Seniors’ co-operative movement in Singapore takes shape
New co-operatives are coming up – set up and run by seniors to serve the specific needs of their peers.
BY: Edna Lam
A co-operative society is an association of persons who have voluntarily joined together with a common economic and social end, forming a social enterprise that works on the principles of self-help and mutual assistance to provide a wide range of services for their members.
Out of the 83 registered co-operatives in Singapore, there are already quite a number focused on the senior citizen sector. A recent trend is also “seniors for seniors” – groups of like-minded seniors who have come together to set up new co-operatives serving the specific needs of their peer group.
Here are two groups of seniors who have found that starting a co-op is the way to go. One has already established a co-op while another is currently waiting for approval of their application. Agelessonline finds out more about each of the co-operatives and the motives behind them:
Seeking seven wellness in REVERSE
Earlier this year, 65-year-old Geoffrey Kung (the winner of the POSB Active Ager Award 2011) (left) founded a co-operative called REVERSE, focused on seniors helping seniors.
After being retrenched at the age of 53 in 1999 after 30 years in the IT industry, Kung reinvented himself as a financial advisor, motivated partly by his interest in exploring ways to grow his retirement funds and hedge against depletion. He attended training courses, passed the Singapore Institute of Banking and Finance examinations, before heading off to Hong Kong to pursue three disciplines on securities and futures, derivatives and asset management, and passed eight exams via the Hong Kong Securities Institute. After that, he stayed self-employed as a trader and managed his own funds.
Why did you set up REVERSE co-operative?
The idea was first mooted in 2006 when I found that financial institutions were not prepared to hire me because of my age even though I had acquired all the necessary qualifications. I could think of many reasons why banks would not hire a 60-year-old as a ‘career-entry’ candidate so I started thinking about setting up an ‘outsourcing’ group to secure contract jobs from companies based on results delivered. In this way, companies will not be able to screen off contractors by age and we can employ experienced and skilled people to do the relevant jobs.
The idea behind REVERSE is to “Re-Employ Valuable Experienced Retirees” to put them to productivity. And because of our seniority, we are best fitted to “Serve the Elderly”. REVERSE celebrates the fact that our population is growing ‘greyer’ and we want to turn this opportunity by helping these seniors stay economically active.
We have two main groups of beneficiaries in mind – the younger and still active seniors whom we want to harness and re-deploy into productive work; and the older and less healthy ones who deserve more care and special services. REVERSE seeks to deploy the above first group of able seniors to care and empathise with the less fortunate seniors who may then be also motivated to become more active and productive.
What is REVERSE’s vision and mission?
Our mission is to harness and re-deploy the vast resources of the elderly population neglected by our present materialistic society and to offer seniors/retirees opportunities of an enhanced second life. Together as a family, to shine as light in the world through meeting some of the social needs of the old and needy in our society.
Our vision is to create an equal-opportunity, equal-rights seniors’ community modelled after early disciples in the bible’s Acts 2:42-47 – a community where members help each other enhance their lives through sharing in the following seven facets of life: Social, economic, emotional, physical, vocational, intellectual and spiritual.
How many seniors have you helped so far in matching work opportunities with skills set?
So far, we have placed a handful of seniors into employment as our only activity at the moment is operating a kitchen that provides food catering to nursing homes. Our intent is to venture into the four areas of human basic needs, namely what we refer to in Chinese “衣食住行” ie clothing, food, shelter and transport.
Why did you choose to set up a cooperative? Did you explore other options?
We decided against setting up a ‘company limited by guarantee’ as this is a form of a non-profit company usually used for charities where members cannot receive dividends or returns. Whereas co-operatives are really a pure form of social enterprise, by which members can enjoy the benefits of a successful enterprise such as in the form of dividends.
Since my original drive was to enhance my nest-egg, giving it straight-out to charities would not help meet my personal financial objective. With a social enterprise, I would get to participate in the collective benefits derived for the community. So whatever capital or investment made will do more good and we can directly control the costs, the percentage going to the real needy and manage the service level delivered. So you can call us a DIY charity for the seniors or a self-help group of elders.
REVERSE stands for a pooling of economically able but untapped resources into a co-operative to generate economic returns while serving the increasing needs of the elderly cohort, especially the needy and less fortunate seniors. We believe the co-operative income deriving model is more suited to sustainable, longer-term service delivery than a pure voluntary setup. We will also be less dependent on charity or donations for our operations and therefore occur less overheads and expend less energy on soliciting donations.
Are there such services already available?
Yes, for example NTUC Eldercare Co-op and Comfort Keepers have also established a home-help business in Singapore in the last three years. However, our model is quite unique as it covers both ends of the spectrum of seniors – the “valuable experienced retirees” ie the service providers, who “serve the elderly”, and the users of such services.
The range of products and services for seniors are so diverse, we will need many more providers to come up with much more services than are currently available. We view ourselves as a ‘co-operative’ with a role to ‘cooperate’ with other service providers to assist and enhance seniors’ lifestyle and needs.
As a co-operative, how is REVERSE run and what are its sources of funding?
The bylaws of co-operatives stipulate we must be managed by a Committee of Management (CoM). At the moment, REVERSE has a CoM of six members and we meet every month to discuss our ongoing activities and plans. We have a small membership of 30 who are essentially friends and family. Our intention is to get our house in order by January 2012 and start our recruitment drive.
A co-operative’s primary source of funding is through membership fees and subscriptions. However, REVERSE has crafted into its bylaws not to collect members’ subscription, so our only primary source are members’ shares purchase, which is S$10 per share, subject to a maximum of 2,500 shares per member. Co-operatives are allowed to receive donations, which can be an alternative source of funding, however REVERSE has not done enough to warrant us to seek funding through donations.
Based on your personal experience and beliefs, can you tell us more about your views on re-employment, extending retirement age and the issue of ageism?
I believe it is good for the ‘oldies’ to be employed, albeit into more ‘flexi’ work conditions and less motivated by money. The Re-employment Act that takes effect in 2012 may solve the Government’s shortage of labour in the short term, but it is basically an extension by age and not by ability (or merit) – this does not necessarily break the cycle of ageism. Extending retirement age only helps to enhance those who need to supplement their nest-eggs in case they outlive their retirement savings.
My personal wish is for seniors to live a rich and happy Third Age, and this means not necessarily putting them back to the previous work environment they came from, working nine to five, five to six days a week, etc. I think REVERSE Co-operative may be in a position to provide a better solution for both employers and employees for the longer term, as it seeks to help our members achieve vocational and financial wellness through other means.
A travel Co-op by seniors for seniors
Helen Lim and Judy Chong are among the 11 pioneers behind the concept of another co-operative dedicated to serving the seniors’ sector through tailored travel services.
Silver Horizon Travel Co-operative proposes to organise travel packages with itineraries and tour management focused on the needs and interests of seniors, making travel more enjoyable and less stressful, and enhancing their travel experience. The focus is also not just on travel per se, but also on the bonding and breadth and depth of the networking experience with like-minded peers.
Sixty-four-year-old Lim was a HR practitioner for almost 40 years. After retiring, she was invited by SingHealth to pioneer its Silver Connection Movement, which helped retrain retirees and mature employees. After leaving SingHealth in February 2009, she set up her own company called Silver Spring, a social enterprise that focuses on career counseling, placements and life coaching, and aims to “put the bounce back in people’s life”, as its tagline goes. In December of the same year, Lim took on another project – running a social enterprise café called Chatters @ Silver Spring Café. She is instrumental in rounding up like-minded seniors to start Silver Horizon Travel Co-operative, and also hopes to start another co-operative focusing on Dementia Day Care.
Chong, 58, practiced accountancy in Melbourne before returning to Singapore in her 30s where she switched career to administration and personnel management. With her flair in organising events, for the last few years since her retirement, she has been living out her passion for travelling by planning and organising tours with a dozen former schoolmates.
Who are the people behind Silver Horizon and when are you planning to launch it?
Lim: We have 11 founding members, including the two of us, who are just like-minded individuals who have come together mainly through reading about articles about my Chatters enterprise or hearing my talks on entrepreneurial options for seniors.
Our founding members are all frequent travellers and felt that we should put an end to the frustrations of a rushed itinerary to places we do not want to be. We believe there are many like-minded seniors out there who share our views and felt that a co- operative would best serve our common aims and objectives – to enjoy our travels and make as many new friends as we can.
Our application with the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) is in its final stages of review and we hope to be able to complete all the formalities and launch Silver Horizon by March next year. We understand ours may be the first travel co-operative to be registered with SNCF, and one that is specifically catering to the needs of senior travellers – we really hope to bring something new to this segment and make a difference.
Of all the services, why did you come up with a travel co-operative for seniors?
Chong: Singaporeans are avid travellers with holiday-making already an important part of their lifestyle. According to the Global Aging Report by The Nielson Company, 35 percent of Singaporeans plan to retire or are already retired before 60, 73 percent opt for travel as the top post-retirement activity vs 51 percent for volunteer work and 49 percent for club activities.
Despite the seemingly crowded travel industry, we believe there is an under-served niche area – customised packages for seniors which offer more than standard sightseeing and shopping. More importantly, our itineraries will be more comfortably paced with attention to special needs and interest of the more senior travellers.
Even for the wide stratum of baby-boomers who might have travelled the world and have seen and done all that during their corporate lives, they may still want new bonding experiences and meet new people through the common interest of travelling.
We are also working with gerontology students from Temasek Polytechnic to do a survey on the silver travel market in Singapore, so hopefully through this we may gain even deeper insights into our target market.
As a co-operative, what is your social mission?
Lim: Our social mission is to promote active living and learning through customised travel programmes for seniors. Silver Horizon will also use travel as a platform to build friendships and bonding before, during and after the tour through related activities, thus making life more active and meaningful.
For seniors without family support, the co-operative will serve to channel assistance aimed at enriching the lives of such participants through our travel programmes.
How are you planning to differentiate from the vast number of travel services out there in the market?
Chong: In a mass market environment, there is a limit as to how much real customisation can be made specifically for senior travellers’ needs. As we are a niche service provider, we aim to partner with selected travel agencies to develop and really tailor-make travel itineraries for our members, for example ranging from itinerary pacing, meals consideration or special interests suitable for seniors. These may range from historical and cultural explorations, food culture discovery, nature immersion, retirement living or art appreciation.
There will be pre- and post-travel activities for members and guests to share experiences, promote interaction, and build friendships and bonds. For seniors it is important to make new friends as you lose old ones.
Another important differentiator is that priority will be given to seniors to plan, organise and lead the tours and related activities. The co-operative is also open to the younger age group who intend to accompany their ageing parents and join the customised tours and related activities.
Why did you choose to set up a cooperative? Is this your first cooperative venture? Have you explored other options?
Lim: Right from the start when we first mooted the idea of a travel service enterprise last October, we already decided on a co-operative model rather than a private company. As a co-operative, the mission and passion comes from its members to derive the “products and services” that is best suited for the majority and the common good. It is not so much just about profitability or trying to do the impossible by offering tours that are both “cheap and good”.
With a co-operative, you need at least 10 founding members, and numbers do matter in a business as travel services with such vast scope. We may run many programmes a year and need to outreach to many more like-minded people to benefit from their experience and wisdom. As a co-operative, we can also tap into the network of other co-operatives or Government agencies who promote active ageing. A co-operative is really about the power of collaboration and networks; it’s about co-operatives helping each other.
With all the buzz on active ageing, how do you see the trend in seniors’ entrepreneurship?
Lim: We certainly hear a lot more discussion on the topic of entrepreneurial opportunities for seniors, but more on an academic and discursive level. There are still not that many real investment and enterprise opportunities available out there.
I hope that a co-operative like ours will stimulate more interest among seniors to explore new enterprising ideas. We also want to give the message to all seniors that it is never too late to feel the passion for starting a new enterprise, and being active in mind and EQ is just as important as being physically active.
** To find out more about co-operatives and the requirements, go to: /1596/lets-co-op/.