If you are a visionary, keep some vision friends around you to give you energy. Not everyone understands visionaries and sometimes you feel like you have to make yourself smaller or more realistic to fit in. Now, I keep a few vision friends and we can bounce creative ideas off each other and fire each other up. We don’t scare each other, we feed each other. And, it is often like we are jumping on beds like little kids together getting excited. Jumping higher and higher!
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jensine Larsen.
Jensine (Yen-See-Nah) Larsen is an award-winning digital impact entrepreneur, international journalist, and expert on technology to strengthen global women’s power. She is the founder of World Pulse, a safe and inclusive women-powered global social network connecting over 80,000 women from 200+ countries and bringing them a greater global voice. Through World Pulse, women leaders are impacting over 24.5 million lives by building global movements, launching businesses, changing policies, and transforming harmful cultural practices. Jensine represents World Pulse at multiple collective impact coalitions, including Equals Global Partnership, a coalition bridging the gendered digital divide, and is a fellow of the Academy for Systems Change — a ten-year fellowship for the planet’s next generation of system change leaders. She is the joint recipient of the 2023 UNESCO Prize in Gender, Wellbeing, and Cultures of Peace.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up very shy and homeschooled in the rural countryside in the Midwest of the United States. I had a feeling that my voice was being stifled. I knew I wanted to learn from women around the world, so I traveled to the Amazon at 19 and later the Burma-Thai border, meeting with incredible women leaders who inspired me to become a journalist.
In the Amazon, these women had messages about the oil contamination on their traditional lands, where children were dying of cancer. In Burma, it was ethnic cleansing, which as we know continues today. While I was on the Burma-Thai border, on this hot and sticky night, I started feeling heavy and hopeless with the stories I had heard, asking myself who was going to care. I could publish these stories but would the world really listen? When I looked up at the stars pulsing, I saw this pulsing light of women’s voices unlocking and connecting across the planet.
It’s hard to describe, but I knew that I was being shown the solution, and that solution was connected voices: that it was essential I no longer be a messenger for these extraordinary women, but to step back so they could have a communication platform and speak for themselves in their own words.
When I returned home, even though I was terrified to start something I had no experience with, I realized I could no longer keep this vision bottled inside. In the years to come, I founded World Pulse, building a vast, online global community of women changemakers across 200+ countries, today impacting millions more in their own communities.
Little did I know that this network of women would change my life. Ultimately, this supportive and inclusive community for women would come to help me uncover my own purpose and voice.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I had many dark days as a woman social entrepreneur learning new skills and a new industry. I was struggling to build this vision I had glimpsed and people were telling me that my vision was too big and that I needed to scale it back. For the first five years, I barely slept. I felt I was carrying the weight of the world’s women on my shoulders.
I’ll never forget the day, a few months after we launched the online community, I was up late working around 2 a.m. A message popped up on my computer screen from one of our new members, an HIV-positive woman in Kenya who was supporting dozens of other HIV+ women and children in her community. “Jensine, zoom off to bed,” she wrote. “You must rest. Don’t worry, I am carrying the flame.”
I felt this relief wash over me. I realized the great irony that I had been building something so other women didn’t have to feel alone, and yet, I was feeling terribly alone. After that, something amazing happened. Little by little more women across borders, cultures and languages started logging on and sharing their lived experiences– from the post-election upheaval in Kenya, to the militarized, misty mountain regions of Kashmir, and the maternity wards of the South Bronx. As more women brought their buried stories to the light, the community started connecting. They started commenting, telling each other that they believed in each other. With each encouraging word, previously unheard women started to believe in themselves and create bigger change in their communities.
Today, I log on to this online community daily and something magical is truly happening. We’re building more than a social network for network; we’re creating a leadership path for women.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the early days of World Pulse, I met Jane Goodall after one of her talks. She had been speaking to hundreds of schoolchildren and she told them her vision that all the guns in the world would be melted into bells for peace. I then watched her tell them, “I know my vision will never happen, but I keep it just the same.” When I met her afterward, I told her that she should never tell children that her vision wouldn’t happen!
My face got red as soon as I said it, and I was so embarrassed for scolding her, but fortunately, she’s Jane Goodall so she took it in stride and then generously went on to listen to me and give me some advice.
I asked her how I could avoid having to do so much speaking because it was torturous for me as someone who is naturally shy. Jane smiled and hugged me, she said, “I understand, I’d rather be in the jungle with the gorillas, but I end up speaking 350 days a year. And I still get nervous. But after the talk when your audience comes up to you and thanks you, it is all worth it. Remember that. If it is your calling, then the world needs to hear your voice.”
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
World Pulse is a social network that goes far beyond clicks and likes. On our platform, women are logging on from 227 countries, many from rural areas or conflict zones, who have never before felt heard. Now they have a safe online space where they are no longer alone. They are telling their stories, lifting each other up, and accessing our digital skills trainings.
We have 189 Digital Ambassadors all over the world that have trained thousands of women and girls annually in digital skills. This helps more women speak for themselves on World Pulse across a range of issues, from climate change to women’s bodily autonomy, or from supporting women with disabilities to those who have endured gender-based violence, and so much more. Through all this, 24.5 million lives have already been impacted.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Samira [not her real name], in Pakistan told us she was suicidal from being cyber blackmailed by a man who had attacked her. She knew that if her fundamentalist family found out about how she had been violated by this man they would kill her. The day she decided to take her life she says she was sitting on a park bench, aimlessly scrolling online. She clicked on a link to World Pulse, browsed stories like hers, and suddenly realized she was not alone. She decided at that moment that she wanted to live. She connected with others who helped her escape her situation. She then decided to launch her own legal assistance program for others like her. Now she has established a legal clinic in Pakistan helping hundreds of girls to fight cyber violence.
Another woman, Beatrice in Uganda, gained global support to send hundreds of girls to school. One day on World Pulse her story popped up with the headline: “My brother died, I don’t know what to do.” She wrote that her last surviving brother had just died of HIV/Aids. Because he was the last surviving male heir, the village elders were going to come to take away their house and land. Beatrice, said she was terrified that her mother, sisters and orphans they had taken in would be displaced. I scrolled further to a stream of comments from women from Spain, from India, Canada, telling her she had legal land rights and offering legal assistance.
The next morning I woke up to a new post. “Well, the village elders came,” she wrote. “My mother and I stood our ground in our doorway and told them, “We are not leaving, we have rights, and if you try to take this land away from us, women from all over the world are coming in planes to stand with us.”
Today, they have title to their land, Beatrice has spread awareness of women’s property rights across the region and she’s paying it forward by launching her dream to help rural girls who would be forced into child marriage get into school. She has matched over 500 with online mentors globally, many are now going into college.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I want governments, tech companies, women’s and digital rights movements to recognize the power of investing and building tech platforms and online communities that can unlock the voices and leadership of billions of women and girls that are still too buried by oppression and social norms and stigma. With half of women globally still offline, I want them to recognize that it’s possible to design technology to make it more accessible to bridge the digital gender divide and create great global impact.
People always say that we need to raise the voices of women and girls. World Pulse is doing that. On our platform, they’re speaking, they’re shouting, and now we need those with power and resources to listen.
Some of the biggest mass movements of modern times, like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter in the US to #NiUnaMenos(#NotOneMore) happened with little to no investment. I shiver when I imagine how earthshaking these online movements and leaders could be with sustained investment and smart digital infrastructure.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I think the world is starved for new forms of leadership power with traits that are unvalued today such as tenderness, generosity, collaboration, listening, and well-being. More leaders balanced with these skills will bring about a more healthy world for humanity.
My ultimate success is leaving a legacy of a WorldPulse that has a leadership culture that values those skills and a sustainable ecosystem of leaders — the board, advisory network, community, leadership staff — growing and building the future of World Pulse.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- With the right mindset, fundraising can be like falling in love. A dear mentor of mine, Lynn McMullen, who worked with Mahommed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, taught me this — and I wish I had learned it earlier. You get to meet and develop relationships with the people who share your vision and passion and want to make a difference alongside you. It’s an opportunity, and if you learn it, you can make any vision come true.
- If you are a visionary, keep some vision friends around you to give you energy. Not everyone understands visionaries and sometimes you feel like you have to make yourself smaller or more realistic to fit in. Now, I keep a few vision friends and we can bounce creative ideas off each other and fire each other up. We don’t scare each other, we feed each other. And, it is often like we are jumping on beds like little kids together getting excited. Jumping higher and higher!
- Prototype to test your idea and fundraise before building a team. In the early days, I wish I had not rushed to build a team before raising enough runway to sustain them — that can cause a lot of unnecessary stress.
- Pass the mic. As a leader, always be looking to grow more microphones — so more people can be heard.
- Set deadlines. When something isn’t working, give yourself a date by which you decide to let go or commit to keep trying. I have so much optimism that sometimes I held on too long trying to make something work.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If it isn’t obvious by now, I believe the right combination of women’s leadership and technology can be the ultimate hack to solve global challenges.
We can do better than Facebook or Twitter which are based on values of profit and greed. We can use technology to unlock the voices and leadership of billions of women, voices that are still too buried today by oppressive systems and social norms. I believe if you design technology for women to thrive, they will encode new values, norms, and solutions that will benefit us all.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Building your vision is like growing a garden. You plant and nurture many seeds, but they grow in their own time.”
When I look back at my younger self, how little sleep I had, how urgent and stressed I was to carry the world on my shoulders, I wish I would have been more gentle on myself and seen the work like the calming planting of seeds in a garden and accepting that I can’t force them to grow!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
A tough one! For her leadership, Jacinda Arden of New Zealand as she is truly blazing new trails for global political leadership. For her legacy, Michelle Obama, who has one of the most powerful, most recognized voices in the world to put behind worthy causes. For her philanthropic wealth, MacKenzie Scott, who has the power to transform technology to be a force for good in the world.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Log on to WorldPulse.org and support women changemakers, read their stories, follow their journeys, encourage them, and make your own story of change.
Subscribe to our e-mail update at impact.worldpulse.org
Follow me on Instagram @jensinelarsen, or LinkedIn at /jensinelarsen
To do more, one powerful way to get involved is through micro-volunteering. When you leave 10 positive or uplifting comments on World Pulse, you can earn an “Encourager” leadership badge, and help those voices on World Pulse feel heard.
Or in our new Changefunder Program, donations provide seed funds directly to women to support their voices and movement, going straight toward their publishing honorariums, tech stipends, and paid speaking opportunities.
These small acts power big change!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Jensine Larsen of World Pulse Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.