RETIREES usually look forward to putting their feet up after years at the coalface but that wasn't how former corporate professionals Helen Lim and Sally Kang were going to spend their golden years.
Taking the adage "if you want something done well, do it yourself" to heart, they started the Silver Horizon Travel Co-operative.
The social enterprise organises group vacations for people over the age of 40, with "silver-friendly" travel itineraries including pre- and post-trip bonding sessions for members.
Mrs Lim, a former human resources professional, uses her corporate skills to chair the enterprise while 62-year-old Ms Kang, who is an accountant by training, is treasurer.
Like many other business ventures, Silver Horizon started out with a chat over coffee. The idea was first mooted back in 2010 during one of many typical gatherings of seniors at a cafe Mrs Lim, 67, used to own and operate.
Many of those present had heard or experienced first-hand how travel agencies often get it wrong for seniors, by planning visits to monuments that require climbing hundreds of steps, day after day of theme parks, and long periods just for shopping.
The idea that emerged was a simple one: Let more seniors see the world the way they want to see it.
"We realised that as a group of people, we should come together to do the kind of travel we want... take things into our own hands," said Mrs Lim.
It took a while to get going but by February 2012, enough people were gathered to launch Silver Horizon, with the help of the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF).
The SNCF guided the co-operative through the application process and provided it with a business framework and even a relationship manager, which provided much-needed governance right from the start, said Mrs Lim.
The 18 founding members bought between $1,000 and $5,000 worth of Silver Horizon's shares each at $50 per share, giving the co-op its starting fund of about $45,000.
They decided to set up the body as a co-operative and not a company as they wanted it to be focused on the members first and foremost.
Co-operatives are social enterprises but beyond that they have a specific membership base, unlike "normal" companies where potentially anyone can become a shareholder or investor.
As SNCF chief executive Dolly Goh puts it, co-operatives "are formed by members, for members". "(This makes) them the best advocates of their own social mission by running sustainable enterprises," she noted in a statement.
Silver Horizon has been operating at a loss so far, in part due to costs from designing and running its website, and registration and annual fees paid to SNCF, but the gap is narrowing. Ms Kang expects to operate in the black by this year.
Numbers, both in terms of members and finances, remain very important to the group.
"The power of numbers is very important. With a large group, we have more bargaining power," said Mrs Lim.
It is also more likely that there would be enough members interested in any one destination to make planning a trip worth it, she added.
The co-operative now has about 200 members - the oldest aged 86 and the youngest, 41 - as well as funds of $75,000.
It works with major travel agencies to come up with customised group tour packages that are more senior-friendly. These could include well-paced itineraries that do not require too much walking and meals that are less oily or salty. It also bargains for lower prices.
The co-operative has one request it always makes: "Regular toilet breaks," Mrs Lim said with a chuckle.
In addition, it holds bonding sessions for tour participants before and after the trips.
Before departure, these can include briefings on administrative details. After the trip is over, a second gathering is held for fellow travellers to connect and even discuss the next possible destination.
Mrs Lim said the gatherings help seniors to stay social and active. She added that loneliness is a problem, something she herself is aware of as she enters "the ageing arena".
"Sometimes, (the travellers) come by themselves, and even if they have friends, (their friends) might not have the time to travel. So we provide a platform for these 'singles' to connect with each other."
The co-operative actively facilitates such meet-ups.
For a trip last month to Meizhou in China's Guangdong province, Silver Horizon arranged for two single women - both in their 60s - to meet privately first and see if they could be roommates. The two have since become good friends and travel buddies.
Silver Horizon tries to organise at least one trip a month and has already sent travellers to Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Tanjung Pinang in Indonesia's Riau Islands, so far this year.
Its bargaining power means the prices are often lower than those for similar jaunts.
A 10-day tour to Switzerland in August last year cost only $3,000 per person, and that included visits to pricey cities like Geneva, Zurich and Lucerne and even flights on Singapore Airlines. That kind of trip could set a person back $4,000 or more on the open market.
The co-operative's social mission also extends beyond its own members.
In May last year, Silver Horizon partnered with the Lions Befrienders Service Association - a voluntary welfare organisation for the elderly - to take a group of underprivileged seniors to Malacca.
Some of those seniors had never travelled overseas before and some did not even have passports.
The trip was made possible by a $3,000 donation from Mr Goh Khee Kuan, 66, who was inspired after hearing a speech by Mrs Lim on the co-operative.
The sum not only funded part of the trip but also some of the fees needed to apply for or renew the seniors' passports.
The co-op has no staff and no functioning office, with only an address for registration and mailing purposes.
The founding members see it as mostly a labour of love, with the executive committee working on a voluntary basis for no pay.
But this is set to change soon. Mrs Lim and Ms Kang said they will soon hire staff and look for an office with a counter to service potential members and travellers.
They also hope to expand their membership to a thousand by the co-operative's fourth anniversary in February 2016 and want veterans from the travel industry to join them.
For Silver Horizon, "it's not about the profits", Mrs Lim said.
"It's really about the social mission, to help promote active living and learning through customised travel programmes for seniors, and to use travel as platform to build friendships."
What are co-operatives?
HERE is some information on co-ops.
Co-operatives are owned and democratically controlled by their own members, who decide on the social mission and elect leaders.
They must have a minimum of 10 members motivated by the purpose of meeting their collective needs, as opposed to companies, which are primarily driven by profits.
Unlike companies, which register with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, co-operatives are regulated by the Registry of Co-operative Societies under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
Locally based co-operatives pay levies to the Central Co-operative Fund (CCF), for which SNCF is the secretariat. The funds are used to develop and promote the co-operative movement, and help co-operatives in need.
Some government aid schemes for small- and medium-sized enterprises, such as the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme, are not available to co-operatives, but they can apply for grants from the CCF.
Co-operatives are formed for a variety of functions. Some allow members to seek financial help more easily while others offer broad services such as health care and education.
Co-operatives may issue dividends, which are surplus revenues returned to members proportionate to their ownership shares.
Some examples of local co-operatives include NTUC FairPrice Co-operative, the Singapore Police Co-operative Society and TCC Credit Co-operative.
Information from the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF).