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When I joined National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) in 1981, I saw the workings of the co-operatives and was convinced that it is an effective countervailing force to keep the free market in check. In forums with the unionists, I advocated that whenever possible we should use the co-operative as a tool to counter the excesses of the free market. 

The co-operative concept is in line with the solidarity of the common men. The objective of a co-operative is not to maximise profits; mediating the members is the objective. If we can do that, we can keep the free market in check. But the co-operative has to be big enough to make an impact. Fortunately for us, co-operatives like FairPrice and Income have the power to set benchmarks in society.


mr lim boon heng co-op champion
Mr Lim Boon Heng, Chairman, NTUC Enterprise

Says Mr Lim Boon Heng, Chairman, NTUC Enterprise, in an article published in Co-operator (July-Sept 2012 issue).

Six years later, these words still hold true.

With more than 600 combined stores and centres serving over two million customers, the social enterprises of the Labour Movement under NTUC Enterprise Co-operative Limited are doing good WELL.

However, in the digital age, the challenge that NTUC’s social enterprises face is no different from that faced by all companies in Singapore. All sectors face disruption. Mr Lim also points out: 


No organisation should believe it has arrived. If it does so, it will surely decline, and lose its relevance. That is the case with the social enterprises under NTUC Enterprise Co-operative Ltd. So if we believe we have arrived, we will be disrupted, and soon be history.

In this first issue of the digital Co-operator, the Champion of Co-ops talks about the kind of disruptive pressures that NTUC’s co-operatives face and how NTUC Enterprise is rising to the challenge.

Mr Lim has chalked up 26 years working with NTUC – the last 13 as its Secretary-General. He once remarked that when you work in the labour movement, you get to understand what people want. “Basically, what everybody wants is a good life and if possible, to improve their lives.”

Following his retirement from the NTUC, Mr Lim continues to work on improving lives through the labour movement's network of co-operatives. Besides helming the NTUC Enterprise Co-operative Ltd, Mr Lim is also deputy chairman of the Singapore Labour Foundation. He sits on the Board of NTUC Eldercare as chairman since 2000.

What kind of disruptive pressures do NTUC co-operatives face?

NTUC FairPrice has seen competition from online retailers. Local start-up Redmart has been aggressively building clientele by heavily subsidising customers. American multi-national Amazon has also started online retailing in Singapore. This is good for consumers as they get goods delivered and usually pay lower prices.

“How do these online retailers do it? They are using investors’ money to subsidise customers. The game plan appears to be to capture market share to become a monopoly or near monopoly – by being the last man standing.”

But it is a huge challenge to NTUC FairPrice as such competition compresses margins. NTUC FairPrice has an online channel too, but the more it sells online, the more it will lose on those sales.

How long will this battle be? It is hard to say. However, Amazon has huge financial resources from other streams of business, and Redmart has very strong backers.

NTUC Income similarly faces disruption by online insurers. Like banking, insurance can easily be done online. NTUC Income has developed online services, and is currently leading in online sales. But it must recognise that there are companies that are far bigger, with huge financial resources and global talent that can develop more efficient online services. Furthermore, their clientele base, on which they can spread the cost of developing these services, means their costs will be much lower.

Are any of the NTUC co-operatives less likely to face disruptive pressures?

In the ‘high touch’ services, more dependent on labour, the disruptive pressures may be lower. Pre-school services and eldercare services are highly dependent on trained manpower. However, it may be fatal to think that they are safe. They too should be harnessing technology to lower costs and improve services.

How is NTUC Enterprise responding to the challenge?

NTUC Enterprise has set up a $100 million digital transformation fund. It will digitise all its businesses. Much of the fund will go towards manpower. NTUC Enterprise has to compete to recruit talent with digital skills. When they have formulated what is to be done, there will be capex costs that each social enterprise will have to bear.

The challenge that NTUC’s social enterprises face is no different from that faced by all companies in Singapore. The next few years will be critical. Some will succeed, while others will fail. The window for transformation is a narrow one.


Learning Tips

  • Need to have the volume and size to compete and make an impact
  • Harness the power of digital technologies to become more effective, innovative and disruptive
  • Build up a pool of talent with the right skills and strengthen learning agility


Ntuc Health Eldercare 1
Photo credit: NTUC Health

Article contributed by Mark Ko, NTUC Health

According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, 900,000 Singaporeans will reach the age of 65 and above by 2030. That means more people will require eldercare services as Singapore ages.

To combat the rising demand, in the past ten years, NTUC Health Co-operative Limited (NTUC Health) has been introducing new eldercare services to meet the different needs of families and their dependents, including three nursing homes, located in Chai Chee, Geylang East and Jurong West.

Although more nursing homes will be built in the next few years to ensure the availability of care for seniors, most still prefer to age in their own homes.

As such, more than ten years ago, NTUC Health collaborated with the government to pilot an initiative called [email protected] Its primary aim was to enable the elderly to recuperate and age in the comfort of their homes by providing home care services.

Linda Chew, Head of Home Care, NTUC Health said: “[email protected] manages a team of healthcare professionals and trained caregivers to care for the physical, psychological, social and emotional needs of the elderly. The service can be engaged for short-term or long-term care depending on the requirements of the elderly.”

Over the following years, [email protected] expanded their services from Home Personal Care where a trained care associate is deployed to assist the elderly in their daily activities such as light grocery shopping, personal hygiene, simple meal preparation, companionship, etc. to include:

  • Home Nursing where a trained licensed nurse will provide nursing care to enable seniors who require post-surgery or long-term medical care to recuperate at home;
  • Home Therapy where a team made up of physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists, assesses, recommends and assists seniors with physical rehabilitation; and
  • Home Medical care where doctors do house calls for seniors who have difficulty leaving their home.

Apart from home care services, [email protected] also provides training for caregivers to gain practical skills and knowledge so that they know how to care for their loved ones properly at home.

Linda said: “Caregiving can be difficult and stressful for the family members. With the knowledge and skills, caregivers are better equipped and able to provide proactive care for their loved ones. They can also reach out to [email protected] for resources or support when needed.”

If you are interested to find out more about the home care services and caregivers’ training provided by NTUC Health, you may visit their website or email their care coordinators. You can also follow them on Facebook.

ntuc health nurse and patient

NTUC Health is an NTUC social enterprise that is committed to providing quality and affordable health and eldercare services to meet the growing needs of families and their dependents. It currently manages the NTUC Health Active Ageing Hub, NTUC Health Cluster Support, NTUC Health Nursing Home, SilverACE senior activity centres, SilverCOVE senior wellness centre, Silver Circle senior day care services, [email protected], Unity Denticare, Unity Family Medicine Clinic and Henderson Home.

apcdc opening v2

More than 100 delegates from over 20 countries participated in the Asia Pacific Co-operative Development Conference on “Building Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships on Sustainable Development”.

apcdc group photo

Organised by the International Co-operative Alliance-Asia and Pacific (ICA-AP), ICA-EU Partnership on Co-operatives in Development: People Centered Businesses in Action (#coops4dev) and the Sri Lankan co-operative movement led by the National Co-operative Council, Consumer Co-operative Federation, SANASA Federation, Kotikawatta Thrift & Credit Co-operative and National Institute of Co-operative Development on 27 to 28 February 2018, the conference provided a platform to discuss on development policy with the aim to create structured exchange and development partnerships among co-operatives and stakeholders in the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals as well as help Alliance members position co-operatives as a relevant and important stakeholder in development process.

apcdc sncf ceo presentation apcdc coop radio launch
SNCF CEO, Ms Dolly Goh, presenting on
SNCF Youth Programmes such as SCOOP Trail,
Scholarship and YOCO Camp.
Launch of Sri Lanka COOP Radio during the
conference, an initiative to promote the
movement through radio.

Mdm Tan’s Co-operative Story

Despite her husband having gotten retrenched and resorted to work as a security guard, Mdm Tan*, 60, and her three sons were leading a comfortable lifestyle with her S$10,000 a month salary as a senior healthcare worker. However, a sudden turn of events brought her family’s financial stability down a spiral when two major crises hit during the same period, plunging Mdm Tan into the pits.

son heavily in debtA series of misfortunate events began to unfold when Mdm Tan’s eldest son fell into a heavy debt after a failed business. It turned out that the son’s business partners had fled to their home country, leaving him to confront the mounting debts alone. At about the same period of time, the family faced another blow when Mdm Tan’s husband got into a traffic accident that caused him to lose his right foot and his job. The husband subsequently fell into depression.

“The chain of events wiped out all my savings of about $300,000. It was still not enough to help my son,” Mdm Tan said.

At her wits end, Mdm Tan turned to banks and licensed moneylenders for loans to tie her family through. For a $50,000 loan, she had to fork out a staggering $9,000 every month for interest repayment. The payment did not even reduce the principle sum of the loan. Her peril was that of sinking into quicksand with no sign of light at the end of the tunnel.

“I could not eat nor sleep. I didn’t know the way out. Every month my take home pay went into paying the loan interest,” Mdm Tan said.

ssbec logo

Her friend who knew about her predicament introduced her to Singapore Statutory Boards Employees’ Co-operative Thrift and Loan Society Limited. The introduction was life changing. Upon listening to Mdm Tan’s struggles and her credit history, within 48 hours SSBEC approved Mdm Tan’s five-year loan of S$60,000 with an interest of S$1,300 per month.

“I could finally manage my finances. I could finally breathe and sleep better,” she said. No longer did she feel trapped with no way out of mental and financial struggle.

This is Mdm Tan’s co-operative story, and may it be of help to individuals who may be facing a similar struggle. Credit co-operatives are there to render support, hence do reach out for help!

*not her real name


SDG goalsPhoto Courtesy: United Nations

The Singapore Co-operative Movement plays a significant role in delivering healthcare services. This meets one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which strives to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. One of the ways the co-operative movement has contributed to the provision of healthcare is the creation of healthcare co-operatives such as the NTUC Health Co-operative.

SNCF CEO, Ms Dolly Goh interacting with a senior at NTUC Health nursing home
Ms Dolly Goh, SNCF CEO, interacting with a senior

The NTUC Health provides an integrated suite of services to meet the growing needs of families and their dependents.In addition to dental clinics and a family medicine clinic, NTUC Health Co-operative has one of the most comprehensive range of eldercare services in Singapore. 

These include facilities such as senior day care centres, nursing homes, senior activity and wellness centres, as well as a sheltered/senior group home.

It also runs services such as home care and community support for vulnerable seniors. NTUC Health Co-operative through its outreach programme offers free health and dental checks for vulnerable groups, and public education on healthcare and eldercare issues. Its team of dedicated doctors, dentists and care professionals supports more than 300,000 people in Singapore every month

Another co-operative, The Good Life Co-operative, with its network of doctors who share its vision of evidence-based ethical care, provides personalised health care and health coaching to members. To promote health and wellness on a larger scale, The Good Life Co-operative engages the general public through activities such as public forums to boost their health literacy and educate them about preventive care.

Co-operatives also support members in financing healthcare. For instance, TCC Credit Co-operative, AUPE Credit Co-operative, Singapore Government Staff Credit Co-operative Society and Customs Credit Co-operative Society, offer members hospitalisation benefits. In addition to hospitalisation reimbursement for members, Union of Telecoms Employees of Singapore has a medical assistance scheme for those suffering from chronic conditions. The Citiport Credit Co-operative provides grant for prolonged sickness. NTUC Income Co-operative provides affordable insurance suited to the needs of the elderly, and insurance coverage for the medical expenses (due to accident and infectious diseases) of people with Autism or Down syndrome.

We also have co-operatives like Silver Horizon Travel Co-operative, Silver Caregivers Co-operative, and Runninghour Co-operative offering services that support well-being and in particular, help enrich the lives of the silver generation.

Established in 2012 by seniors for other seniors, Silver Horizon Travel Co-operative promotes active living and learning through customised travel programmes that cater to the needs of the elderly.  It also organises charity overseas trips for those who have never owned a passport, and such trips would be accompanied by members of Silver Horizon Travel Co-operative.

Silver Caregivers Co-operative, on the other hand, aims to better the quality of life of caregivers by offering a range of products and supported education services, and becomes a one-stop centre of information in caregiving roles in Singapore. It champions the cause of caregivers, especially the sandwiched group (i.e. caregivers who are not within the bottom 5% of the economic ladder), by empowering them with relevant holistic skill sets.

Runninghour Co-operative helps people with special needs to stay active, and build confidence through running and other forms of exercises. Its social mission is to promote integration of people with special needs like mildly intellectually challenged, physically challenged and visually challenged through running while ensuring its sustainability with a viable business model. 

In short, co-operatives play an important role in helping Singapore to realise SDG Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being by providing a variety of healthcare services. They too also contribute to other SDGs. Look out for our next issue to find out more.


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SLF Building, Singapore 298135
Email: [email protected]
Tel (65) 6602 0747, Fax (65) 6259 9577

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