Singapore co-ops discuss the sector’s relevance at national forum

Discussion included digitisation, cybersecurity, competition from conventional business and employee retention

Cybersecurity and competition from ‘ethical business’ were on the agenda as more than 100 Singapore co-op leaders gathered last month for a sector conference.

Organised by the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF), the Service Sector Forum, held on 10 March, looked at how to maintain the sector’s national relevance.

“As more and more leading businesses embrace stakeholder capitalism in their corporate purpose – some draw up ethical statements, incorporated in their articles of association – co-operatives can no longer claim that they are unique in doing good,” said Lim Boon Heng, chair for NTUC Enterprise Co-operative and Temasek Holdings.

He warned hat co-ops face competition from other enterprises, particularly larger companies with resources to leverage market forces to provide cheaper alternatives to consumers. Digitisation also allows consumers to browse for affordable products from around the world, he said.

SNCF chief executive officer Ang Hin Kee called on co-ops to digitise, including by training employees in personal data protection and cybersecurity to protect themselves, their members and customers.

Related: Filipino co-ops discuss digital at their first national congress

He said that another challenge for co-ops was retaining talent.

“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 they emerging needs that co-ops can target?” he said, encouraging co-operators present to look into emerging needs such as an ageing population, care responsibilities, inclusivity and mental wellness.”

Over 100 co-operative leaders attended the event

Eugene Wong, founder and managing director of Sirius Venture Capital, encouraged co-operative leaders to continue taking risks and avoid becoming complacent.

“Co-operatives today will likely be disrupted by younger social enterprises forming, just like how start-ups can disrupt traditional companies,” he said.  

Earlier in the month, SNCF launched its Emerging Leaders Programme (ELP), which brings together 13 co-operators from 10 co-ops for an overseas leadership camp. The young leaders will also receive mentorship from other co-operative leaders.

SNCF aims to nurture 100 co-operative leaders through the programme over the next five years.

One of SNCF’s members, NTUC First Campus has also launched its own emerging leaders programme.

“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 Jermaine Lim, senior manager for leadership and talent. “From the staff’s perspective, having the opportunity to grow, develop and to contribute at their optimal would also serves as an internal motivation.”