Obituary: Ungku A. Aziz, leading light of the Malaysian co-op movement

Prof Aziz was president of national sector body Angkasa for nearly 40 years and worked with the ICA and UN, alongside a distinguished academic career

The global co-op movement has lost another stalwart with the death of Ungku Abdul Aziz bin Ungku Abdul Hamid (28 January 1922 – 15 December 2020), a Malaysian co-op leader, economist and lecturer.

Prof Ungku Aziz played a long and important role in his country’s co-op movement. He was a leading light of national co-op body Angkasa, serving as its president from its inception in 1971 until 2008.

At ICA level he had served as vice chair of the regional board of the Asia-Pacific office of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA-AP) and held places on the Human Resource Development Committee of the ICA-AP and the ICA.

He was also a pioneer of co-operative education in Malaysia.

Announcing the news, Angkasa tweeted: “There are no words to describe the unimaginable loss of such an ardent academician. What we can do right now is to continue his legacy with a renewed commitment to empower the nation’s cooperative movement. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family now.”

For his service to the co-op movement he won the Rochdale Pioneers Award in 2007, having already been honoured by his own country as an Outstanding Figure of the National Cooperative Movement in 2002.

These were two of a raft of honours he accumulated: the Japan Foundation Award, the Fukuoka Prize, the title Outstanding Figure of the Islamic era – awarded by the Paramount Ruler of Malaysia; the Outstanding Malay Figure Award; the National Academic Award (MalayAnugerah Akademik Negara) (2006), the Malaysian Merdeka Award and the French Ordre des Artes et des Lettres.

Born into the Johorean royal family, Prof Ungku Aziz had a distinguished academic career, writing more than 50 books and monographs on social and economic problems in Malaysia. He served as vice-chancellor of the University of Malaya from 1968 to 1988 and general director of the Council on Language and Literature of Malaysia from 1956 until 1957. He was awarded the title of Royal Professor in 1978.

He was the first Malaysian to serve as vice chancellor at the national university, and during his time in the role the University set up its co-operative bookstore.

Putting his expertise to work, he was consultant to several specialised UN offices – the International Labour Organization, Unesco and the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East).

Dato Abdul Fattah Abdullah, president of Angkasa, said: “While his death is a great loss to Malaysia, our thoughts, prayers and fondest memories remain.

“He will be remembered as academic icon, great economist and the father of the Malaysian cooperative movement.”

Paying tribute, the Singapore National Cooperative Federation tweeted: “Our deepest condolences to his family and to all in Angkasa at this time of loss.”

And Cooperative Housing International said: “He leaves the co-operative movement in Malaysia in very good hands. His legacy will live on.”

Balu Iyer, regional director, ICA-AP, tweeted: “A huge loss to the co-operative community in Malaysia and the world of co-operatives. Royal Professor Ungku A. Aziz was a key figure in guiding @ICAAPAC Board, champion of values & principles, ensured cooperative education in schools. Our heartfelt condolences to Angkasa.”

ICA-AP tweeted: “Deeply saddened with the demise of the Royal Professor, Ungku A. Aziz, the founding President, Angkasa. He worked extensively in poverty eradication & education fields and pioneered the school coop movement. Our heartfelt condolences!”