Janne Kouri awarded high-ranking Finnish decoration for his ground-breaking work with individuals living with paralysis

Janne Kouri awarded high-ranking Finnish decoration for his ground-breaking work with individuals living with paralysis

NextStep-founder, disability activist and entrepreneur Janne Kouri has received a high-ranking Finnish decoration, ‘Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland’, awarded by the President of Finland Mr. Sauli Niinistö. The decoration was presented to Kouri for his courage, irrevocability, and perseverance in advancing the rights, rehabilitation services, and wellness of people with disabilities.

Consul General Okko-Pekka Salmimies and NextStep-founder Janne Kouri
Consul General Okko-Pekka Salmimies and Janne Kouri at NextStep Los Angeles. Image: Macrae Wenger

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Okko-Pekka Salmimies, presented the decoration this week at NextStep Los Angeles, the first recovery center Janne Kouri founded in 2008.

The idea for founding a recovery center for people with paralysis came after a deeply personal experience. In 2006, Kouri’s life changed after a swimming accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. According to the doctors, there was very little hope for recovery and walking again was unlikely.

Janne Kouri refused to accept the prognosis. After doing some research, he and his wife found a rehabilitation center in Louisville, Kentucky, offering activity-based physical therapy. At the time, it was the only rehab center in the US offering these types of services. With the right kind of therapy and some Finnish sisu*, Kouri’s condition began improving rapidly. A year and a half after the accident, Janne Kouri took his first steps with a walker. In everyday life, however, he still uses a wheelchair.

After receiving such good care with great results, Janne decided that everyone should have access to the same experience and hope for health and recovery. As a result, he founded NextStep, an internationally recognized non-profit that makes life-changing rehab and fitness accessible and affordable to individuals living with paralysis.

“Janne Kouri has shown extraordinary courage, determination, will of power and fighting spirit in his personal life, as well as in his work dedicated to communities. Janne has given us all the best possible examples of what never giving up, always being positive and taking care of the needs of other people means. Not only has Janne shown these qualities in his own life, when facing unimaginable adversities, but also when fighting for the rights and better living conditions of other disabled persons, “ Consul General Okko-Pekka Salmimies said in his speech when presenting the decoration.

Janne Kouri’s exceptional work in founding, developing and scaling up NextStep has had a significant local, national and international impact. Today, NexStep has recovery centers in six US cities and international locations in New Zealand and Ukraine. Their goal is to open new recovery centers across the country, and internationally, to ensure an improved quality-of-life and a continuum of care for the underserved population.

“Receiving this recognition is a great honor and I share it with my wife, family, my team at NextStep, and everyone that has supported me through the years. As we always say at NextStep, “it takes a village.” In addition, I am truly grateful because it makes me feel closer to my home country. My hope is that one day there will be a NextStep recovery center also in Finland. Healthcare in Finland is excellent, but for individuals living with paralysis, there is always room for improvement”, says Janne Kouri, Founder & President of NextStep.

*Sisu is a Finnish word that does not directly translate to English. English-speakers describe it usually as determination, guts, hardiness, courage and willpower – qualities often seen in Finns. In Janne Kouri’s own definition, sisu is a combination of courage and rationality when facing adversities.


The decorations of the Orders of the White Rose of Finland are conferred upon citizens who have distinguished themselves in the service of Finland. Foreign nationals may also be awarded decorations of the Orders. Read more: https://ritarikunnat.fi/language/en/homepage-en/(Link to another website.)