Crowdsourcing the Feminine Intelligence of the Planet: Interview with Jensine Larsen
Jensine Larsen is the founder of World Pulse, a global media platform and communication network devoted to bringing women a global voice. Photo credit: Andrea Leoncavallo
About six years ago, I had a vision of what life would be like if women from all over the world could hear each other's voices through different media platforms - radio, TV, online newspapers, video, social media, and other online communities and outlets - creating a global sisterhood that the world has never seen before. Could this encourage other women to speak out about the truth of their lives and therefore cause a chain reaction amongst all women and girls worldwide to come forth with the truth of the feminine experience? And if this was possible, could we, through this reemergence of the feminine, tip the scales back into balance between the feminine and the masculine, and recreate a society where women and men lived free from violence, poverty and war?
My feeling was "Yes."
What I didn't know at the time is that this was well in motion, under the leadership of a woman named Jensine Larsen.
Over ten years ago, as a young international journalist, Jensine discovered that some of the world's most important stories - the stories of women -- were rarely mentioned in the mass media. As she traveled around, Jensine was getting a repeated request: "Will you be my messenger and deliver my story to the world?" Struck by the consistency of this, Jensine began a quest to create a media source that would bring the vital, yet untapped, voices and solutions of these women to the world stage. In 2003, at age 28, Jensine founded World Pulse.
What follows is my interview with Jensine Larsen, founder of World Pulse, a global media platform and communication network devoted to bringing women a global voice. Jensine and I spoke last Friday on the International Day of the Girl.
Tabby Biddle: I was at the Social Good Summit last month and heard you say that the fastest way to bring about global sustainability is to crowdsource the feminine intelligence of the planet. What did you mean by this exactly?
Jensine Larsen: There is a lived experience that is inside of women and communities across the globe. For the most part, a good deal of that is suppressed. Whether that is from women growing up in communities their whole lives where they are seen as nothing better than a dog, or a cockroach, or a donkey, you name it. Or being fed last, or not valued for an education, all the way up to political and economic barriers that women experience. There's half of humanity's potential that the world is starved from right now. I believe with every cell in my body that unleashing the innovation and the solutions of women is the key to solving global problems. What we are up against right now is that it's not happening fast enough. There's great women's empowerment work happening, but the social consciousness is not reaching far enough to the farthest reaches of the globe. That's where the digital media technology comes in as a great accelerator.
Tabby: Can you say more about that?
Jensine: The women are telling us not only how we can get technology into the hands of women and girls across the globe, but how it can be used as a tool of empowerment for them. If we follow them, and listen to them, which is what World Pulse has been doing, we have a pathway forward for rapidly linking and unleashing women's human potentials.
Tabby: What you are doing with World Pulse is huge. There are so many different layers to it, from the spiritual to the social to the operational. How have all the pieces come together?
Jensine: It's been nothing less than an evolutionary experience. We began as a magazine; then we introduced the interactive website; then we realized training was an important component; and then we started channeling women's voices to media and different forums. So everything sort of layered in, but it layered in as we were listening to women, especially when the interactive website came online. We could actually dialogue with women and crowdsource their vision for the future of World Pulse.
Ultimately, the secret sauce of the work we are doing is the community. It's a new culture that I have never seen anywhere else on the planet, which is women from virtually every country in the world, across all languages and cultures connecting in a common support network for each other.
That's the secret sauce, but the recipe that we have discovered is made up of three things: Community, content and training. In addition to the community, where a woman doesn't have to feel so alone, and she can immediately be connected to someone who understands her experience or wants to support her, there's also the content where we make her voice louder and channel her voice to the places she wants to be heard, like CNN or Reuters, or the United Nations, or the World Bank. And through our training program, it has been a major realization of how we can equip women community leaders to do outreach, digital access and empowerment outreach in their communities.
That's how we are going to get to the last mile of digital connectivity is through these grassroots women leaders who are coming online and are being a bridge to rural and illiterate women.
During a World Pulse Africa delegation, Jensine meets with a woman leader from Rwanda, who works with INEZA, a sewing cooperative of 25 women living with HIV/AIDS in post-genocide Rwanda. Photo courtesy of World Pulse.
Tabby: On a personal level, how do you, Jensine, maintain a balance between your spiritual visionary essence and your earthy operational, go-getter self?
Jensine: It's all about team. My biggest life lesson and challenge is around team. I grew up very shy and felt very alone. Then I became an independent journalist. Then I launched World Pulse on my own as an entrepreneur with a vision. So my nature is that visionary futurist. I certainly could get things done because I did everything from licking envelopes to stamping checks to contacting editors and newsstands. Anything you could possibly imagine to build a global media enterprise, I have done every inch of it in some way. So I knew I could get things done, but at a certain point, that wasn't enough and it was actually hurting me, as it does any entrepreneur. I had to learn how to build a team. And that had its ups and downs and has always been a challenge, but the reward has been incredible.
Jensine with some of her World Pulse sisters, (L) to (R) Martha Llano from Colombia, Jensine Larsen from the U.S., Beatrice Achieng Nas from Uganda, and Sarvina Kang from Cambodia. Photo by Darcy Kiefel.
Tabby: I know there are many visionary women entrepreneurs who struggle with bringing on partners and funders. Is there any advice that you would want to offer to those women who are building organizations or projects that support the empowerment of women and girls?
Jensine: Probably the best advice that has served me is from my mentor. Her name is Lynn McMullen and she worked with Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank for about 15 years doing fundraising for him. She has taught me that fundraising is like falling in love. It's really about the relationship and having respect for this other person's desire to do good in the world, and finding that match. When you ask for the funding, you've had enough dates. You've progressed the relationship enough where you feel mutual respect and love and admiration. It may sound kind of strange, but in this way of fundraising with love, I feel like our supporters really get the vision and so many are with us for the long haul.
Tabby: Speaking of teams and fundraising, how is Hillary Clinton involved with World Pulse? Jensine: Hillary Clinton has now joined the Clinton Global Initiative with her husband and her daughter. Hillary, as you know, has been instrumental in making sure that women are a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy, and she and her daughter Chelsea are very passionate about technology. So they chose to announce our new partnership with Intel on stage at the Clinton Summit. The partnership with Intel will provide digital empowerment and connectivity to over five million young women across Africa in the next three years. World Pulse's part of that will be being the platform and peer network where the women can connect after they have been trained in digital literacy. We are also putting a module of our digital empowerment training into Intel's existing training program. We are just starting with Africa, but eventually we will do this all over the world. As far as Chelsea, she has been active Tweeting about us. Now we are in dialogue with her staff about how we can work together more closely. There is nothing concrete there yet.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives on stage during the annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting on September 24, 2013 in New York City. Timed to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly, CGI brings together heads of state, CEOs, philanthropists and others to help find solutions to the world's major problems. Photo credit: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images.
Tabby: People told you in the early stages of World Pulse that your vision was too big. You persevered, despite what they were saying. At this stage, is there any gap between what your greatest vision is for World Pulse and where you are now?
Jensine: There are two sides to this. On one side, I feel World Pulse far surpasses what I had originally dreamed in terms of what it could look like. I originally had thought about it as a magazine. I never envisioned the chain reaction of change that was going to happen inside of women around the world. I never would have envisioned that women would be naming babies after our staff or that I could go to any country in the world and have a woman open up her home for me and stay in her house and have a hot meal, and have mountains of friends in every country. I never would have dreamed the major influence up to the White House and just the every day stories that women tell me or email me on a regular basis about how their lives have completely changed. To me it has already surpassed my vision. On the other side, we are so still at the early stage because our network is 60,000, and while the impact that we are having reaching 2.2 million lives from the leadership of the women in our network is vast, we are not stopping until we've reaching a tipping point of millions of women who are connected. The big gap for me is really around uniting the networks that are serving women right now. I believe that the partnership of networks is the art of this next century. "Girls worldwide are using digital media to speak their minds and bare their souls; it is time for us to listen to them," says Jensine. Here, girls and young women in India connect with the World Pulse community via cell phone and computer. Photo by Scott Stulberg/Corbis Images.
Tabby: In your TEDx talk in Portland, I heard you talk about a global spirituality being led by women. I think it's a huge topic and it's not necessarily talked about as much as it could and should be in the mainstream media. Can you say more about what you mean by this?
Jensine: I started thinking a lot more about this as I was watching the online community develop as more and more countries started coming on. Quite honestly, most women in the world are religious in some way or another. They have some kind of spirituality, whether they are Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, and they are talking about it on our site. But what I saw start to emerge was almost an umbrella spirituality, a higher spirituality, of the connectivity and the unity between the women. The cornerstone of that is mutual support and reciprocity, and it just is. It is that secret sauce in our community that I spoke about. I can only describe it as a global spirituality.
I think it is this new spirituality that is going to lead humanity into the next chapter. It's going to show us the way. We don't fully know it yet. It exists inside of women.
When women connect and share their solutions, their solutions become bigger. Bottom line is that the solutions that the world needs come through the connectivity of women.
Jensine says her greatest excitement right now is beginning to work less as an entrepreneur and founder of an individual organization, and much more as a movement builder in partnership with other leaders. "It's going to take much more than just us," she says. Photo courtesy of World Pulse.
Tabby: Today is the International Day of the Girl. What is the message you wish to impart to girls and young women worldwide?
Jensine: My deepest message is from my own experience of my own life and that is if you have a vision or a dream, believe that it is possible. Even if it is simply raising your voice, you can change your own life and bring your vision into being.
To learn how you can join this worldwide community and movement bringing women and girls a global voice and connecting women and girls worldwide, visit worldpulse.com.
Tabby Biddle is a women's leadership expert and writer covering women's rights and the empowerment of women and girls. She was the recipient of a United Nations Foundation Global Issues Press Fellowship during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly and the 2013 Social Good Summit in New York City. Learn more at tabbybiddle.com.
This article was first published in The Huffington Post.