Getting down to business

Through coop clubs, students from 13 schools pick up skills involved in running a business

They may be young, but some students are already learning how to run a business.

From sourcing products and doing market surveys to managing accounts and manning counters, students from 13 schools have been involved in a Singapore National Cooperative Federation (SNCF) initiative to learn what it takes to run a social enterprise.

In the last three to four years, the SNCF has worked with the schools to set up coop clubs, which are businesses with a focus on delivering social good.

Its trainers conduct lessons on finance and marketing for students and teachers. It also provides each club with seed funding of up to $1,500 over two years and organises tours for students to cooperatives and FairPrice's Warehouse Club in Joo Koon to understand the benefits of bulk purchases and value packs, and how to pass on savings to customers.

The SNCF, which leads the cooperative movement in Singapore, hopes to set up three to five more clubs in schools by the end of the year.

Students decide what they want to sell and turn up with business plans, with help from their teachers. Proceeds from sales go towards social causes or to school funds.

BUSINESS MINDSET

I'm learning how to have a business mindset - to think positively, to take calculated risks and to be daring to try things.

HONG KAH SECONDARY 3 STUDENT JOSEPH GOH

SNCF chief executive Dolly Goh said the hope is that these students learn values such as resilience and responsibility and understand social entrepreneurship.

Hong Kah Secondary School started a coop last year where its students put up for sale items they make in the design and technology lab such as mobile phone holders.

Their first sales event was in February and they now have plans to sell school memorabilia to students and alumni in June, before their school merges with Jurongville Secondary next year.

Secondary 3 student Joseph Goh said: "My father would like me to learn business skills so I can take ownership of his home automation company next time. I'm learning how to have a business mindset - to think positively, to take calculated risks and to be daring to try things."

Mr Desmond Chia, subject head for design and technology, who is in charge of the coop club, said: "We want our students to understand the process of making a useable product, from what goes into making something to setting prices."

Student Siti Afrida Yanti Rizawati Ridzuan, 14, said being part of the coop helped her to step out of her comfort zone and overcome stage fright as she had to share details about upcoming sales events during school assemblies.

Both students are part of Hong Kah Secondary's Management, Innovation, Community, Enterprise Club, which trains students in business skills through activities such as competitions.

Over at Raffles Institution (RI), students have been working out of their own coop selling school T-shirts and drawstring bags designed by their schoolmates.

Ren.co, started in 2016, is the social enterprise arm of the school's Raffles Entrepreneur Network. It donated 20 per cent of its $4,000 profit in its first year to the 1823 Fund, set up by RI to help needy students and sustain school initiatives.

Alumnus Darren Wee, who was in the club's pioneer cohort, said the experience taught him hard skills, such as tabulating accounts in spreadsheets, as well as soft skills, which include working with others.

"You learn to balance your own ideas and opinions with others and manage relationships as a team," said the 18-year-old.

Ms Chloe Chong, 19, who graduated from RI last year, said: "It equipped us with what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

"But even if we don't (become entrepreneurs), we learnt valuable life skills such as perseverance, resourcefulness and leadership."

Their juniors have since produced a new series of T-shirts for the five school Houses and there are plans for a food subscription service through which students can order snack packs in between lectures.

The club has an Instagram account to market its merchandise and has also created a Google form for pre-orders.

Year 6 students Karen Wong and Li Qing Ke said their first sales experience was "quite chaotic".

"We didn't expect running a shop to require so much organisation. And because we publicised the sales so well, so many people came into the shop and we didn't have enough manpower," said Ms Wong.

But Ms Li said they learnt from their mistakes. "We set collection dates by batches and adjusted them according to co-curricular activity schedules and relayed messages with clearer details."

Their teacher-in-charge Amelia Heng said SNCF's initiative to cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit in students is in line with the Education Ministry's push towards innovation, taking risks and building resilience.

"For students, it's taking risks in a safe environment where they can afford to make mistakes and try again."