Let’s co-op

by | December 13, 2011

Seniors are starting co-operatives to help other seniors in different ways. However, is a co-op the right way to go?

BY: Eleanor Yap

A co-op – a many helping hands approach.

A number of seniors have been leaning towards starting a co-operative to help their own cohort. For instance, this year, 65-year-old Geoffrey Kung founded the Re-Employing Valuable Experienced Retirees to Serve Elders (REVERSE), a co-operative that supports re-employment of seniors by matching the seniors’ skill sets to potential job openings. He hopes that through his cooperative, he can assist seniors to return to the workforce so they can remain financially independent and an active contributor to society. Also, Helen Lim is starting a cooperative called Silver Horizon Travel Co-operative, which is close to registration as of presstime, and is looking at a second co-operative called Dementia Day Care Centre. She shared: “I think a co-operative, with the right start and the right team of founding members, will showcase the power of collaboration.”

Agelessonline finds out more about what it all means to be a co-operative and how this differs from say, a social enterprise from the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF):


What is a co-operative and what are its objectives?

A co-operative society is an association of persons who have voluntarily joined together to achieve a common economic and social end through the formation of a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled business organisation.

Members make equitable contributions to the capital required and accept a fair share of the risks and benefits of the undertaking.

Co-operative societies work on the principles of self-help and mutual assistance to provide services for their members. These can include credit, consumer, medical, insurance, dental, transport, security, food, housing, travel, childcare and welfare services.

There are two types of co-operative societies – primary and secondary. Primary meaning the members of which are natural persons of legal age; while secondary means the members of which are primaries. For easier understanding, primary co-operatives are the usual co-operatives you see out there – FairPrice, Income, TCC Credit Co-operative, etc. formed by individual members. Secondary co-operatives can be like SNCF, whereby our members are primary co-operatives.


When did the co-operative “movement” start in Singapore?

As early as 1924.


How is a co-operative different from a private limited company?



Pte Ltd company

The social mission is key.

There is a social mission only if this is a social enterprise.

Governed by the principles of self-help and mutual help.


Build and run sustainable businesses without any dependence on donations.


Common bond amongst founding members through shared beliefs and objectives.


Based on members who fund the co-operative.

No members.

All members have equal votes and no single member or group controls the co-operative.

Number of votes are proportional to number of shares held.

Pay levy to Central Co-operative Fund (CCF) – 5 percent on first $500K earnings, 20 percent on the rest.

Tax paid to IRAS.

Cannot be sold, so members must vote to close it. In this event, what moneys put in by members are returned to them, creditors and levy to CCF are paid and the rest is kept by CCF.


When a member resigns, what original monies put in by him/her will be all returned.

Shareholders can sell their shares at a mutually agreed price.

Registered with Registry of Co-operative Societies who requires 10 founding members, a sustainable business plan with financial projection for five years. No registration fee is charged.

Registered with ACRA, minimum one director, maximum 50 with minimum $2 paid-up capital and registration fees.

Dividends may be paid up to a maximum of 10 percent of earnings, the rest will be retained.

No maximum to dividends payable.


How is it different from a social enterprise?

A co-operative is a social enterprise.


How many members minimum do you need to start a co-operative?

Ten members.


Are there grants available for co-operatives?
Yes. The Central Co-operative Fund New Co-operative Grant. For more information, go to: http://www.sncf.org.sg/web/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=41&Itemid=68.


How many co-operatives are there in Singapore? What are some major co-operatives that are currently in Singapore, as well as overseas? There are currently 85 registered co-operative societies. Seventy of which are SNCF’s affiliate co-operatives. Major co-operatives in Singapore are for example, NTUC FairPrice and NTUC Income.

Major overseas co-operatives which are more renowned are Fonterra, Sunkist, F.C. Barcelona and Rabobank.


What are some co-operatives that are related to seniors in Singapore? Can you explain each of them?

Only two of the four co-operatives are registered. Food catering services to nursing homes and commercial business and REVERSE (by Kung). Whilst the other two have not submitted their applications. 

The four above are the only potential co-operatives connected to seniors. Unless an application is submitted, SNCF does not consider their intent to reach out to seniors or any other targeted groups as “proposals”, but rather ideas and potential only.


It is not just one person that grows the co-op but many like-minded individuals.

Why would seniors be interested in setting up co-operatives?

Some of the reasons include:

  • Wanting to remain active after retirement.
  • Having the skills and passion in what they used to do before retirement/retrenchment.
  • Have a heart to reach out to people similar to themselves.
  • Believe that older people can still contribute to society.


What liabilities are there in setting up a co-operative?

It would be the same liabilities as those of any private limited or limited companies.


How much minimum money can one put in towards a co-operative? How is the amount decided?

Technically, the minimum is $1. The amount depends on the co-operatives themselves, and also how much may be needed to ensure viability and sustainability of the business enterprise. Other reasons could be the nature of the co-operative and its targeted audience.


How does one start a co-operative; what are the steps? What criteria need to be in the proposal? How long will the proposal be approved? How many proposals have been rejected so far?

Please refer to our website for details on how to set up a co-operative, and the documentation required.

The criteria depends on the nature of the proposed co-op, the industry and the target audience it wishes to address. Regardless, there are two major areas:

1)    The proposed co-op must have a strong social mission.

2)    Its business proposal must be viable and sustainable.

There is no fix period to approval. The period to approve the application of a proposed co-op is dependent on many factors such as complexity of the business, the availability of supporting facts and documents, etc.

In terms of rejection, no application has been rejected in the last one year.


If there are profits, how is it shared amongst the members each year?

It can come in the form of dividends. This means that at the end of the Financial Year when a co-operative has made profits, it will announce a certain percentage of the profits as dividends, and that usually ranges anything between three percent to 10 percent to be given to members.


What is the maximum number of members in a co-operative?

No maximum.


What are some benefits to being a co-operative?

It has a membership base whose subscriptions and participation contributes to its sustainability and progress.


Why do co-operatives end?
A product or service that doesn’t attain sufficient membership base.




  1. Joan

    I am interested in knowing more about Helen Lim’s Silver Horizon Travel Co-operative. I may like to join in the co-operative if started.

    I travel regularly between Singapore and Australia and would like to meet with fellow travellers to join in activities in these two countries. On my own, I usually team up with my husband, friends for self-driving holidays. I have in mind single female travellers who may want to travel but have difficulty in joining groups because of the single supplement and the need to find company, even if it’s just two. I see a growing need for this. This is especially so when our children are living overseas and we like to spend time with them or our grandchildren but find that we may need to travel alone.

  2. agelessadmin

    Thanks Joan for your comment. I have e-mailed you separately on your request 🙂

  3. David Sia B S

    This publication is timely for United Nations International Year of Cooperatives 2012, http://www.facebook.com/CoopsYear

    I strongly believe in the collective power of consumers and other like-minded enthusiasts to resolve their daily needs and other difficulties. This is especially true given the increasingly inequitable distribution of wealth and other resources.

    In my contributions to the Economic Review Committee for Budget Year 2011, I’ve suggested for more incentives to promote cooperative as the business model for resolving unemployment problems and other societal issues.

    As for Budget Year 2012, I’ll be making my case for incentives to small and medium retailers to band together as cooperatives in enhancing their profits and chances of economic viability in the midst of intense competition from the big players in the retail industry.

  4. geoffrey kung

    I am responding ahead of promise as SNCF actually sent the article to me. Actually if one studies the laws governing co-ops, one will find a co-op is a natural genuine social enterprise. Unlike a social enterprise registered as a Limited Company, the rules and bylaws for a co-op spells and smells social mission and responsibilities. Many social enterprises use the structures of a commercial enterprise and twist it to ‘not-for-profit’ purpose because firstly co-operatives’ structures are not well-known. Historically it was framed for union members to help each other. Secondly, the approval and Government process for a co-op can prove tedious because members are man-in-the-streets and not businessmen.

    Now if someone ask why not many opt for the co-op route then? My own belief is the self-centredness of the modern man makes one ask ‘what’s in it for me’ when venturing into anything. A co-op is an equal-rights, members-base sharing organisation. Why would someone with a business idea and a profit motive want to go through the pain of building up an enterprise just to benefit others. The original co-op were unions based to serve union members. For new co-ops like REVERSE, we are asking the reverse – asking self-directed modern people to come together (unionise?) through an enterprise instead of union members that are already together to start an enterprise. It is against the grain of modern society. One has to ask how many new unions are registered in the last decade.

    Now the world is facing a new phenomena in seniors living longer and replacement birthrate is dropping. It is a new problem that requires the silver population to ‘unionise’ to help each other. Who would know how to solve the seniors’ problems then seniors themselves. For a start, the seniors are more experienced and hopefully know better what is good for themselves. It is a new way and requires a new mindset to accept. At this stage, we may continue to find the concept strange and will have many questions to ask. What is not an inherent strength of the senior cohort is shifting paradigm. We are more experienced but that does not translate to what we learned must be right. That is why REVERSE website had only three banner pages. The first is “REVERSE your thinking – think young” followed by “REVERSE your lifestyle – live actively” and the third “REVERSE your values – finish well”.

  5. Regina Toh

    I am planning to retire with my husband in three years’ time. We want to start planning and looking at what to do when the time comes. With the present cost of living in Singapore, we would prefer to be able to earn a small income while at the same time keeping our minds and body active. Like many Singaporeans now, we don’t even look our age and we feel we are young enough to be active for a number of years. I am writing this to seek help and advice on what to do in our retirement years.

    • agelessadmin

      Hi, Regina, thank you so much for writing in. Many people who retire still continue to work (but on flexible hours), not only to further grow their nest egg but also by working, one can remain sharp and alert. On the days that they may not be working, they do other things like pursue their various interests like photography, cooking, drawing, traveling, etc, or even learning something new. Some others have also leaned towards starting small businesses. There are a couple of stories on Agelessonline detailing some of these seniors. There is also volunteering opportunities that you can consider.

      I commend you for starting to prepare yourself early on but rest assured, there are lots of things one can do. You will need to figure which appeals to you and then go for it. If you have any further questions or if you would like me to link you to a retiree to give you further advice, do e-mail me at eleanor@agelessonline.net.

  6. Chong Siew chin

    I would like to get contact with the person in-charge of Silver Horizon Travel to find out more on senior travelling and wheelchair travelling, which I have read from Lianhe Zaobao dated May 20, 2013. Thank you.

    • agelessadmin

      Thanks, Siew Chin for your request, I have e-mailed you and linked you up with Helen already 🙂

  7. Philip Tan

    I was “forced” to retire in 2003 even after I had been servicing the previous company for almost 15 years both in top and middle management positions due to the fact that many private companies do NOT want to take up the Governments recommendation to re-hire older staff until the age of 65(at that time official retirement age was 62).
    So even with so much experience and skills .. it becomes of no use to me and I was not able to go back to the workforce .. a foolish thought I had when I continued searching for jobs in the market thinking that many employers would want to have a senior person to help them groom their juniors and pass on the expertize to help their companies grow further … Alas .. that was not the case here in Singapore .. and ONLY those in the Government service had it good.. many of my friends are still working there (even if it is on a contract basis) although they had reached their ages for officially retirement (in 2013)

    so I come across this Reverse Cooperative and now I would like to know how I can contribute to this fantastic idea .. I am looking forward for someone to contact with and have a formal discussion to see how I can fit into this cooperative either on a part time or free lance basis .

    I wait for the authorized person to contact me please .

    • agelessadmin

      Hi, Philip thanks for your message I have linked you and Geoffrey up already.


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