Last Friday (March 10, 2023), the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) held its first outreach engagement, the Service Sector Forum, for local co-operatives for the year. Over 100 co-operators, mainly from the service sector, were in attendance.
Held at voco Orchard Singapore hotel, the forum addresses the relevancy of co-operatives in Singapore today against the backdrop of emerging social enterprises and changing needs.
“As more and more leading businesses embrace stakeholder capitalism in their corporate purpose – some draw up ethical statements, incorporated in their articles of association – cooperatives can no longer claim that they are unique in doing good,” said Mr Lim Boon Heng, chairperson for NTUC Enterprise Co-operative and Temasek Holdings. Some 28 years ago, Mr Lim was a guest speaker at a dinner, also held at a hotel in Orchard, organised by Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) in 1995. “Do co-operatives still have a significant public mindshare?”
Today, co-operatives are no longer the only enterprises offering affordable goods and services to communities at large. Mr Lim argued that globalisation has enabled larger companies with resources to leverage market forces to provide cheaper alternatives to consumers while digitalisation has allowed consumers to source for affordable products from around the world.
To have a stake in an increasingly digitalized world, co-operatives need to undergo trainings to digitalise, said SNCF chief executive officer Mr Ang Hin Kee. For instance, some co-operatives in Singapore can look to train employees in Personal Data Protection or cybersecurity to protect the well-being of their members.
Mr Ang also highlighted how some co-operatives are facing challenges attracting and retaining talents. Employees, he said, care about their career progression and salary. “Co-operatives can pay a good salary to attract talents, but this remains as a short-term solution,” he added.
“Are there other ways to serve the communities? Are there emerging needs that co-ops can target?” Mr Ang said, nudging co-operators present to look into emerging needs such as ageing population, caregivers’ needs, inclusivity and mental wellness.
In a panel discussion, Mr Eugene Wong, founder and managing director of Sirius Venture Capital, explained that leaders should continue taking risks and not be complacent. “Fat and lazy organisations will constantly face challenges from start-ups,” he said, acknowledging how the presence of these start-ups, or “disruptors”, can keep market competitive and offer the checks and balances needed against bigger enterprises.
“Co-operatives today will likely be disrupted by younger social enterprises forming, just like how start-ups can disrupt traditional companies,” Mr Wong said.
So how then can co-operatives look to retain staff and nurture new talents? By investing in the emerging leaders, said Mr Ang.
From March to July this year, the federation has kickstarted the inaugural Emerging Leaders Programme (ELP) to nurture future batches of co-operative leaders. Come 24 to 26 March, the first batch of emerging leaders, comprising 13 co-operators from 10 different co-ops, will head to an overseas leadership camp to upscale themselves. Beyond the leadership camp, these co-operators will undergo mentorship and fireside chats with experienced co-operators to groom their capabilities as future leaders.
ELP aims to nurture 100 co-operative leaders in the next five years.
One local co-operative, NTUC First Campus, has also recently completed their capability development programme. Dubbed ‘Engaging Leaders Programme’, their first batch comprises 26 participants, all of whom are educators. Each of them was trained in the domains of personal mastery, customer-centricity, strategic thinking, innovations and creativity, and coaching for performance.
“The programme, which was first launched in September last year, aims to develop middle-level leaders with requisite leadership skills to ensure NTUC First Campus’ continued growth and sustainability,” said Jackie Yu, director of Brand and Communications at NTUC First Campus.
“From the staff’s perspective, having the opportunity to grow, develop and to contribute at their optimal would also serves as an internal motivation,” she added.
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