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Singapore Co-operative Forum 2024: Leadership development and renewal vital for co-operatives to stay relevant

NTUC Trustee Lim Swee Say also talked about the challenges and opportunities for co-operatives in the future economy.
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By Nicolette Yeo 09 May 2024
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In an increasingly uncertain world, it is important for Singapore co-operatives to focus on leadership development and renewal to stay relevant to the needs of members and the wider community.


NTUC Trustee Lim Swee Say emphasised this message in his keynote speech on 9 May 2024 at the Singapore Co-operative Forum 2024 themed “Do Today for Tomorrow's Needs”.


Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, and Trade and Industry Alvin Tan, Members of Parliament Carrie Tan and Yip Hon Weng, and co-operative representatives and associates attended the forum.


The forum included an engaging interactive dialogue on the future of co-operatives. Moderated by Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) CEO Ang Hin Kee, panel speakers included Mr Lim, AUPE Credit Co-operative Chairman Yeo Chun Fing, and SNCF Executive Council Member Raen Lim.


Key topics discussed included flexible work arrangements, leadership renewal, impact of innovation, and the Government’s role in the co-operative movement.


Leadership development and renewal


Mr Lim said that the success or failure of a co-operative in the future economy depends on its leadership development and renewal plan.


“At the end of the day, leadership is at the heart of the issue. Do you have the leadership today, and the leadership tomorrow to ensure that the organisation will remain relevant in the future?


“Do we have the right leadership development, renewal, succession mechanism in place? If not, you may be successful today, but how do you sustain the success in the future?


“Always remember that the purpose of leadership development is not about me, it’s about us. It’s about the long-term health, the long-term sustainability of the co-operative, not about the individual,” he said.


The former labour chief recounted how he instituted the Flow-In, Flow-Up and Flow-On (3-Flow) leadership succession model within NTUC for its Central Committee leaders to step down at 62 to make way for new blood.


Mr Lim likened the co-operative movement to the Singapore story, the latter’s success he believes is underpinned by leadership renewal.


He was referring to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s decision to hand over his premiership to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on 15 May 2024.


“Therefore, it’s very important that as leaders at whatever level we are, we must all do our part to ensure that leadership development and renewal can be sustained in the simplest manner.


“At the end of the day, when we are all long gone and forgotten, hopefully the movement that we have contributed to will continue to be able to grow and prosper,” he added.


Challenges and opportunities


Mr Lim, who is also NTUC Advisor for Digital Transformation, highlighted the challenges the co-operative movement faces today. These include the regulatory environment, market competition from for-profit companies, and technology adoption.


However, he was quick to add that such challenges can create opportunities for co-operatives to evolve, particularly in the environmental and socially responsible space.


Mr Ang pointed out that, increasingly, more people want to set up co-operatives in this space.


“They have started to include an entire sustainability concept. For example, no animals were harmed, no child labour is involved, and products are from sustainable sources.


“So, we are well placed to take advantage of the shift that’s happening, and that shift will form the DNA of the co-operative,” he elaborated.


The AUPE story


Amalgamated Union of Public Employees (AUPE) Credit Co-operative is one of the co-operatives at the forefront of the movement.


The co-operative’s Chief Executive Officer Sanjeev Tiwari shared that AUPE established the co-operative around 65 years ago to support public officers’ financial needs through loans and savings.


It has since evolved to educate members about financial sustainability. The co-operative has also extended its services beyond public officers to all NTUC union members. Today, it helps a couple of thousand members annually.


“We can serve the larger membership base in fulfilling two main needs — one, ensuring that there is awareness and understanding of financial sustainability, long-term planning, savings, and keeping money in sight.


“Two, in case of needs and unexpected scenarios, you can take loans from us. We are a good option because we are providing these loans with a social objective. The purpose is to help you either get out of it [debt] or solve an immediate need,” Mr Sanjeev said.