It was still eight o’clock in the morning, but the smell of roasted coffee beans wafted in the air. A barista was preparing a coffee machine for the day and the chef was preparing the dishes, although the café only opened at 08.30. One of the students bought a mushroom cheese omelet and a cup of hot latte before going up the stairs to his class. It was just like any other cafe; the difference was that it had social mission in mind and it was the first co-operative café in NTU.
When I was in high school, I was just a regular student, studying for A levels and joining regular co-curricular activities. What I did not do was being an entrepreneur; but to my surprise, CO-OP@NTU was a huge part of my university life and I got the chance to help opening a co-operative café.
It was all first started from my fascination in co-operatives. Co-operatives aim to do good and do well. They are unlike other commercial entities who focus on making profits; unlike charity who depends on donations. Co-operatives are in between both companies and charities, with the aim to increase the welfare of its members, based on values of self-help, self- responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.
I wanted to become a part of an organization whose values and mission were similar to me. That was when SNCF came into picture; I found out about SNCF and was drawn to SNCF’s mission to address both social and economic needs in the community. Encouraged by my family support, I applied for SNCF Scholarship. After an essay submission and two rounds of interview, I received a call from SNCF and no words could describe how happy I was.
From SNCF, I found out about CO-OP@NTU and was given a chance to help in the setting up of the Café. Like other co-operatives with social missions, CO-OP@NTU Café aims to provide good quality food at affordable prices as well as to help less privileged students to earn extra income by joining our café crews. In the long run, we hope we will be able to contribute more to the community through bursaries and scholarships.
The experience I got from SNCF and CO-OP@NTU was unlike any other, because I helped to run real business, meeting customers as well as liaising with suppliers. There were days when I got to be the cashier or barista to help the café at the initial stage of the opening, when the queue was long and there was not enough part-time students at the café.
From there I realized that the co-operative model is really attractive for youth and young adults to start a business due to low capital requirement and limited liability, just like how students got to start CO-OP@NTU Café. Also, it is possible to combine work and study for youths to cultivate the spirit of entrepreneurship and co-operatives since young. Nevertheless, there are challenges that co-operatives faced, especially in today’s age of digital technology in which co-operatives face fierce competition not only locally, but also globally. To continue learning and adapting to changes in the environment are some of the ways for co-operatives to keep on striving in today’s world. Similarly, CO-OP@NTU is also embracing digital technology with various social media accounts to engage its members. Looking at the rising popularity of online shop in Singapore, online shop for CO-OP@NTU may also come into picture in the long run.
By the people, for the people. That is the founding premise of co-operatives. I am glad that I have embarked on this exciting journey with SNCF.