Four SNCF scholars share with us how helping people and changing lives is the greatest good anyone can do in the world.
By Joyce Lin
Many young people and even working adults may not know what a co-operative is. In fact, it is all around you.
From the stationery shop in your secondary school to the ubiquitous supermarket chains in every neighbourhood, the mark of a co-operative is clearly visible everywhere.
Established in 1980, the not-for-profit organisation Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) is one of the largest grassroots movement in Singapore and is affiliated to 71 co-operatives today.
The Federation represents the collective voice of Singapore’s Co-operative Movement and believes in helping its members in a sustainable way.
Giving back to the community
Its undergraduate scholarship – launched in 2008 – is a fine example of how a co-operative gives back to the community.
The idea of “helping someone in order to help others” was the greatest attraction for four current SNCF scholars - undergraduates Eugene Tan, Irving Lim, Jaeden Tan, and Candy Leow.
All four scholars are not just scholars with brains, but also with a big heart. They are involved in community work and passionate about what they believe in.
“We were presented a calendar with the slogan 'do well and do good'. Co-operatives encourage you to have an entrepreneurial spirit,” Irving explains the purpose of a co-operative.
“They also teach you how to find the social gaps in society and help those who have fallen between the cracks. By equipping yourself with the right skills, you're empowered to help others.”
The differentiating factor
It was the idea of being a “scholar with a heart” that caught the attention of the current SNCF scholars.
This x-factor differentiates SNCF's scholarship from the numerous choices out there.
“I found out about the SNCF scholarship through an email sent by BrightSparks. The catch phrase was to be a 'scholar with a heart' and I thought that was something I would like to be,” says Eugene, a first year student at National University of Singapore pursuing a double major in Business Administration and Chemical Engineering.
The Raffles Junior College alumnus felt like he needed to do something to set himself apart from a sea of “overachievers” after being immersed in a competitive academic environment for almost his entire schooling years.
“Every other day you would hear about someone achieving something, or winning some award,” the 21-year-old recounts.
“I started to ask myself what I could do to make a difference, instead of wanting to match up to them all the time.”
Giving back to the community
Eugene got himself involved in community service while he was in the Kayaking Club in junior college.
The club's extra activities included a Reach-to-Reach programme that was with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Childcare group.
Eugene read to children who did not have sufficient exposure to English at home and also taught beneficiaries at the Yio Chu Kang branch of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) how to kayak.
“I learnt that even if you cannot achieve anything great, it means a lot when you actually help someone,” says Eugene.
Similarly, Irving, a final-year student at NUS, was drawn to the socially-driven aspect of SNCF.
The Communications and New Media major has always actively given back to the community, like the time when he rose funds for Ang Mo Kio hospital through a junkyard sale while he was in Anderson Junior College.
The 25-year-old reveals, “This event made me realise that even in our own small ways, we can raise funds to help needy people.”
Irving feels compelled to give back to the community because he realised the importance of second chances.
“I excelled academically in primary school but did badly during JC. I was retained for a year and subsequently in national service, I met many people from all walks of life, some of whom didn't even have a chance to study,” he reminisces.
“So I decided to buck up and study hard when I enrolled in NUS. I used my first year undergraduate results to apply for the SNCF scholarship.”
A heart of gold
Like Eugene and Irving, Jaeden also lent a helping hand to people in need.
She offered to tutor children from underprivileged families during her time in polytechnic.
Previously studying logistics in Temasek Polytechnic, the 22-year-old is now a second-year Accounting student at Nanyang Technological University.
“I believe SNCF is looking for youths who are aligned with their social mission of doing good,” says Jaeden.
“Through my personal life experiences, I know how difficult it can be for children from broken families. That’s the reason I offered to tutor them.”
For Candy, her first foray into community work started at the tender age of 15.
As part of her secondary school activities, she travelled to Cambodia to visit an eco-tourism site and interact with locals.
“The trip really changed my perspective on things, especially since I was so young. I was inspired by how resilient the locals were despite having gone through a civil war only two decades ago. It prompted me to be more involved in community work after that,” she says.
Upon her return to Singapore, Candy took part in a Member of Parliament (MP) attachment programme while she was studying in Ango-Chinese Junior College.
She assisted MP Christopher de Souza at Meet-The-People's sessions.
“This experience provided me with a better understanding of what was happening at the ground level. It's similar to what SNCF believes in – being highly involved in grassroots activities and ensuring the welfare of its members,” she explains.
As an SNCF scholar, you're given the opportunities of internships, networking, and getting involved in the organisation's activities.
“Being a scholar gives you a head start in your chosen industry. You enjoy internship opportunities and frequent interaction with the staff of the organisation – something you may not have if you haven't been welcomed to the family as a scholar yet,” Eugene explains.
“When you're invited to activities and events, you get to know your future colleagues and more about the work you'll be doing in the future.”
SNCF scholars undergo an internship programme with anyone of SNCF's affiliates during their school vacations. The internship may last from a month to three months.
Irving was attached to the Northlight Co-operative in Northlight School, a school set up for students with academic difficulties.
He used his design skills to redesign their logo and other collateral.
For Candy, she did her internship at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) during her first year at university.
She helped to brainstorm for ideas on improving ITE's business and to convince more ITE students to join the co-operative as a co-curricular activity.
“The students are very passionate you can see they really believe in the idea of a co-operative. I made many friends through my internship and found the experience very fruitful. It was a highlight during my time as an SNCF scholar.”
An internship with SNCF affiliated co-operatives is always a meaningful one just like SNCF's beliefs of making a “co-operative difference”.
Vast career opportunities
With so many affiliates under the SNCF umbrella, its scholars can look forward to an exciting career that matches their talent and abilities.
The possibilities are endless.
“Choose the SNCF scholarship if you want something different; something beyond dollars and cents. If you want to do something meaningful, then SNCF would be a good choice because of its people-centric activities,” Jaeden sums it up succinctly.