Interview: Jensine Larsen of World Pulse on creating a grassroots global women’s newswire
Women make up more than half of the global population, but own less than 1% of the world’s financial resources. They represent a third of the world’s journalists, but less than 1% of its editors, department heads and media owners. And women are only quoted 7% of the time in political news stories. Journalist Jensine Larsen seeks to change this. At 28, she launched World Pulse, a media enterprise dedicated to covering global events from the perspectives of women. Larsen talks with us about importance of unleashing the voices of women, the difficulties of creating an independent media organization, and how women she met in the Amazon helped her to overcome her own timidity.
Dowser: World Pulse helps women across the globe speak their minds and connect with one another. How did it begin?
Larsen: After I came back to the States from freelance journalist assignments in the Amazon and on the Burma-Thai border, I became a masseuse. I was massaging right after 9-11 and I felt this tension in people’s bodies. They were so afraid of people in other parts of the world and what they were doing to us. And so I felt that we needed something like World Pulse.
Fear in your massage clients’ bodies moved you to launch World Pulse?
Yes. And it was actually through talking with my massage clients that World Pulse began to take shape, and it was my massage clients who gave me my first funding.
So what came next?
It must have been right about the spring of 2002, when I made the decision to leave my client base and go home to Portland for the summer to incubate the vision and actually get it down on paper. I did love the process of healing and massage, but I had to let go of it to create space in my heart and my mind and my life for something bigger.
Was it tough giving up the security of your massage practice?
It felt like stepping off a cliff. In all these years, I don’t know if I’ve had a month where it doesn’t sometimes feel like I’m stepping off a cliff because I’m doing something new or uncomfortable. When you’re an entrepreneur, there’s always that feeling of ‘here we go!’
How did you find your first colleagues?
I posted an ad on Idealist for a co-chairman. When I woke up the next morning, I had received over 50 emails from India, from Europe…people saying things like, ‘I fell off my chair when I read about this magazine,’ and ‘I’ve been thinking my whole life about something like this.’ My friend found me actually weeping, because I realized for the first time that I wasn’t alone in this. This was much bigger than me.
You had tapped into a global need.
Yeah, exactly. I had been off on my own thinking, ‘Am I crazy? Am I just crazy?’ That made me realize I have to do this, because the world needs it. And that positive feeling lasted until I went to funders [laughs].
Really? What happened with the funders?
I was so naïve when I started. I decided to start a nonprofit because I thought foundations would give me money for it, but foundations weren’t responsive initially. They were like, ‘Do you realize what you’re getting into? A women’s start-up organization in the independent media is the most difficult thing to get backing for in our country.’
Why is it hard to fund independent media?
Foundations like to see ‘X’ number of persons served and ‘X’ number of trainings completed. They would say, ‘We can’t measure the impact of World Pulse.’ It is very difficult to track and measure women’s self-confidence.
So, where did you get your initial funding?
Groups of women around the world invited me to their homes and I would speak about what I had seen in the Amazon and in Burma. And they would cry, and write checks. I raised my first $300,000 mainly through $50 and $100 checks.
Wow. How did you build from there?
When I first started asking for money for World Pulse, I had a $50,000 budget. But media people were telling me, ‘You need to be asking for $2-3 million, minimum.’ So I began building a multimillion dollar budget and asking people for the million dollars.
Even though we haven’t yet had that million-dollar gift, I know we will. Part of what I do now is to meet with people who have the capacity to give a million dollar gift. I just sit down with them and tell them about what we’re doing. People like to watch you grow, and they begin to admire your stick-with-it-ness [laughs]. And then at some point, they back you.
What is one of World Pulse’s greatest challenges?
We target such different demographics. When you’re talking about reaching women who are at the grassroots internationally and then women who are affluent, who can be supporters, they have very different needs. So our challenge has been how to design a global media company that can actually serve and connect these audiences.
You’ve written about being shy when you were young and ‘the feeling of my voice trapped at the base of my throat, with a stone wall around it.’ How did you unlock your voice?
It’s been gradual. I was so painfully shy when I was in grade school that I couldn’t correct people who mispronounced my name. I could barely raise my hand to even go to the bathroom.
When I went to the Amazon as a reporter and was face to face with the women there, and saw how much they wanted me to bring their stories back to the people in our country, that helped me overcome my timidness. It was as if I were a messenger that had been given a very special trust, and I couldn’t be quiet anymore.
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What instigated the launch of World Pulse’s online magazine, PulseWire?
We wanted a platform for women around the world to describe their needs and offer solutions in their own words, and to connect to other women. That was the revolutionary, game-changing aspect of PulseWire.
And has it lived up to your expectations?
I’m beyond thrilled about PulseWire becoming a grassroots global women’s newswire. It’s a place for any woman to report in her own words a crisis, shifting event, or commentary on an issue.
With such a hectic schedule, how do you stay grounded?
I do this thing that I invented called ‘magic moment.’ When things are swirling and my nerves are jangling, I take a deep breath, close my eyes, feel the world shift… Then I open my eyes, and I notice everything is magic. The sounds, the leaves, who’s in front of me, what’s happening inside; just being so grateful to be alive and have all the blessings I have and be able to do a life’s work that lights me up and is a creative process.
This interview was edited and condensed.
Photo: World Pulse