A new global co-operative has launched with the aim of connecting people and groups all over the world, to which will enable them to address shared problems together.
Citizen Network Osk (‘osk’ is Finnish for ‘co-op’) began life in 2016 as an Anglo-Finnish adventure – and now connects over 1,000 active citizens in 34 different countries and 245 diverse groups and organisations.
Over the last six years, the network has supported waves of citizen-based innovations, including developing the UBI Lab Network to press for Universal Basic Income; creating the Neighbourhood Democracy Movement to enable direct democracy at a local level; promoting self-directed support to transform social care and put disabled people in charge of their own lives; and creating festivals of citizenship in Sheffield, Glasgow, Helsinki and Los Angeles.
On 24 October 2022 – United Nations Day – the organisation took the next step in its development with the launch of the Citizen Network Osk, registered in Helsinki, Finland.
Citizen Network Osk is now structured as a co-operative foundation for driving forward the work of Citizen Network. The co-op launched with 12 founding member organisations from Australia, the UK and mainland Europe, who have come together “to create a sustainable foundation to support its community of active citizens and to create a world where everyone matters,” says Dr Simon Duffy, a philosopher and social innovator who serves as president of the organisation.
The original network was created to address the severe problems faced by the world – problems, the network believes, “governments seem unable to respond to with the necessary urgency”.
These include the multiple threats to life and species diversity on the planet; fear, exclusion and scapegoating of the most disadvantaged; injustice, insecurity and increasing inequalities; and increased levels authoritarianism and democracy in retreat.
“Our view is that the answer to all these problems is more citizenship,” says Duffy. “We believe real citizenship is not about passports; instead it means having the seven keys to citizenship.”
He identifies these keys as:
- Living a life of meaning
- Having freedom to direct our own lives
- Having enough money to be independent
- Helping and being helped
- Having a home and a place to belong
- Making a life in the community
- Forming relationships of love.
“Everyone can have the seven keys to citizenship. Everyone can be respected as an equal,” he adds. “The world needs to change. We need to value everyone and support and encourage everyone to play their part in making the world a better place. We need to leave behind competitive individualism and greed and instead encourage co-operation and collective solutions.”
Duffy says the co-operative came out of a desire to take forward calls for action which people talk about, but don’t have any reflection in the world. “It will stand up for values of community and inclusion and aims to take those values forward and act on them” – this includes sharing more, co-operating more and learning more, he adds.
“We cannot wait for the system to be the solution. World problems are severe and worsening, yet we still look to governments for the answers instead of making the change [as citizens].
“We must help each other to act now. We do not need permission to act from national politicians or global authorities. We must create the changes we need and use these changes to help bring about the deeper systemic reforms the world urgently needs.”
The CEO of the new co-operative is Markus Vähälä. “I believe this is what the world needs at the moment: a network of people and trust, which is values-based, and works on the street level,” he says. “To support this momentum, we needed a new platform to bring together the people excluded in life and communities.”
He describes how the co-op will be providing training, education and support, and how technology will be a key part of this: “We see the real potential of technology serving people, to bring inclusion to people in society.”
Also involved in the project is professor Iiro Jussila of Skillmotor Finland, founding editor of the Journal of Co-operative Organisation and Management (JCOM / Elsevier) and founding member and a member of the Supervisory Board of Citizen Network Osk, who helped create the rules surrounding what the co-op is, how it acts and how it can scale.
“It is often said that co-ops are a tool for societal and systemic change through reaching markets and democracy,” he says, “but if you consider change that is sustainable in terms of economy and society, the interaction happens between the co-op and citizens. It is also a mechanism to combine and accumulate capital – human, technological, and economic capital – to create impact. In our case, global impact.
He sees real change happening through the neighbourhood democracy movements. “Everyone is somewhere!” he says. “And if we make citizenship real, we make neighbourhood democracy real. The key to co-operation is about changing things for the better […] We will be organising meetings around core challenges looking at how to create a world where everyone matters – firstly by people recognising other people around as people too, and seeing how we can help them.”
One of the challenges to this, he says, is collective global burnout. “Often the most interesting things are being done by people who are lonely – they are often working in areas and sectors and projects that are high risk, with little validation. They feel vulnerable, people are tired.”
The co-operative aims to provide a level of networking and peer support to these people, and has a goal to reach millions of people in the next few years.
“We want to be a powerful force for progressive change around the world,” says Jussila. “This era is made for co-ops and people empowerment, but somehow it seems like co-ops are being massively misused, and also underuse their main business advantage. They are an invisible giant. We want to help make them visible.”
Find out more about the co-operative at citizen-network.org/about/
Membership is currently only open to organisations, with individual membership launching in a few months’ time.