Cooperatives' role in nation building told in new book

President Halimah Yacob with Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) chief executive Dolly Goh and SNCF chairman and NTUC LearningHub chief executive Kwek Kok Kwong at the launch of the book, Singapore Co-operatives, Singapore Stories, at t
President Halimah Yacob with Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) chief executive Dolly Goh and SNCF chairman and NTUC LearningHub chief executive Kwek Kok Kwong at the launch of the book, Singapore Co-operatives, Singapore Stories, at the atrium outside Plaza Singapura yesterday.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Credit cooperatives were among the first self-help organisations in Singapore, providing workers with an alternative to moneylenders charging exorbitant interest rates.

One beneficiary of such cooperatives was Singapore's late president, Mr S R Nathan, who turned to the then Singapore Government Servants' (SGS) Co-operative Thrift and Loan society for financial help when he did not have enough savings to get married in 1958. He borrowed again from the co-op to buy a house.

His experiences and the contributions of cooperatives to Singapore's nation building are documented in a book launched by President Halimah Yacob at Plaza Singapura yesterday.

Singapore Co-operatives, Singapore Stories, was compiled by the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) and traces the sector's evolution from the formation of the SGS Co-op, now known as the Singapore Government Staff Credit Co-operative Society, on Oct 7, 1925.

Mr Han Juam Kwong, who was a member of SGS Co-op for 61 years before he died in 2015, said in an excerpt that the co-op was important to colleagues who desperately needed money but were not able to secure a bank loan.

"Many were able to keep a roof over their heads and pay for their children's needs thanks to the loans from the society," he said, adding that he took a loan of $3,000 in 1972 to pay for his wedding expenses.

Stories of retired uniformed officers who have found re-employment after leaving the likes of the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), are also documented in the book.

The Co-operative of SCDF Employees (Cosem) was established in 2005 to help retired SCDF officers continue working and contributing to the security industry.

Mr Zainal Atan, 68, felt helpless and down for a period after he retired from the SCDF at the age of 50, but a "timely" job offer came in from Cosem. "Working as a firefighting trainer gave me back my sense of purpose," said Mr Zainal, who has been with Cosem for 12 years.

Cosem has about 280 staff and also employs former full-time national servicemen firefighters in addition to retired SCDF officers.

President Halimah said the co-op movement has touched the lives of more than 1.4 million members and many more Singaporeans.

"As we commemorate Singapore's bicentennial this year, it is fitting that the SNCF has put together this book on the origins of Singapore cooperatives and their contributions to society, as well as how they have exemplified the values of thrift, mutual support and self-determination," she said.

Madam Halimah also presented copies of the book to co-op beneficiaries who contributed to it.

The launch was held at the start of a three-day carnival organised by the SNCF, where art installations about Singapore's co-op movement are on display. Copies of the book will be available at public and school libraries from next month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2019, with the headline 'Cooperatives' role in nation building told in new book'. Print Edition | Subscribe