Rebels For a Cause, with Simon Duffy and Markus Vähälä

Good Things In Life Podcast episode 113 thumbnail with SImon Duffy and Markus Vahala
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If we want to live in a world that truly acknowledges the value of all people as contributors and members of their community, we need to understand the way community functions as part of the world. Grassroots movements that lift up marginalized members of the population almost always start at the local, community level, but they also work within a globalized context that links communities together internationally. So what can an activist or advocate do if they want to be successful in effecting change that has ripple effects throughout the community and beyond?

For Citizen Network’s Simon Duffy and Markus Vähälä, the answer lies in an understanding of what activism really is: rebellion. After all, any effort to challenge the status quo is inherently a subversive act. The goal of real social change shouldn’t be simply to make sure the message reaches the most powerful ears, it should be to take that power for ourselves and spread it throughout the community at large. And when communities link together on an international scale to share resources and strategies, this power can spread even wider. I was thrilled to welcome Simon and Markus to the podcast to talk about their work with Citizen Network and their take on how efforts to build a more inclusive society need to begin at the local level, but shouldn’t stay there. 

Simon is Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform and is a founding member of Citizen Network Cooperative. He developed the concept of the Keys to Citizenship (2003) and led the development of Self-Directed Support in England with In Control (2003-2009). He also worked closely with people with learning disabilities and their families on deinstitutionalisation and the development of Personalised Support, establishing Inclusion Glasgow in 1996. Simon is also active in the movement for Basic Income and is working on the development of Basic Income Plus to replace disability benefits. Simon has a doctorate in moral philosophy and his awards include the RSA’s Prince Albert Medal and the Social Policy Association Award for outstanding contribution to social policy.

Markus is the CEO of the Citizen Network Coop, an organization that aims to create a world where all people can work together, accelerate learning, create systemic change and ecology around people as active citizens and communities as creators of sustainable environments of wellbeing. He is also director of international affairs for Finland’s Kukunori, a network of NGOs across the country. He has worked professionally in the fields of disability and mental health since 1998 and is also a musician who collaborates with artists and organizations from all over the world to develop new global music culture.

Listen now to my talk with Simon and Markus, who had some great thoughts on democratizing advocacy and embracing rebellion and teamwork as essential parts of the activist’s toolkit. 

Speaker 1 (00:00:03):

Welcome to the Good Things in Life podcast, committed to bringing world-class ideas, conversations, voices, and thought leaders to parents and educators. So kids with intellectual disabilities will have the support they need to build positive inclusive lives at the heart of community. Here’s your host sister, mom, researcher, writer, speaker, and perpetually curious, Genia Stephen

Genia (00:00:37):

Simon Duffy and Marcus Vähälä, thank you so much for joining me today. I’ve been looking forward to speaking with both of you about your experiences and Citizen Network for a long time. This, this we’ve had this on the calendar for a couple of months now, and I’ve been really looking forward to it. So thank you so, so much for joining me today. Pleasure. I would, I would love it if you would start by introducing yourselves and, um, just tell us about yourself, Markus. Why don’t you go first?

Markus (00:01:10):

Hello, my name is Markus Vähälä. I’m from Vantaa, Finland far away, but close to you on this, on this, uh, uh, meeting today. Uh, lovely to be here. Uh, I’m a CEO of Citizen net Network Cooperative supporting this huge global network, including, uh, over 200 organizations and 700 individuals. Uh, my background, uh, uh, is, uh, many sided. Um, I’m a professional in the social and healthcare scene. Uh, I’m a systemic developer of, of social and healthcare services. Uh, I’m also a facilitator of, of many online and on-site, uh, innovation groups. Um, I’m in politics. Um, I’m a rapper, uh, with the oldest rap band in Finland doing music every week. Uh, and, uh, I have family, so that keeps me busy. Uh, but I it’s, it’s nice in this digital times that you can meet, and discuss with people all around the world and actually do something together.

Genia (00:02:23):

It is, it is. And I’m so glad to be meeting with both of you today. Markus, how did you first become involved with or concerned about people with disabilities?

Markus (00:02:36):

Uh, um, I’m a person with disabilities. I have a physical disability. I was born, uh, with, um, problems in, in, um, in my legs. And, um, when I was a very small child, um, I got support and help and physiotherapy and, uh, and also my legs were operated. So I, I could attend to normal education system in those days in the 70’s and Finland, it wasn’t so, so certain. Um, to, to have inclusive schools and, uh, that changed my life in, in, in a way. So, um, I guess I had it in my back of my head of this, uh, of, of thoughts of how to, how to help other people that that was, uh, in my head when I first studied in business college, I’m a computer specialist in, in the beginning of 90’s, but then, then I changed career, uh, to nursing. So I studied international nursing.

Markus (00:03:42):

It was new at the time 95 in Finland. I studied in English with people from 12 different countries and all of us, we had a professional background. And little by little, I got more interested into the philosophy of, of care and nursing science. And I got involved in, in groups of professionals providing services also in the disability field. And I thought that when I graduate, I will try to travel straight away to do the other side of the world, but I got a job 4 kilometers away from my home. So, so immediately I got into European action. So a European Union provides a lots of different programs, including education and youth work. And somebody from the Ministry of Social and Healthcare picked me up. And, uh, Marcos, Hey, you could be one of our, uh, innovation group, uh, around designing mobility and European wise, um, uh, programs, including people with intellectual disabilities.

Markus (00:04:54):

So, so I started working and developing this international programs in 2000. And little by little, uh, I, uh, I was working in a non-profit organization providing services. There’s quite a familiar here in Finland, this kind of system. And, um, my, my job was to, to, uh, create opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to learn more, uh, learn together, learn with other people and being mobile at those days. It, it was quite rare because of this, um, um, service provision system that everything that was extra was, was difficult to create an hour association. Where I work was against that sort of creating inclusive solutions and straightaway going into all directions and then taking risks and living the life. And, and, uh, because of my background in culture and art and music. So I got, uh, involved in action that included, uh, music making with others and, uh, theatre making with others.

Markus (00:06:14):

And, um, they, they became quite popular. So, um, I, I ended up supporting a punk group called Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, which was a group consisting of four, um, um, men with intellectual disabilities. And, uh, they, they became very, very famous and successful, and they also performed in the European song con contest for 200 million people. So that, so that, that sort of became a story in its own. And they tour around the world in the United States, in, in Asia, uh, also, uh, was it something like, like 20, 25 different countries and they, they became two movies. And then in the end it became a political campaign. So that’s, I, I started doing, uh, political action around 2007. And in the end, we, the idea was to, to bring about policies that would help, uh, inclusion, but also self direction of life. And who is the person who knows most about these things?

Markus (00:07:35):

Simon Duffy. And Simon Duffy was in Finland and we met. And, uh, we became friends and little by little, we, uh, while, while getting to know each other, we had this kind of dream of, of, of why don’t we, we, we create this kind of, um, network of, of people sharing similar goals and making a change. And somehow, uh, I guess it’s that, it’s the tide that, that took us. And now we are here, um, and creating a lot of action together with people with this kind of citizenship approach. And then we have found out that, hey, this is the way that we bring people together. This is something that we can share. Uh, this includes all the things that we want to be bold with. We want to learn by ourselves, but also create this kind of platform and tools and skills to make this happen. And we have learned that, that we are not alone. Lot of people around the world have now this idea of joining forces, learning together, and also creating impact. So it’s a very, very interesting phenomenon. And I guess Citizen Network is, is also a rebel

Markus (00:08:56):

Around this scene because we are the network for the rest of us. We’re a network for people that are not invited to change the world as it is. And we are creating a platform that can do that.

Genia (00:09:12):

So there are so many things that you just said about your, who you are in the work that you have done that to me sounded like, um, a next series of podcast episodes. So when we’re finished, when we’re finished recording this conversation, let’s have that conversation about booking some, some next shows. That’s um, so interesting. Simon, can you please introduce yourself?

Simon (00:09:40):

And I follow that? No, I love the idea that with a network of rebels Markus though, we’re not, you know, we haven’t yet been invited to Davos halfway, or, uh, we’re not, we’re not quite operating in that way. And, um, yes. So I, I love listening to Markus. I learned so much again about him, but the, yeah, so me, who am I? So I’m a little bit older than Markus for my sins. Um, and I grew up in the North of England. Um, my initial experience of disability was non-existent I would say, I mean, not, I think, and that’s a function of like the way my country was organized. I didn’t think about disability growing up at all at all. And I’ve said to friends with disabilities since I never met anybody with a disability, even when I went to university. So it really was not something I ever thought about, uh, a bit like Markus said, I, I ended up going into healthcare, but in a very different way.

Simon (00:10:50):

So university, I studied philosophy and politics and, and I’ve maintained a kind of interest in that. So I have a doctorate in philosophy and I’m, I kind of, yeah. I like thinking about those kinds of things. So that’s been an important part of my life is trying to think about what’s what’s true, what’s right. All of those kinds of questions, but I also had this sense that I should do something. But if you’re trained as a philosophy, you’ve no idea what that is. So I kind of thought, Oh, well, what should I do? And for a while, I was packing plastic dinosaurs at the natural history museum. If you ever, if ever seen films like Paddington, then you’ll be familiar with the natural history museums, amazing building in London and in London in that building, all the work gets done behind the walls, the walls peel away, and the office staff go in there. And I was in there for, for about a year, trying to work out what to do by unpacking plastic dinosaurs and selling plastic dinosaurs at the weekend. Um, but I found out there was this thing called the NHS Management Training Scheme. Now the NHS may be familiar to US, um, listeners as this home of terrible socialized medicine, uh, what it is, is an absolutely brilliant system for getting free health

Simon (00:12:07):

Care for everybody. And that means

Simon (00:12:09):

We have half the health costs of the US and much better health coverage, hey. But anyway, that’s, that’s maybe another podcast debates, but, um, anyway, so I, I joined as a kind of young manager. You didn’t have to have any professional training in physiotherapy or nursing, or be a doctor. You were just a generalist and I’m on that. So this was 1988, I started that. And then as part of the first four months of that training, you basically got to visit every aspect of the NHS. And one week I went to a place called Lawton lodge, and this is down in the South Coast of England, near a town called Eastbourne. And there I met people with intellectual disabilities for the first time. In this absolutely horrendous institution, not a big institution by the times, it was actually, there’s probably about a hundred people labs or other small institution, but it was shockingly horrible. The management was appalling. I was absolutely shocked at the way staff treated people, but it wasn’t the negative stuff in a funny way. That was the most impactful.

Simon (00:13:25):

What really struck me was just the joy of being with people who were different to my experience, people who didn’t speak, using words anyway, who, um, who some people have visual impairments. Um, you know, all, all of the folk had intellectual disabilities, kind of whatever that means. Um, they were in this terrible environment. But to me, it was like a real strange human pleasure to meet these folk. And I just left, I was left with this question, why are we doing this to these people? And why aren’t they in my community? Why, why did I never, why have I got to the age of whatever I was then 23 or 34 or something, and I’d never met any, anybody with a disability. And I certainly know these kinds of wonderful folk. And, and, and so I, I kind of that became the pivot around which everything in my life and career changed. So I got us a common out of my NHS job. I didn’t really want to manage doctors anyway. It was rather painful.

Simon (00:14:29):

Um, but I went to work for a community organization, um, in London, which was actually had set up services for the first big institution to close in England, which was the place called Darenth Park Hospital

in Kent. And that place was closing and people moved into the community and the community services were, were pretty good by international standard even then in the late 80’s. But I must say I was like looking at these services and thinking, yeah, but these are okay, they’re way better than those institutional services, but they’re not that good, are they? And, and what really struck me was that people didn’t have much power. They were being forced to live with other people they hadn’t chosen to live with. They were being forced to do things, they didn’t really have any choice over. And, and in many ways, a lot of its field felt very institutional.

Simon (00:15:20):

And at that time, I was also lucky enough to meet people like John O’Brian and to hear about this idea of inclusion and, um, uh, in, in the UK at that point, the idea that had been very influential was called normalization. And then later that became known as social role valorization, but none of those things are particularly appealed to me. I thought they were interesting, but it was when I heard people like John talking about inclusion, that my ears really pricked up that as a philosopher, I was thinking, why did nobody talk about this when I was studying political and moral philosophy at Edinburgh? Yeah. Because this is a powerful ideals, like why can’t people who are different learn to live together, form relationships with me. And all of this seem to me much, much more interesting and valuable of many of the common public policy goals, you know, increasing utility, growing the economy.

Simon (00:16:17):

What’s all about where naturally human life is about relationships and joy and beauty and, and much, much more meaningful things. So anyway, that was my, the beginning of my journey, uh, junior, and then I, so I started playing around with systems, I suppose, that’s I had it of kind of obsession that Markus talks talk to refer to really, I, I was really obsessed for certainly 20 years with the question of how practically can we get power into the hands of people with intellectual disabilities and also their families. And I was amazed and shocked at how poorly families were treated by our system. I mean, people were just really rude professionals, really rude about families in a way, is somebody with no professional training. Actually, I just had a bit shocking, um, as that hadn’t been normalized to the kind of prejudices that were against families.

Simon (00:17:11):

Um, and so I, you know, I started playing around, right? Well, let’s get the funding and let’s give it to this person, or let’s give it to their, their mum and let’s figure out how we can support a better solution and how we can get people out of residential group homes, into their own homes, how we can get people into real jobs, all of that kind of inclusion stuff at a very practical level. And then because of that work, I got a, something called a Harkness fellowship, which is a, I don’t know Genia have ever heard of a Rhodes scholarship. Yeah, well, it was like, this is the American version of a Rhodes scholarship. So Rhodes scholarship was basically money put together by Sasol roads, a big fan of the British empire to persuade Americans that the British empire was a good thing. And so Edward Harkness at the Commonwealth fund in New York said, Oh, we’re not having any of that nonsense.

Simon (00:18:02):

What we’ll do is we’ll get people from the Commonwealth and get them to come and live in America and see what a great thing America is. So in 1994, I lived with my wife in Colorado and we looked actually at my time is spent a lot with kids in inclusive education. So Danny and Haley, I went to school with them to see how the school system worked in practice. But I also use the time to read more deeply and think about things. I wrote a read read and wrote a lot about the disability Holocaust and, and started thinking about the welfare state as a whole system. And when I came back in 95, we, I set up an organization in Glasgow called Inclusion Glasgow to get people out of the big institution there, using these kinds of methods. Everybody develops their own plan, everybody has their own budget, everybody has their own support that worked really well. And so then I started working with local government in Scotland and England on how do we change the system? So that becomes normal for everyone. Um, and that was a kind of a re a bit of a roller coaster, uh, after having spent 10 years talking about this stuff, expecting everybody to go. Yes, of course. That’s how it should be. Yeah.

Genia (00:19:18):

It sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it. Of course. Yeah.

Simon (00:19:21):

And, and then, and people go now, that’s never going to happen, Simon. Certainly in about 20 2005, the government suddenly went, Oh yeah, that is a good idea. And suddenly I became a kind of poster child for this concept and, and was fated and given little awards. And, um, but it was actually a really rather demoralizing experience because you saw how good ideas were also corrupted by the system. Uh, you know, what the people, politicians and civil servants never even really spent any time trying to understand it. They had a very simplified notion of what was going on and then actually did some crazy stuff around implementing change. And I actually just walked away from it all in 2009, very upset. Really what felt like, I mean, actually looking back, my reaction was kind of childish because, you know, in the end, if anything you do just becomes the world’s property, you know, but, but it, it, at some level it did feel like 20 years of work was just being screwed up by the government.

Genia (00:20:29):

I it’s funny, I’ve had this conversation a lot lately. Just the, you know, we were talking, I was talking to Carol Blessing, um, on the punk podcast. I don’t at the time of this recording. I don’t think Carol’s episode has been released yet. I think that’s coming up in the next few weeks. But Carol Blessing, um, and I were talking about person centered planning and the fact that it’s been really co-opted by, um, systems and governments to be, um, forced on people. And it’s obviously not person centered planning anymore. Um, and I was just speaking with Susan Thomas, who was a colleague of Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger you mentioned normalization and social role valorization. And she and I were just talking about, um, exactly what you said is that, you know, the, the, what people do with a good idea, um, is, is not something you can control. And in fact, people can’t take responsible ought not to take responsibility for what happens once the good idea goes out into the world. Um, and, uh, and then there was somebody else I was talking to about this recently. So anyway, this theme of doing good works and then hoping that things don’t get too perverted, I think is a major concern for thought leaders or thought leaders.

Simon (00:22:06):

Yeah, I suppose what I tried to do in 2009, setting up the center for welfare reform, which is a think tank I run is, is say, well, what if we get the people who are having, what I notice is a big disjunction between the people doing the real work, thinking the thoughts or crafting the solutions and the people of power. So what I tried to do initially in 2009, was create a community out of those people. And, and one of the things we did through the center is take good ideas and try and share them in a way where they protected their integrity. But I think it’s still subject to all those same forces. So I can see those at work today. I think citizen network is in a way of funny kind of response to this problem, because in a way, if we just start cooperating more, that’s my sense is that you can’t like, as smoker says, you’re still the rebels, but the rebels can go and organize and build and do stuff that the pattern we go through, doesn’t have to be just taking our good idea up to the powerful and watch them screw it up.

Simon (00:23:12):

Um, I call the often the, the model of public policy-making I see in practice is what I call whispering in the ear of the minister. That’s a success for a think tank is we know this important powerful person, and we’ve persuaded them that this idea is good, true, important, or whatever, the next big thing, and they’re going to implement it. That’s seen as success. And I think that’s a kind of failure, isn’t it? Because what you’re doing really is, is denying the democratic nature of the society. We should be building. I, we don’t live in democracies.

Simon (00:23:46):

Really. We built, we live in

Simon (00:23:48):

Oligarchies where we give enormous power to small numbers of people, but we’re complicit with that when we play this game. So I think in no, Susan’s right, you shouldn’t, you should certainly shouldn’t crucify yourself. What other people do with a good idea. That’s their problem, not your problem. But on the other hand, I think what Citizen Network is trying to do is say, you know, we do have good ideas and we have the power of ourselves and we need to persuade not the powerful, but we need to, in a sense, persuade citizens to become powerful.

Simon (00:24:22):

Does that make sense?

Simon (00:24:23):

I mean, we actually have to animate our own citizenship, not just become complicit with a system that’s eroding citizenship.

Genia (00:24:31):

Right. Markus this sounds like a really good spot to say, what’s the Citizen Network. Just tell us what it is we’re talking about here. Citizen Network is an open network for individuals and organizations, but one to, uh, build better citizenship for all. So the idea is to, to take that the local things and make them global and global things local, the joining forces, uh, in a network where learning resource sharing and a commitment to values and goals are possible. It’s also a forum for people to discuss about these things, to understand better what the change is going to be and build structures for this, uh, change that can happen individually, local communities, national nationwide. And then, uh, on a global scale, uh, Simon mentioned that that there’s this changes, um, in, in the air. And one of the changes is, is, is the question of power.

Markus (00:25:49):

A lot of, lots of these things, uh, related to the question of power and the way businesses and, uh, large organizations are now being deconstructed and reconstructed, uh, offers opportunities for better citizenship. As the need of middle management is, is eroding. So there is less and less need for our structures that obstruct. So we need to research and point out those places, uh, where we can through collaboration, create a permanent and long lasting better structures than before. And this is, this is a question that that’s, uh, luckily is something that the other organizations around the world, ah, are now researching. So if we surf the same waves, we can learn a lot from those organizations with lots of resources, lots of talent and expertise, and then make a copy of that in, in, into, into the framework that we are using. Likewise, the other organizations are also interested in Citizen Network, Hey, who are these people that, that do it anyhow, and this kind of mentality of, of doing it.

Markus (00:27:18):

And if anyhow follows the, the, the aesthetics of, of punk culture, where you don’t have to have almost anything to do something. And as we are a global network, there are places that are not, are not filled with opportunities and resources, but are doing great work. So the impact question becomes very relevant here. So we don’t need billions of dollars, we don’t need this and that to, to, to create a wellbeing. And actually that, that, no, there’s a resource problem, as we can read from the news that that, uh, prices are going up and down, investments are going up and down. It’s due to the fact that, that the economic system is now struggling with all this money and resources available. And they are trying to put that money into places to safeguard, they’re, uh, owning something. So, so the real life and these kind of mega trends, um, uh, uh, in constant dialogue.

Markus (00:28:31):

And while we understand more, uh, each day, and we can have these, uh, environments where we can come together and learn about these things, uh, creates confidence. We are, we are living uncertain times. Uh, on the other hand, we have always lived uncertain times. And then the more skills you are to understand your place and opportunities and, and this kind of motivators, then it, it comes also, um, more clear that, that the picture that, that, where are we and where we should be heading. And Citizen’s Network it’s also about creating data for people to use this kind of data, as they say, is that it’s a gasoline of these days. So where’s the data that tells all of us who is safeguarding data, who, um, who is helping people to understand, um, all these information that, that we have in the world to maintain, um, and develop better societies. Uh, I’m very interested in this kind of ecological thinking where you create societies that can sustain more than 100 years. That should be the main goal of all of us. So people included into this discussion and action. No. So that’s why I say Citizen Network.

Genia (00:29:59):

Right? So one of the things that I am loving and thinking new thoughts about as you are both speaking new thoughts about Citizen Networks specifically, is, um, you’re mentioned your discussion about power, your discussion about rebellion, um, your discussion about resourcefullness in connection and collaboration. And I recently, well, not that recently now, but relatively recently read an article by a black author, um, who was, uh, the article was written to white people by a black author about allyship and the problems with allyship when, what we need are accomplices. And part of the, I wish I could remember the name of the author, and unfortunately I can’t give, give appropriate credit here. So, um, if I can find the article again, I will include it in the show notes, but, um, they were talking about the, an accomplice is somebody who helps you to, you know, commit an act of rebellion, perhaps even crime.

Genia (00:31:21):

Um, but the idea of this was the deconstruction of systems that, um, keep people oppressed. And it strikes me that part of what Citizen Network is trying to do is act as is gathered together. People who can be, or into organizations who can be accomplices for the vision and mission of other people in organizations, right? So there’s a focus on the citizenship of people with disabilities, but there’s a recognition that, you know, the full, full citizenship and reparations of, you know, black communities in the US are black people in the US needs to be addressed as part of that network of citizenship around the world. In order for us to be successfully building societies who can sustain themselves for greater than a hundred years, or I’m not really sure, to be honest, I feel like I’m kind of blabbering my thoughts out as I’m processing them. Um, but I guess my point is, I’m thinking about this idea of gathering together as accomplices in each other’s missions to a better,

Simon (00:32:32):

One of the things that inspired the original design. And we won it with some other people like Kate Fulton, who, a

Simon (00:32:40):

Friend who was also one of the co-founders. Well, what we were kind of interested in is why, why is inclusion and citizenship not a social goal for all of us? Like it, once it becomes just a disability concept, we’ve already kind of lost half the battle, because what we fall into is this concept that, which I think is where normalization was when wrong a little bit is, it’s almost like we’re saying, you know, what society currently values is what we should use to measure what success looks like. No, because society is stupid, all sorts of stupid things.

Genia (00:33:19):

I would argue that what normalization really said is that people should have the normal, typical opportunities and not be prevented from having them,

Simon (00:33:30):

But we should go further than that. G I just not, it’s not well, but that of course is really important because it’s exactly that because if your notion of how people should live is starts to become, this is what I saw in London in the, in the early 90’s, when people had adopted this notion that it was well, it’s an ordinary life we’re looking for. Well that’s okay. But when ordinary life is people living in poverty, that’s not okay. When an ordinary life is day-to-day racism, that’s not okay. Or an ordinary life means our local communities have no power or control over their own destiny. That’s not okay. So what we need to be thinking about is a higher level to amen, and that, and that people with disabilities have massive. And I don’t know whether, you know, like, so Citizen Network is not a disability network.

Simon (00:34:28):

I mean, disability has massively informed it. If you look at his membership, huge numbers of people have come here through disability, but many haven’t they’ve come here because they like the, the values. They like the way of working. They’re inspired by those things. And then, then you start to find, we really like her cooking with gas because then people are coming together around say, you know what? We need a system of basic income. So nobody’s poor any longer, you know what we need to transform neighborhoods so that everybody can be included and we can tackle injustice together. And I’ve seen so many of my friends with disabilities now, you know, they’re leading the way on these issues, but on socially important issues for everybody. And so that’s, that to me is part of what you’re describing. We, we have to raise the bar really, um, in where we have to be rebels, we have to challenge some of these things.

Simon (00:35:31):

And the great thing is it creates common ground when we do. So we saw all the people thinking mental health and the causes of mental health. How about a great deal in common with those of us who are worried about poverty or those of us who are worried about disability, because many of the factors that make life unnecessarily tough and challenging, we all experience. So let’s come together and work out how to campaign for basic income effectively. And if we learn how to do something well in England, let’s share that with folk in America and vice versa. And then let’s share that with folk in like Chris, who’s leading our work in Africa, let’s look at what they’re doing and let’s see how we can quickly communicate the best strategies with each other. Um, so yeah, that’s definitely, I think the territory we’re in, which is challenging, um, and raises all sorts of questions, but it’s, that’s where we’ve gone.

Genia (00:36:35):

Hey, there just a quick interruption to share an invitation with you. Have you ever wanted to sit down with some of my podcast guests and have a conversation directly live? They’re pretty awesome people. Now you can, every week I’ll be hosting the inclusionary podcast party where podcast, guests and listeners gathered together for conversations, connection, and networking. You can RSVP at I hope to see you there.

Genia (00:37:14):

So on a granular level, what does Citizen Network do? Like just so people have a sense of, you know, the nuts and bolts of it. So we’ve talked about the, we’ve talked about the idea of it, but what is it, what is it actually

Simon (00:37:31):

Good question. Well, like a network, it maybe networks don’t do anything, but it connects things that happen. Maybe I could pick a couple of things and Markus could pick a couple of things cause there’s so many things going on. Um, so I mean, I think I would pick, I’m going to think are going to talk about the UBI lab network and the neighborhood democracy. And Markus will probably talk about some of the more media kind of things, but yeah, so actually the UBI lab network is, uh, is a network of, at the moment, there are, it’s a network within a network. So it’s a network of labs. We call them UBI labs, UBI, universal, basic income. And it started here in Sheffield. Um, and we’ve grown it in partnership with citizen that works so that we’re now we’ve got these labs popping up. First of all, in England and in Wales then in, we’ve got one in Iceland, we’ve got one in Washington, DC, we’ve got one in the Netherlands we’ve got growing all the time.

Simon (00:38:27):

What we’re doing is, is really empowering small teams of people to develop campaigning activities around promoting basic income So, um, because in our view, you know, and there are all sorts of questions around how this works. I don’t want to try and to overly simplify it, but as a starting point in the modern world, nobody should be poor. Everybody should have a secure income. And, and so we need to, we need to tackle that issue of, uh, ongoing chronic poverty that that’s, that hits the first world as in a way, as much as, not as bad as, but really is in a very profound way. It’s hurts to the US the UK, just as it hurts people in, in Africa or India or Bangladesh, etcetera. So that’s, so what we’re doing is in a way growing networks, around clear actions and sh and communicating, learning about what’s effective through those networks a much earlier stage, um, is we only launched this last year, but I think it’s a very important element of Citizen Networks work.

Simon (00:39:39):

I, at least I believe it will be it’s the neighborhood democracy movement. So during the COVID period, many of us who’ve long time talked about, and many of whom come from the same people influenced by John McKnight. Um, and the, who was this part of the inclusion community saying actually, you know, it’s communities that we need to energize most of the solutions to the problems we face, can’t be solved by the kinds of systems we’ve created. They can only be really resolved by people coming together collaboratively at a truly local level. And it’s only, it’s a truly local level that you can start to see what’s possible in a community. It’s only with perception of what’s possible that people’s individual gifts can be properly expressed. And that’s why it’s in critical to the challenge of inclusion that neighborhoods come alive. But so many of them have been effectively drained of power, um, drain and power, not in the sense of necessarily formal systems, but there are, there’s so little expectation that people can organize together, plan stuff together, do stuff together.

Simon (00:40:52):

People are kind of in so many cities around the world and towns and villages, living a kind of suburban life, which is, you know, work, car, back home television. And that little cycle is it’s, it’s trapping us. It’s disconnecting us. And around us is, is a world which needs to be flourishing, not just in a social sense, but also in an environmental sense. What know we need tree is we need, we need flowers, we need bees, we’re killing the bees, you know, and in a funny way, this is, if we’re going to do anything about this, it means we should be gardening differently. We should farming from them, we should be planting our trees and streets differently. That’s a function of citizenship. It can only come alive if, if citizens are active and it can only really take root if we, as it were to take back our neighborhoods. So in the same way, we’ll be going through a process. We’ve been doing some podcasts and webinars. And, but what we will be doing over the course of the end of second half of this year is then starting to bring together neighborhood groups and connect them so that in the same way, they can learn from each other strategies to bring back power, but also mobilizing collectively to challenge some of the systems that also suck power out of communities. So those are two examples of, of kind of systemic work that we’re doing through the network.

Genia (00:42:27):

Yeah. And before we moved to Markus’s, uh, contributions here about what’s happening in Citizen Network, just what you were just saying about like, what does the world need and what does, what do communities and neighborhoods need? And the I’m just drawing this back directly to the, the feeling that people often express of sort of throwing their hands up and thinking, well, where are the places? And where are the places where people with, uh, intellectual significant intellectual disabilities can contribute? And you, you, the descriptions of the projects that you just outlined are, are rich with opportunity for thinking about where can citizens contribute and having a disability, whether it be intellectual or otherwise doesn’t exempt anyone from possibilities, for contribution in building our neighborhoods and communities into, into rich places of connection and, and, um, the places that thrive. Yeah. I’m losing my words here.

Simon (00:43:42):

Absolutely. No, but it exactly. And so in terms of things like what we call in this country, social care, or the kind of there’s Medicare systems, you know, how we’ve created systems, which actually incentivize communities to lose people. Uh, people, people are sucked out of their own neighborhood or their own community. We throw people away and we throw money after them instead. Yeah. And like

Genia (00:44:11):

Personal right now, for me, I’m sorry to interrupt, but it’s just so true. My sister, um, became very ill in November with [inaudible] syndrome, which is an autoimmune condition. And that causes all kinds of havoc with her or with people. But we’re currently at the stage in her convalescence that, um, she needs probably soon needs to leave the hospital, but how she is supported to return to community is what we’re being told is exactly what you’re talking about. You know, being sucked out of community with money thrown after her, instead of welcomed home. And I mean, you know, we’re not going to let that happen, but it’s,

Simon (00:44:56):

Yeah. People have to fight and they do win occasionally when you, but so many people, they don’t have the fight in them. They don’t have the fighters around them and the system incentivize it, the both pro private provision, the bureaucracy, the kind of what people washing their hands at a systemic level of people. And Oh yeah. I mean, actually the loss of people from our communities is one of the big drivers of community failure, because in a sense what we’re doing every time we’re doing that, we’re reinforcing the sense that communities don’t function anyway, do they? So you, every time we lose somebody we’ve really sent out the message communities don’t exist, communities don’t matter. And the system says, yes, communities don’t matter anymore. Communities don’t really exist. There isn’t real community, but it’s the systems repeated

Simon (00:45:48):


Simon (00:45:49):

That’s merely making that true. And in the end, yes, people do shrug. People do go, Oh, well that’s, is that what we do now? Is that the best? And they tell themselves that story just as a hundred years ago, families and people used to, except that their son or daughter would be sucked up into the big institution. Always that that’s what the professionals told them was the right thing to do. We’ve just, we still haven’t really moved on from that. We’ve just slightly repackaged the model. That’s right. Yeah.

Markus (00:46:23):

So the world is, is, uh, it’s, it’s individual, the feeling of how my life is, is very individual and that it, we are not alone in our environment. And that affects that, that what is possible and what is not like, like Simon mentioned that these are, these are like the history shows that, that these are fashions in a way they come and go and, and it’s us and our duty to create better fashion, how to think about things and how to, how to live our life together. And, um, that is, is, is, is that the core concept of that? Even though we are individuals, we can create better systems, better environments for us to function, to take, uh, more responsibility and, uh, of our community and, and build those communities. And those communities are also, uh, supporting our wellbeing. Uh, I don’t know if, if people in the United States know about Finland is, is by research the happiest country in the world. And why we are happiest is not because we are actually creating more happiness than the other countries, but we get rid of those that are obstacles of habits. And that’s why data comes in. There’s a lot of talkers, there’s a lot of action, but where is the data showing that do we create progress or not? And that data, Gambi

Genia (00:48:03):

Say more about that, getting rid of people that take away from the happiness.

Markus (00:48:08):

Yes. Uh, for example, there, there are bureaucracies that make people unhappy. Uh, there’s a level of income that makes people unhappy, like poverty issues. Uh, there’s question of, of, uh, of homelessness. I can see these around the world and in Finland, we, we just take that and get rid of it. And I want the rest of the world to do better. I don’t think that the level is high enough in, in many social and health issues. There is no sort of there’s huge amount of money, huge amount of, uh, of, uh, trained people, whereas the results,

Genia (00:48:53):


Markus  (00:48:55):

Yeah. So that’s why this kind of network is systemic. Things are very good because they, they democratize the data so that we can show to our politicians or people in power. Okay, you’re not doing very well. And they also sort of bringing the challenge to every citizens. Perhaps we could just do it anyhow. And this kind of, uh, citizen network is, is a platform where we can bring, uh, okay. Solutions, but also create this kind of big picture where, where those solutions are. And actually to see that, Oh, it wasn’t the solution. For example, just give people more money and the problems disappear, this kind of things. So, um, this, this kind of, um, um, information that was available for people in power are now open for everybody. And there shouldn’t be, um, platforms where people can meet and citizen network provides, uh, weekly meetings, monthly cafes to talk about everything related to citizenship.

Markus (00:50:07):

We have a newsletter coming out every week, informing what is happening there in the world. We have a website full of material, interesting articles and links to people. And so everybody is important in this sense. So you can ring in you as yourself as a professional, uh, as a network, as an organizations, because we are all in this, in, in us citizens. And we are all learning how to become better citizens and, and we can learn from each other. And, uh, to, to create more understanding, we have now in January formed our own community media called Citizen Network TV that makes weekly. So if you’re interested in, in, in, um, understanding better and creating more, more information and share that with others. So, so join, join us on zoom every, every Monday. So little by little, this kind of innovation that that’s been coming through, uh, for example, in the field of disability actually can bring, um, solutions to, to create better citizenship.

Markus (00:51:24):

So I’ve been involved in community media scene for over 12 years now, uh, supporting people with intellectual disabilities, creating their own media content and to facilitate learning inside the network of, of these networks. And luckily there are other networks also interesting in, in similar issues. So the question of information is as important as, as the question of how to create understanding through this information and that needs time, and it needs meetings like this with you Genia, so that we, we have the opportunity to talk about these things and ask this, this discussion to, to other people, because I know that the message and the learning that now we created here is, is, uh, benefiting us to, to create a better citizen ship for all.

Genia (00:52:27):

This might feel like a bit of a squirrel, meaning like, you know, I’m skittering off in a different direction. I’m curious. What, if any intersection there is between the work that citizen network has done and indigenous work around, um, reconciliation and understanding place like citizenship and place. And we can edit this out if the answer is, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Okay.

Simon (00:53:03):

I was watching last night on the YouTube, the leader of the Maori party in New Zealand, um, B, B uh, forced out of the New Zealand parliament, because he was saying, you’re having a discussion about, um, indigenous rights, Maori rights. Um, but you’re not entitled.

Simon (00:53:27):

Because this isn’t a Maori meeting. It’s very interesting. Like, I don’t know, I’ve worked in New Zealand and little bits and, and, and it’s a very interesting place because it’s one of the places that was colonized, but where the, the Maori people were not defeated. So in this sense, so they, they have a stronger hold on New Zealand culture than any other place I’ve been. That’s had that kind of Western Anglo sax and colonization go on. Uh, they, they, they were never defeated. They have, um, significant li better rights than in Canada and the US and in, and much better than, um, their, um, colleagues in Australia, which is, is in my experience, one of the worst places to go, to see how indigenous people have been poorly treated. So it’s interesting, we’ve spoken about this informally, but there isn’t any real, I don’t think there’s any real significant work going on.

Simon  (00:54:28):

Um, I mean, it’s interesting that people like Jack and Marsha when she was alive and inclusion press there, a lot of their work started to move in that direction. And certainly working in a little bit in, um, Western Canada, it’s, it’s been, uh, a big issue about how our diversity, that kind of human diversity, um, the experiences of people with disabilities mirror. I mean, we had a inclusion, uh, British Columbia at a conference where that was a major theme. I was speaking about citizenship alongside people from indigenous communities, talking about how their experience of the colonizing experience really overlapped massively with the institutionalization experience. Similar strategies use to undermine family, to, um, segregate people, to strip rights away from people. So I think the parallels are there. I can’t really think of anything very explicit that’s going on. I mean, we started in net citizen network in 2016. It’s amazing that range of things going on, but all of it’s going on really through the power of love,

Simon (00:55:37):

Not that there is

Simon (00:55:39):

Bits of money I’ve managed to get out of the European union to back certain actions, but it’s like by, by normal business standards, it would be considered nothing.

Simon (00:55:49):

Right. Of course. So, you know, we, we cast, yeah, exactly.

Simon (00:55:55):

So people have joined because they’re interested and, and usually the people are joining from the values. There’s no other real motive. Um, so I think there are many, many conversations we we’ve, we’ve not had yet. But I mean, have been some really interesting conversations actually on the action Mondays haven’t, there is a bit in that space. Um, and some, I think, I think the issue of, of, of which is slightly broader in terms, race, whatever that means, um, is definitely being debated by members of citizen network. And for me, that’s the thing that we talk about. We have this concept citizen fast, which is how do we, how do we celebrate our diversity? That’s, that’s what I really got from people like you to stay. And John O’Brien was this, and once you kind of open your eyes and think, why would we want, why would we want a world where people weren’t different?

Simon (00:56:52):

What would, what would that even begin to look like? I mean, it’s radically different, starting at the moment. Diversity is somehow the problem, whereas diversity should be the gift, shouldn’t it? Sameness should probably be a problem. That’s what we should worry is I think. Um, so at that level, I think where we’re in the space, we’re in, in the tent of thinking about that, but I don’t, can’t think of anything very significant really that we’re doing, that anybody in the network is doing at the moment on that. I can, um, I’ll start wittering Markus, what do you think?

Markus (00:57:28):

It’s a very interesting question. Genia and, uh, uh, what comes into my mind is language. Um, my mother tongue is finished and some philosophers say that you can only, uh, think certain things in a certain language. So pheno, agric languages, uh, of abroad concept in, in Siberia, in Russian site, in, in Finland, uh, in Hungary and Estonia, for example, and a lots of these minority languages are fading away. So it might be that the key elements of our survival, uh, also fading away. We are, um, at least here in Finland, very much effected by, by, by United States and this kind of English speaking culture, uh, on my hip hopper. Uh, it’s also my tribe in a way I’m, I’m working with people in Romania, in other, by John and in United States over hip-hop in Africa as well. So that’s something that, that links us together. So, um, in, in Finland, we are, we are very technology based, uh, community with great distances. So our tribes are there online, for example, my, my son, uh, Mika is leading a global community of players of, of over 70 players, um, which creates these kinds of, um, social group that’s, that’s totally online. That’s why, uh, in my work here in Finland, I’m supporting, um, social and healthcare services that happen in this online communities. But if we think that, that this kind of ingenious things that, uh, it’s it’s, um,

Simon (00:59:22):

Then we are working in citizen network with Mohawk community and, you know, States. So in, in, in, in Scandinavia, we have Sami people and these kind of questions of who owns the communities and what is the history and the discussion and debates that you are having there in the United States immediately to reflect to, to our communities here in Finland. And it creates this kind of tension because we don’t have the same history, right? We’re using terms and concepts that doesn’t feed into the big chair that creates some very interesting discussions and perhaps new solutions also. And this language somehow links us to that kind of debate that has not no links to the realities of our life here. So it’s very interesting discussion. Yeah. And, and I’m in Canada. Um, and it is interesting because the, because I’ve because I’m Canadian devastated, you know, from settler heritage, um, and, and I’m born and raised here, the idea that there are places for which colonization, like where the indigenous people are still just still there, you know, without these like, you know, without the impact of colonization or without the same similar impacts of colonization is, um, not my, not my cultural history, you know, as a, as a settler Canadian.

Genia (01:01:12):

So it’s what you’re saying is just very interesting to me because I hadn’t really thought about, um, thought about that. That’s really interesting. Okay. So,

Simon (01:01:23):

Sorry. I know we need to move on, but one thing we’re trying to do at the moment actually, which I think does relate to this. So we have a really great Spanish community, and you might not think of that as that like an oppressed indigenous community. But the thing about the Spanish community is they don’t really, don’t like speaking English. They’re not taught English that much. It’s not their culture. They have a lively, diverse, creative thinkers. And we are saying to them right now, just build a Spanish version of Citizen Network. The last thing we want to do is create a, you know, angler phonic defaults, and we don’t know what’s going to happen. Do we Markus? So we’re, so our friends, uh, out now talking about how they will do that. And, um, we don’t know if that’s part of the exploration and, and I think with any community, the thing that we hang on to all the time is we don’t want sameness.

Simon (01:02:18):

We want connection. We can create connection by finding people who enjoy speaking English and Spanish and can connect things and not everything has to be Lang linguistic. Anyway, one of the great, great talents in Spain is Esther Ortega, who is basically drawing beautiful pictures of every concept that we’ve come across and these speak well beyond language. But, um, yeah, I think that, so I think that this issue is going to be one of the things that we will have to kind of crack a little bit and, and it might seem a long way from, um, the indigenous communities of Canada to just what’s the, what does the Spanish do? But in a funny way, I think it’s, it’s all part of the same. We need to start embracing difference. The last thing we should be doing is deliminating diversity of communication from the network.

Genia (01:03:08):

Right? Right. Yeah. Absolutely. No, no, no. I appreciate that. That I, I think you captured there part of what I was, have to ING on in my mind, you know, the, the, yeah. We’re creating connection, but not, um, monochromatic community across the globe. Right. So, uh, tell me if people want to get involved in Citizen Network, what does that look like? Or what can that look like?

Markus (01:03:49):

I welcome everybody to join Citizen Network today, going into our website,

 Uh, if you just Google it, you will find it and there’s a join button, push it. And then you’re on the map. So from the map, you can see all the people and organizations that are connected with Citizen Network, probably your friend is already there, so you should be doing, doing the same. So, so that’s the way that you will get, receive our weekly newsletter with a lot of interesting things happening around the world. So feel free to join and feel free to read about very interesting projects that we are doing. Perhaps you would like to have your project, uh, um, in inside the citizen network. We also, uh, having a Slack community that you can join and actually online work together for better citizenship every day, every minute. So welcome. Yeah.

Simon (01:05:02):

Yeah. And I think that, like, as Markus says, if you’ve got a project and you want to find a way of connecting to others, strengthening your audience, then, um, talk to us. But I mean, you are the case study of the studio because you, we, we don’t have a podcast for citizen network and in a sense, doing it for Citizen Network would be as simple as you saying, Hey, I’m doing it for Citizen Network as well. And, you know, you could take some of the branding or, but actually what we do is then figure out with you practical ways of making sure that each podcast episode reached, you know, all of the people in Citizen Network, because why wouldn’t we want to do that? And then we’d be saying, Hey, there are these people doing this thing. Genia, see, you’re the podcast queen. Maybe you should talk because that’s in a way what it is is it’s, it’s looking for talented people with energy and, and something they really want to do.

Markus (01:06:03):

And just saying, do it as part of us building this bigger global community. Um, when we, when we started, we, you know, one way of thinking about it, it was, we thought these brilliant ideas, the ideas of inclusion, the idea is you talk about on your podcast. Um, there’s just so under appreciated still we, and we haven’t really, we haven’t really run up a big flag for this. The people have gone out and there’s been decades of great work. It’s had a real impact, but maybe it’s just time to be just a bit louder and a bit proud about it as well, because there are many negative forces coming in our direction. You know, through the kind of new eugenics, uh, through the kind of growing inequality and degradation of social systems. We need to stick together. We need to be a bit less. So I would say that would be the thing. If it’s for you, um, show us how to get a Citizen Network podcast, build it with us and for your listeners. Um, is this something you’d like to do that you’re passionate about doing now? It doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to create great costs in your life. It’s just, if you do it in a slightly different way, or with a slight, with a more global intentionality, maybe there’ll be some other great benefits that would come from it

Genia (01:07:23):

And people can. And the first thing people can do as Markus was saying is join the citizen network. And that would be the way to start connecting in and seeing whether there are ways of connecting the passions, the work that individuals and organizations are doing around the globe with each other to magnify and, and, uh, increase the momentum of the work that’s being done. Yeah. Well, any parting messages before we wrap this up, Simon and Marcus,?

Simon (01:08:00):

Or more, sorry, we are struggling, not struggling with Carol Blessing is leading some of this art for Citizen Network at the moment in the States, Tim Stainton and Gord Solak on the other side in, uh, Vancouver, uh, leading, but we do need to start creating more allies it, word debt, regular daytime stuff in your kind of timezone. So, you know, the world is round and there’s a, yeah, that is that’s. I think the priority for the Americas is start to create a bit more regular live things that have, uh, have working to your time scale. And then w we know where to go to feed and connect things.

Genia (01:08:46):

This is a perfect time for me to plug something that I’ve just started doing like today is, is week three, which I’m causing calling the inclusionary podcast parties, which once a week is a, um, zoom gathering with me and podcast guests and anybody else who cares about inclusion and changing the world, and just a chance to, um, you know, network and connect with people. And, um, so I’m just starting to try and get the word out about that. Um, so that’s one, one way, one small, you know, one small way that, uh, in our time zones in our, this neck of the woods, people can, can join in and connect with, um, connect with each other and become part of that greater and greater. We hope swell towards a better, better world and stronger communities.

Simon (01:09:46):

Excellent. We can help you with that.

Genia (01:09:48):

Excellent. Excellent. Simon, Marcus, thank you very, very much. I am enriched by this conversation. I am excited about possibilities. Moving forward. I’m clear about how Citizen Network is making a difference in the world and even more motivated to find ways to contribute. And I’m super grateful. Thank you.

Simon (01:10:13):

Thank you for reaching out to us. It’s a real pleasure. Thanks. Looking forward to working together. 

Speaker 1  (01:10:20):

Thank you so much for joining Genia on the podcast. We hope you enjoyed today’s episode. See you next time.


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Special thanks to Simon Duffy and Markus Vähälä for joining me this week. Until next time!

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Genia Stephen
Genia Stephen

Sister, mother, midwife, writer, speaker and perpetually curious. Dedicated to bringing you the voices, ideas and conversations of world class mentors and thought leaders in the field of disability.