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The key for any co-operative is that it must be professionally run and be profitable, unless there are very special circumstances where profit has to be sacrificed for you to serve an objective.
- Mr S Chandra Das

Chandra DasProfit is not a dirty word, asserts Mr S Chandra Das.

“Co-operative must be profitable organisations. Once you have money, you can do a lot of good work. When private companies make money, the money goes to shareholders. But in co-operatives, we find ways and means to return the surpluses in the form of rebates, high dividends and bursaries. Co-operatives can choose to give a $1million away to help the poor. Listed company probably can’t do that. The shareholders will make noise,” he says.

Mr Das should know.


As an astute businessman, he served and still sits on the boards of few listed companies.

As a former Director of NTUC Welcome Consumers' Co-operative Limited supermarket (1973 to 1976) and Chairman of NTUC FairPrice Co-operative Limited (1993 to 2005), he played a pivotal role in turning FairPrice into a household name, gaining for himself “Mr Everyday Low Price” label. The Public Service Star recipient’s acknowledgements include receiving Rochdale Medal from Singapore National Co-operative Federation Ltd in 1998, the Distinguished Service (Star) Award by National Trades Union Congress in 2005 and the Public Service Star in 2014. Mr Das also served a good two terms as Chairman of Central Co-operative Fund Committee.

When and what were your earliest Co-operative involvements?

I got into it by pure accident. It was in 1967. I was Director of the Export Promotion Centre in the Economic Development Board (EDB) then, specialising in trade and travelling frequently to promote Singapore products. One of the main items I helped to promote was shoes in Eastern Europe.

One day in 1967, the late Dr Goh Keng Swee called me and said he needed to find employment for 48 political detainees. With support from my colleagues in EDB and Mr GC Thio – of Bata shoes and the first chairman of the National Productivity Board, we discussed a deal which would have the detainees work in a division supplying ladies’ slippers. The “Shoemakers’ Co-operative” was formed. The detainees attended training in Bata and produced Bata quality ladies’ slippers. Mr Ong Kar Kok, Director of Logistics for MINDEF was made Chairman; and I became Vice Chairman of the Co-operative.

The workers soon became edgy and wanted more money. Dr Goh on hearing that commented: “Very good! If they are asking for more money, they are no longer communists, they have become capitalists!” It was a very successful co-operative. Unfortunately, I had to leave after one and a half years when I was posted to Moscow as Singapore’s Trade Representative.

Soon after I returned, three co-operatives were suggested for taxis, insurance, and food at the NTUC Modernisation Seminar in 1969. I joined the board of NTUC Welcome - the food co-operative and became one of the original directors for NTUC Welcome (which later became NTUC FairPrice in the early 1980s). My job was to help in procurement of goods. We opened the first Welcome outlet in Toa Payoh. Welcome was my second co-operative involvement.

What drives you to do the good work?

When I was in secondary school, I noticed that every year, a big group of mainly old people would queue up at Great World and wait to collect one tin of Ovaltine and $10 given by a philanthropist. I thought to myself, why tell the world they are poor. When I became a Member of Parliament, one of the first thing I did for the public assistance scheme recipients was to deliver the $100 voucher to the recipients individually and not make them come to the branch to collect. They are already poor. Why make them queue to get another hand out? That is the motivation.

What are your views on risk and failure in running a co-operative?

There is an element of risk to take when running a co-operative or any businesses. We can’t be reckless but neither should we be risk adverse. Today, we have the big numbers and therefore we want to play it safe and want to get it right. In the process people become more risk adverse and often try to second guess what the bosses want. That is the danger.

Staff should just tell the facts. Bosses should be receptive to listen and understand the situation from the ground. They should allow mistakes to be made in order to do better in business and/or in social impact.

FairPrice went to China too early. We didn’t know the terrain and depended on our partners who had a different plan. We lost money there. We failed in Malaysia due to pilferage. We didn’t make it in Myanmar due to political reasons then. Failure is a lesson learnt. We can accept failures but we must first have a reasonable chance of success.

I believe businessmen are willing to share their expertise and volunteer their time in making co-operatives work. People need to be challenged. We need to bring in the right person with passion and time to spare. He will then attract like-minded people into the Co-operatives to make things happen. People are willing to be involved but they need to be given a certain amount of freedom to do new things. If not, volunteer work makes no sense.

Is there a role Co-operatives can play in the disruptive economy?

Co-operatives still have a role to play in the economy as long as they stay relevant and professional. In addition, there will be a greater chance of success if community is involved. One sector which is amiable to the co-operative will be the elderly. They go for medical check-up and regular blood tests. What if we can employ a group of 10 to 20 nurses to go to the homes of the elderly to collect blood for tests and do regular check-ups instead of having the elderly queue at the clinic, for example? This will be disruptive to the hospitals and the clinics.

“After a while, people tend to forget the social mission since it’s a very fine line between business and social enterprise. One does business and tends to forget the social aspects underlining the business. So co-operatives must always be reminded that they have a unique role to play. They must be profitable and always conscious of their social mission.”

Learning Tips

• Treat as businesses - profitable and professionally run
• Attune to social needs to stay relevant
• Bring in the right people with passion

Caregivers Workshop
Photo credit: Silver Caregivers Co-operative Limited

Article contributed by Dr Kalyani Mehta, SCCL Board member

Caregiving is a journey that transforms the person providing care in multiple ways and in unimaginable directions. This is reflected in each of the stories compiled and presented here.

Silver Caregivers Co-operative Limited (SCCL) champions the cause of family caregivers by facilitating support and empowering them with holistic skill sets in professional care and training. Through its integrated resource network, SCCL also provides caregivers with assistance such as psychosocial coping strategies, workshops and social networking events. The co-operative envisions a caring society, where the care recipients’ needs are addressed by well-informed caregivers. They also aim to raise awareness of the important social contribution of caregivers to society, and the social and emotional challenges they face. The philosophy of former caregivers helping current caregivers of seniors by sharing and caring forms the backbone of SCCL.

The mission of SCCL is Caring for Caregivers. SCCL is an approved training provider for Caregiver Training workshops under the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC). Please go to SCCL website for the details of their upcoming workshops.

SCCL emphasises that caregivers need to practice self-care. The self-care needs to be in terms of not only physical care such as having sufficient rest, being resourceful to seek help when needed, but also taking respite regularly to re-charge and re-energise themselves. In this regard, activities such as stress-releasing Yoga workshops, recreational activities and informational talks are run by SCCL throughout the year. Members get special benefits when they attend the talks. Members get to know each other and form a caring community within SCCL.

SCCL is planning to grow its presence in Singapore in the near future, so that more caregivers may benefit. With a fast ageing society, the numbers of caregivers will rise fast. Going forward, SCCL will try to expand its membership base and the support from all sectors of society will be essential. Comprehensive health screening for caregivers is one of the focus of SCCL’s activities, and the message is important to convey to all caregivers. Caregivers may be “hidden patients” in the sense that undiagnosed conditions may deteriorate during the time that the caregiver is busy with caring for the loved one. It is very important that members of the public become aware of the importance of preventive comprehensive health screening.

Since anyone can become a caregiver at any time, it is essential for all to gain knowledge and skills of caregiving for seniors so that we are prepared to take up the role or give assistance to a relative, colleague or friend when they are experiencing their caregiving journey!

IMG 4918 editedGroup photo of 2018 SNCF Scholars and their family members with Ms Dolly Goh

On 16 May, SNCF presented SNCF Co-operative Scholarship 2018 to three scholars - Tammy Lim, Tanya Ee and Ho Kar Yern at the scholarship deed signing ceremony. This happy occasion was also witnessed by their family members and SNCF staff.

IMG 4920   Edited
From left to right: Tammy Lim, Tanya Ee and Ho Kar Yern

Each year, SNCF Co-operative Scholarship attracts talented, high-calibre applicants with a heart for the people. Year on year, the number of applications has been steadily growing. For this year, we saw applications for SNCF Co-operative Scholarship increased by 23% as compared to 2017.

Under this scholarship introduced in 2008, our scholars will pursue their undergraduate studies at any local university. They will also be given opportunities of internships with SNCF's affiliates during their school vacations, attend networking sessions to learn about various co-operatives and get involved in the organisation’s activities.

scholarship entitlement chart

With 66 affiliates to choose from, SNCF scholars upon graduation can not only look forward to an exciting career that matches their talent and abilities, but will also be able to contribute towards the future growth and progress of the Singapore Co‐operative Movement.

Check out our SNCF 2018 scholars. They are not just scholars with brains, but also with a heart for the people.

Indiv Tammy


University: NTU
Course: Double Degree in Computer Science and Economics

Tammy aims to start a technology co-operative to help digitise co-operatives.

She firmly believes technology plays a prominent role in creating a sustainable business.

Inspired by her father who hired a staff with special needs, she believes more can be done to create a more inclusive society.




University: NUS
Course: Degree in Business Administration with Honours

Tanya is passionate about addressing people’s needs and is constantly finding solutions to innovate and resolve issues.

She partnered non-profit organisations and business incubators to create ‘Silver Cloud’, a job matching site that assists the elderly to give back to the society.

She also believes more can be done on youth education about mental health. 

Indiv Tanya 


Indiv Karyern


University: NUS
Course: Degree in Business Administration (Accountancy)

Kar Yern believes there are many ways to help the community. She dedicates her free time as an elderly befriender at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital and as a volunteer to tutor the youths.

She initiated and led a community development programme “Breakfast with Love” under the People's Association Youth Movement.

She believes more can be done to address the social issues in the elderly.



dekopin sncf

SNCF and NTUC Warehouse Club (WHC) played host to the nine-member delegation from The Institute for Indonesian Co-operative Development Studies (LSP2i) on 3 May 2018.

The delegates visited WHC located in Joo Koon after an insightful sharing session at SNCF. They are interested to learn about NTUC FairPrice Co-operative Ltd and in particular the pricing strategies and margin management.



National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) set up its first co-operative supermarket in 1973 with the objective of selling food and other consumer products at reasonable prices, helping to check profiteering during the oil crisis. It is with this social mission to moderate the cost of living in Singapore that NTUC FairPrice Co-operative’s values are rooted in, which it has continued to do throughout the years. Today, NTUC FairPrice Co-operative has multiple retail formats serving the varied needs and interests of people from all walks of life, keeping pace with the changing needs of its customers while remaining committed to its social mission. For more information, please visit their website at here.


The delegates ended their visit with purchases from WHC!

dekopin warehouse club

It is very difficult to get a job when you have a criminal record,

Subin, 34, said in a matter-of-fact tone.


Subin, member of ISCOS

Even with his graduate diploma in International Maritime Business, opportunities to be employed full time again was few and far between for the former inmate. He had been in and out of prison a total of four times on two counts of riot and two acts of disorderly behaviour.

The future looked bleak - it would seem unimaginable that the once rebellious gangster would not only rise past his circumstances, but also use his experiences to counsel and encourage prison inmates.

This would not have been possible without Subin’s will to overcome and succeed, or the support of people willing to give him a second chance. For instance, Subin describes his wife as his pillar of strength.

He also attributes his transformation to the Industrial & Services Co-Operative Society Ltd (ISCOS) for believing in him. Established in 1989, the co-operative extends friendship and support to ex-offenders and their families so that they can lead meaningful and productive lives.

Subin needed help to apply for a Class 4 Driving Licence so that he could take on more freelance jobs as a lorry driver, on top of his other ad hoc jobs as a stevedore and commercial driver.

Almost immediately, ISCOS put him under its Skills Assistance Subsidy Scheme (SASS) and Subin had his driving lessons partially subsidised. It took him one attempt and four lessons to successfully attain his Class 4 Driving Licence, hence increasing his employability.

For having the grit and gut to successfully reintegrate into the community, Subin was called upon to be an ISCOS Titan to share his life experience to prison inmates and youth-at-risk.

To equip him to share his experience more purposefully, he was coached on public speaking by the Co-operative. On several occasions, he went back to prison but for a different reason -- to speak to the lives of inmates through his sharing.

“It touches me when I see tough inmates breaking down in tears when they hear my story of how I struggled to get back on my feet,” he recalled.

Subin is currently pursuing a bachelor degree in International Business at Kaplan, Singapore.

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