By Sng Ler Jun
By now, you would come to know of the unions’ effort to uplift the lives of Singaporean workers. With changing workforce demographics over the years, the unions have worked tirelessly to fight for their members’ rights.
There are some co-operatives that are born out of unions, including AUPE Credit Co-operative (ACC) which was founded by Amalgamated Union of Public Employees (AUPE) in 1965, and these co-operatives continue to champion for members of the unions, should they choose to join them.
In an exclusive interview with ACC’s Yeo Chun Fing, also SNCF’s deputy chairman, and Sanjeev Tiwari who is ACC’s chief executive officer, we uncover what it takes to be a leader in a co-operative and what it means for a leader to learn to let go.
Sng Ler Jun: Take me through your journey in the co-operative ecosystem. How did you get acquainted with co-ops?
Sanjeev Tiwari: My first brush with co-ops would have been when I first joined the ministry. I was in my 20s and was a young officer. I remember filling up a form to be part of ACC. It was only when I joined the National Trades Union Congress as an Industrial Relations Officer that my understanding of co-ops deepened. That was where I learned that the work union does is similar to that of a co-op. We help our members!
When did you first join AUPE?
ST: I joined AUPE as Deputy Director in 2016. I then became the General Secretary and Chief Executive of AUPE and AUPE Credit Co-operative respectively in 2019.
Why did you join the co-op?
ST: Looking back, joining the co-op was a coincidence. I was in my mid-thirties and was looking for my next big challenge. I had an offer to work as a HR practitioner in the private sector. Given my experience in NTUC and my passion for industrial relations, I was humbled at the opportunity to continue in this role at AUPE. Before I knew it one thing led to another and here I am.
What do you find most fulfilling at your time here?
ST: Because I wear many hats, I can see how the work we do help people. I find it fulfilling to walk the journey alongside our members, aiding them in their financial challenges or educating them to be more prudent. When you are able to hear all the good things we have done for our members, I feel happy and purposeful.
Having worked with the co-op for a while, what particular challenges are unique to AUPE as a co-operative?
ST: We are a co-operative that is linked to the union so there is the challenge of getting people to join the union membership before they can come on board to the co-operative. We are also a credit co-operative and with all the credit co-ops in Singapore, we face regulatory constraints. For example, unlike corporate banks, we cannot run advertisements to promote our services.
What must a co-op entity like yourself do to ride out periods of uncertainty and challenges?
ST: Firstly, to understand that we cannot avoid periods of uncertainty or unexpected realities. Co-ops should have foresight and learn to anticipate things. Learn to leverage current resources to make contingencies.
How do you strike the right balance between being prudent yet open to adaptation and change for the future?
ST: When I look at the future, I look at systemic upgrades, changes and making sense of new information. Being prudent helps. Figuring out the younger generations’ needs and what they value is one way to plan forward and allow our co-op to remain adaptable. For example, looking at Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues is another way to do so. Co-ops should note that ESG goes beyond just supporting net-carbon zero. ESG is so much more...
Read more in SNCF's upcoming print newsletter (out on May 2023).
Image Credits: Akif Keith