Runninghour Co-op.

Runninghour Co-op intentionally ensures that at least 30 per cent of its management committee comprise  people with special needs so that their perspectives are represented.

More than just a good-to-have ability, empathy for others has led volunteers to be able to make meaningful connections and help those in need. “It has been an enriching journey to be able to make a difference in the lives of members,” John admitted. “Your beneficiaries become your friends and you don't feel that you are just giving but are doing things with friends.”

Co-operator understands that members with special needs look forward to running with their guides, meeting new friends and catching up with one another on a regular basis.

Understanding needs

Since 1989, Industrial & Services Co-operative Society (ISCOS) has been helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society, and is the only one in Singapore engaging in such work. Run by staff and volunteers, ISCOS focuses on providing support to members and their families.

In a show of empathy, Ravan Kumar, Senior Social Service Executive, Support & Guidance, ISCOS, highlighted that, “When we first engage them, we must recognise that they are fellow Singaporeans with basic human needs. Some of them are parents, while others have their fair share of societal roles to play.”

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of ISCOS members’ and beneficiaries’ lives have been adversely affected. Newly released ex-offenders are re-entering a different world overshadowed in uncertainties and challenges. Many return to the community with determination and hopes of changing for the better but lack the resources.

With a heart of empathy, ISCOS talked to those affected, to understand their struggles and support them in overcoming their obstacles. It was through understanding their needs, that the initiative “Give a Line, Change a Life” was set up to provide a free smart phone with six months’ worth of unlimited data to long sentenced ex-offenders. This initiative which helped beneficiaries to connect with potential employers, and to virtually keep in touch with family, friends and ISCOS, is but one of the levels of support that is relevant to the unprecedented times.

Having the opportunity to play a part in bettering an individual’s life has always been a key factor on why Ravan chose and continue to serve in the co-op. His journey with ISCOS has been an eye opening, educational and inspiring one. Ravan finds inspiration in the stories of ISCOS Titans* who not only overcome life challenges and excel in their businesses, but have the heart to give back to the community. “Their stories of perseverance and change are what drives me on in the work I do and reinforce my belief that change and betterment of self is possible for anyone.”

*ISCOS Titans are a selected group of members who are stable in their reintegration and willing to give back by sharing their life experiences with inmates, students and members of public.



The heart is the most important organ to keep the body going. Similarly, having a heart for the community is what makes co-operatives different from any other business. This H.E.A.R.T. series strives to outline areas that can help ready co-operatives for a world of changing needs.

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