Many do not know and understand the difference between co-operatives and social enterprises, as they both operate with the mission of resolving a societal need.




So, what are the differences? Let’s try to solve this mystery today!

Social Enterprise Co-operative
Definition Business entities set up with clear social goals; and where there is clear management intent and resources allocated to fulfil their social objectives. Co-operatives are democratically run for-profit entities where people voluntarily unite to achieve a common social or economic aim. Essentially, co-operatives are regulated social enterprises.
Profit Social enterprises can be structured as for-profit or non-profit. A cooperative focus on building a sustainable business that makes profit, while operating with a social cause that benefits its members.
Focus Social enterprises focus on serving the social, economic, and cultural needs of the society. Hence, they focus on a philanthropic goal. Since a co-operative is owned and operated by members, for its members, cooperatives focus on self-help and mutual help.
Sustainability A social enterprise serves a larger audience which extends beyond its members. Hence, the members contributing to the capital may be lesser as compared to the people who benefit from the social enterprise.


All members contribute equitably to their co-operative’s capital. Generally, part of the co-op’s capital is common member property. Members get limited compensation for the subscribed capital given as condition of their membership.

Surplus capital may be allocated for any, or all, of the following:

1) Develop the co-operative

2) Set up or build reserves

3) Benefit members in their transactions with the co-operatives

4) Supporting other activities approved by the members

With the regulation being put in place, and the focus on mutual benefit, co-operatives are usually more sustainable

Regulation Co-ops in Singapore are regulated by the Registry of Co-operative Societies, under the Co-operative Societies Act (Chapter 62) and Co-operative Societies Rules 2009.
APEX body The Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE) was set up in 2015 to develop the social enterprise sector in Singapore, and have worked with over 400 social enterprise members from set up to growth and expansion.

They seek to raise awareness and nurture new enterprises by providing advisory services, programmes, training and resources, financing options, capacity building, and mentorship.

The Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) was established in 1980 as the country’s collective representation of the Co-operative Movement, and they currently work with over 60 affiliates.

Their comprehensive programs help co-operatives strengthen their enterprises, including national & sector-wide representation, co-operative formation, scholarship programs, disbursement of co-op grants, co-operative education, marketing and publicity, and more.




To further elaborate the differences, here are 2 examples serving a similar need– Dialogue In The Dark being a social enterprise and Runninghour being a co-operative.

Dialogue in the dark

Picture from Esplanade

Dialogue in the Dark’s vision as a social enterprise and training facility is to raise awareness about the visually impaired, change perceptions about the disabled and marginalised in the community, and promote a more inclusive society.

Persons with visual impairment are employed to be tour guides, bringing visitors through everyday situations in complete darkness. Visitors, whom need not be members, learn what it means to live without sight. By navigating in darkened environments, they also appreciate the value of effective communication and Understand those who see the world differently.




Picture from Runninghour

Runninghour is a sports co-operative formed on the 18 April 2009 by a group of fitness enthusiasts. It promotes integration of persons with special needs through running – including the mildly intellectually challenged, physically challenged, and visually challenged.

As a registered co-operative, interested participants – both guides and persons with special needs are required to sign up as members in order to support the cause and mission. The members are mainly students and ex-students with the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN), and visually challenged runners.


I hope this gives you a better understanding of co-operatives and social enterprises. Do well and do good, join the co-operative movement today!



Brought to you by Digital Business Challenge.