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Making a World of Difference
Jensine Larsen, international journalist, CEO of World Pulse™ and self-described unstoppable social media entrepreneur, sat down with us to share her passion for helping women help each other. Larsen founded World Pulse to bring women a global voice using the power of digital media. Today, more than 40,000 women from 190 countries are speaking out — some of them from rural villages and conflict zones. And you won’t believe the amazing changes these mothers, sisters and daughters from around the planet are making happen, just by talking!
Q: What is the purpose of your organization?
A: The goal of World Pulse is to use the power of media to connect and lift women into a powerful force that will transform the world. Women can become so much stronger when they know they are part of something larger and they’re connected to a network greater than just themselves. At World Pulse we are building to become the largest interactive network of women in the world that will have the power to shift the global agenda.
When women's voices come out of the shadows, global decision-makers will no longer be able to ignore us. We'll be able to overturn dictatorships, we'll be able to shift economies, we'll have the power to lift also the men and boys, preserve the environment. It will be an echo that will truly shift our world.
Q: What inspired you to found World Pulse?
A: When I was a young girl living in rural Wisconsin, I wanted to see the world. By the time I was 19, I had taken off to the Amazon and began to work with indigenous women. From there I went to the Burma-Thailand border and worked with women refugees, and those women asked me to be their messenger. I had this "Aha!" moment of realizing that I didn't want to merely be a messenger; I wanted to create a global media source where these women could be their own messengers for the world.
Q: Can you speak to the concept of citizen journalism?
A: We are in this moment in history when people can use the power of technology to get their voice out into the world — even if they've never before been heard or seen — at the touch of a button. This is a very powerful idea specifically for women, who are among the Earth's most unheard and invisible. I started weaving citizen journalism into the World Pulse media network because the women were teaching us that they could do it. Suddenly women were reporting on the ethnic violence that was happening in Kenya; they were writing inside their homes with gunfire around them and the water taps being dry and their children at risk out in the streets.
It was the raw power of their stories that made me realize that there's the potential to have an army of women on the ground, speaking through their eyes, and that we could help broker that. So we began training women, giving them the tools for how to do ethical citizen journalism. Today we have over 100 women citizen journalists in 50 countries, and they've gone on to train over 1,000 in their communities.
Q: That's incredible! Were you prepared, emotionally, for the connection you'd have with these women?
A: I was not prepared for the emotional connection I felt to these women. They would tell me stories of the oil contamination they were facing in the traditional land in their forests; their children dying of skin cancer and stomach cancer. And the women on the Burma-Thai border would talk about the villages being bombed and their children or family members being tortured in front of them — just the most unimaginable [things].
But what was so incredible to me was that they had a very sophisticated sense of what the solution could be. They had powerful messages they wanted to get to the world and a burning desire to change the situation. So for me, although there was a deep sadness, there was this breakthrough moment: If only we could get this sacred wisdom that these women hold out into the world! It's what the world's starved for, the solutions and visions of these women.
Q: What do you mean by sacred wisdom?
A: Women are creating solutions to the most difficult challenges they're facing on a daily basis — whether it's water issues, HIV or their daughters being sold for trafficking. This is more than just practical, problem-solving wisdom, it's sacred wisdom because this is knowledge that may have been forgotten over generations with women's voices being marginalized in their communities. So as these women fight through that suppression to share what they know to be true, it's sacred for the culture. It's bringing about a new wave of leadership in their daughters and the next generation.
Q: And social media is part of that new wave?
A: There's no doubt in my mind that the power of social media is the new wave for this planet, in large part because social media is an accelerator. There's great work being done by communities all over the world and women in these communities, but they're often working in isolation. When we can use the power of digital media to connect these women — and a woman in Bangladesh who's trying to change some legal issues for women's access to politics is talking to a woman in Rwanda who's gone through it and made that happen — suddenly that knowledge is shared that much faster, and that woman in Bangladesh is that much closer to her goal.
I believe so passionately that the creative human potential of women and girls is the greatest untapped resource in our world and we have a historic opportunity to use the power of digital media to unite and unleash the potential like never before.
Q: Isn't there an inherent issue with women being in these kinds of leadership roles in that they're feeling responsibility to their families while at the same time trying to spread the word on these bigger issues?
A: Absolutely. Women bear a triple burden in terms of still usually being the primary caregivers. Women are still doing most of the work in the home as well as doing work outside the home. They are also community leaders and they're fighting against a level of discrimination or marginalization.
Q: Do you ever find that the women you hope to empower fear retaliation and therefore won’t let their voices be heard?
A: Yes, but the biggest barrier for women is their self-censorship and lack of recognition of the power of their own voice. More often than not when women tap into that, what they tell us through our communication network is that it's a greater danger for them to be silent because it perpetuates the status quo. It is resulting in death for women, whether it's maternal mortality rates, sexual violence, stoning or acid burning. The level of violence against women is the greatest violence against humanity — much more than cancer [and] wars combined. So for them, silence is death.
Q: What are your top three priorities?
A: Because we've essentially created a communications network and a listening device for what's on the hearts and minds of women around the world, we take our cues from what's important to our community, and absolutely the number one issue is violence. Women of our network want the violence to end in their homes, in their streets, in their countries.
I would say the second most prominent issue for women is digital access. They're struggling to access the Internet. They have lack of electricity, lack of bandwidth, lack of access to Wi-Fi, lack of time ... so they are taking out loans to purchase laptops, they're taking ten-hour bus rides to get to the Internet café, walking for four hours in the burning heat or risking harassment from the men in the Internet cafés. But for [these women] this is a tool of liberation. They want policies to change and they want governments to start making greater investments in the infrastructure for access.
The third issue is economic empowerment. Women know what they need: They're creating women-and-girls' empowerment centers, they're creating women's cyber cafés with revenue models, they're launching their own businesses. And they just need a little bit of investment and a little bit of support. It might be training, business mentorship, a loan or a grant, but just that little bit of investment will create a springboard for women's economic empowerment.
Q: What can the average viewer of Gaiam TV or reader of Gaiam Life do to help?
A: There's so much that you can do to help. On WorldPulse.com, you can immediately start to connect with women all over the world. You can read the stories and do something as simple as leave a comment on a woman's journal. It's unbelievable that something that takes as little time as that can literally change a woman's life because she feels heard.
And then you can do more: You can forge a relationship with a woman, you can offer your skills as a volunteer or a mentor, you can make a post on our bulletin board for resource exchange. There’s just a huge array of ways you can actually plug in and make a difference.
The thing that I have learned is that it's not about helping these women. It's a partnership; it's an exchange. You are going to help yourself every bit as much. For me, I grew up very shy, and these women have shown me the power of my own voice, and they encourage me. Every day I get emails saying, "Keep going, Jensine. Don’t stop." Women who have been almost dead from AIDS or were almost killed a week ago in gunfire in Somalia are writing me and saying, "We believe in you, Jensine! We're carrying the flame!" It helps me keep going. And that can happen for you.
Q: Your passion is so inspiring! If you accomplish nothing else in 2012, you want to …
A: If I accomplish nothing else in 2012, I want to see the 40,000 women who are already part of our network from 190 countries believe in the power of their own voice and [know] that nothing is impossible for them, that they have a network of sisters that are cheering them on. They can go run for office, they can achieve their land rights, they can apply for that job, go for those scholarships — all those things are available through our network. Women are doing this every single day, so they can, too.
Photo credits: Darcy Keifel
As a young journalist in Burma and the Amazon, Jensine Larsen discovered that some of the world's most important stories are rarely mentioned in the mass media. But through her determination and persistence to reach out and connect, she became a new voice in global media. Touring around the world, she appeared on NPR and Air America, presented keynotes at major corporations, universities and world forums, and wrote articles in international publications. A visionary and pioneer, Jensine became the first voice of World Pulse — the first of many. Photo credit: Andrea Leoncavallo.