In 1844, the modern cooperative movement was born in the English town of Rochdale in Lancashire, at the climax of the Industrial Revolution.
Social structures and trust in institutions were breaking down, urbanisation and average income levels were rising rapidly, but so were income inequality and poor living conditions. The people became increasingly sceptical of the ability of the state and employers to provide financial security. Hence, they came together to cooperate and help one another achieve thrift, economy and security.
The cooperative movement was born in response to the needs of the time.
125 years later in 1969, as Singapore struggled to establish itself economically, the first deputy prime minister and the architect of Singapore’s economic miracle, Mr Goh Keng Swee, appealed to the National Trades Union Congress to divert their energies from trade union militancy. He said NTUC should, and I quote “take a new direction, develop new fields of endeavour and thereby grow from strength to strength” in the development of co-operatives. Six months later, on 29 May 1970, the Insurance Commonwealth Enterprise Limited or INCOME was formed, with Mr Goh Keng Swee as its first Chairman.
NTUC Income and the NTUC cooperatives were born in response to the needs of the time.
When I became the CEO of NTUC Income six years ago, Singapore had transformed itself to an affluent, progressive and confident first world global city. Our job then, was to transform so that we could connect with, and meet the needs of, a new generation of Singaporeans.
What we have been doing in the last six years was born in response to the needs of our time.
The world we see today and the times we live in are very different from six years ago. Our economy is still sound and strong and we are still a first world country – but the issues of economic and social dislocation, financial insecurity, concern for food, accommodation and transport prices, costs of health care and the funding of the elderly have again come to the foreground.
For all of us who work in social enterprises, we will again need to respond to the needs of our time.
It is an enduring condition of mankind that in times of crisis we have to rise up and respond in cooperation because it increases our mutual security; with collective action because it is more powerful than individual action; and for a social cause because it is more unifying than for personal gain.
In accepting this award, I pay tribute to all those who work in NTUC Income and in social enterprises – to all of you who do what you do, not because we believe we can change the world but because we believe we can make a difference, this award is dedicated to you.
I thank Singapore Business Awards because your award encourages us, energises us, and motivates us to continue to do our work even more diligently. And it reminds us of what is possible when we set our dreams and ideals high, and pursue them with purpose and commitment.
Above all, I thank you because you have rekindled our faith and reinforced our belief that far from being a relic of the past, this is indeed our time. And that best is yet to come.