Inspiring Interview with Zoe and Del!
I had an interview assignment to do for one of my classes and contacted World Pulse to see if anyone was available. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet Zoe and Del in person and talk about the important work they do and hear their stories of what brought them there. It was an inspiring experience that I'd like to share with the World Pulse community. Here is the paper I wrote-- I hope you enjoy it!
An Interview with Zoe and Del
By Kimberly La Reau
I had the fortune of being able to have breakfast with Zoe and Del, two incredible women from World Pulse, to learn more about their work in international development. As a beginning Master’s student of international development, with aspirations to do work with a focus on women’s issues, I am just embarking on a journey that they have traveled. I am learning the ins-and-outs of various organizations, attempting to decipher the diversity of frameworks that accompany development work, and trying to understand what it means to be an actor in this field. As such, Zoe’s and Del’s insights on how to navigate through these challenges, particularly as a young woman, were invaluable. Our conversation left me feeling connected, motivated, and encouraged, and with a vision of development (and of myself as a future development actor) that was empowering.
My interview with Zoe and Del was more along the lines of a dialogue, which is indicative of the philosophies that guide their work and the work of World Pulse. Our meeting was premised on my request for an interview-- a relationship that under typical circumstances would have a power dynamic to it, with Zoe and Del as persons of knowledge, and me, a young and unknowing student, seeking to extract information from them. The expectation was that information would flow in one direction, from them to me. However, they initiated our conversation by expressing a genuine interest in learning about who I am and how my passion for women’s issues developed. From there, our interview continued in dialogue format, with an unanticipated belief that we all had valuable thoughts and experiences to contribute.
We spent our time sharing parts of ourselves and our different histories to build a flow of conversation that guided us toward unity. There we were, three different women, with different experiences, life courses, and stories of both marginalization and privilege, but with parallel hopes, visions of the world, and ambitions to engage in change-making action. Through our differences, we had a collective of stories and there was great power in our communal narrative. In these exchanges, we built a new form of knowledge together, rather than settling for the conventional model of information passing from one person to another in a linear direction.
The way that our conversation transpired is a reflection of World Pulse’s approach to development work on a number of levels. The first is that there is a high valuation of collaborative and non-hierarchical relationships. In setting up the interview, I had coordinated with Zoe and was only expecting to meet with her. However, she arrived with her co-worker, Del, and stated that they frequently work together and that having them both there was more representative of how they operate. Zoe explicitly noted that they each have a different set of skills to bring to the table and that together they have greater impact. They can accomplish more, they have fuller perspective, and they have a support system to be able to do the tough work that they do. It is a successful model and is unique to women’s organization.
When this is applied more broadly to the network of women that World Pulse supports, the same principles are evident. The aim of the action media network is to, “lift and unite women’s voices to accelerate their impact for the world.” Rather than women competing for their voices to be heard, there is an appreciation that together, their stories are louder. The community that is created through their different stories is a tool to dismantle systems of oppression and is a source of empowerment, for the collective and for each individual.
Audre Lorde, a Black Feminist Theorist, speaks to the notion that we have been taught to ignore our differences, or view them as causes for separation and suspicion, rather than as forces for change. She states that community among us is necessary to overcome the oppressive powers we face, but that community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor pretending that these differences do not exist. Along this powerful line of thought, World Pulse seeks to bring a community of very different women, with very different experiences, together to stand for the same cause. Although the manifestations of oppression take a different form for each of us, they are all rooted in the same system. In the World Pulse community, women are not asked to eliminate their differences, but revel in those experiences as unique perspectives that add to our collective repository of tools for empowerment.
The second element of our conversation that is reflective of World Pulse’s development framework is the significance of personal narratives. Where many organizations speak on behalf of marginalized populations, World Pulse places the power of the narrative directly in the hands of the women with whom they work. It offers a space for women to tell their stories in their own words, on their own terms. The specific stories of individuals offers a remarkable mechanism to show the world that the oppressions against women are real, incredibly harmful, and are lived by people. The direct sharing of women’s stories, with names and emotions attached, is powerful beyond explanation.
Through this model of citizen journalism, the women in the network break down the barrier of journalism as a hegemonically academic pursuit, or a tool solely for Western media agendas. At World Pulse, power does not come from above but is created within the network. The space for women to tell their stories is a rare display of inclusivity in international development. The resulting collection of narratives challenges the dominant discourses that are written through third party avenues and which cannot speak to the lived experiences of these oppressions.
When we take into consideration the use of technology to achieve this, it becomes a rather admirable feat. In an extremely globalized world, the power of the internet is undeniable and there is great potential for its use as a tool of organization and social change. However, technological advances are consistently reserved for the privileged. World Pulse’s model of reaching the most marginalized women is an example of the potential accomplishments that can arise from an interconnected world, if inclusion is prioritized. Additionally, this element of inclusion is a testament to an appreciation of processes of development, and not just outcomes. The philosophies of Sen resonate throughout World Pulse’s framework, but are particularly pronounced here. The process of being included and participating in a community of women is paramount to the development achievements of both the women and the organization; the process of giving voice to women’s experiences is an achievement in itself, rather than just the means to a concluding achievement, and is recognized as an element that expands the capabilities of women globally.
World Pulse does use its unique position as an organization, particularly one based in the US, to elevate these voices by channeling them through prime media outlets. It is situated to present the stories of these women to a large audience, magnifying the reach of these stories and ensuring that they are shared at high profile levels. Power remains in the hands of the women, though, because the stories are their own and the grassroots action is what makes the work of World Pulse possible. The organization employs a holistic development strategy by integrating micro and macro level practices to maximize their effectiveness.
In our discussion of the operation of World Pulse, an exploration of the world of NGOs emerged, offering insight into a challenging system. It became clear that the work of an NGO is not easy, a theme that is recurring as I meet more and more individuals in this field. The reality is that you are worked beyond capacity, you do jobs that are not your own, and you are constantly faced with the constraint of fund limitations. The way to be successful in such a demanding atmosphere goes back to the principle of collaboration, which is key to internal and external World Pulse relationships.
Internally, we see the benefit of collaboration, both between women who make up the World Pulse community, and between women working directly for the organization, like Zoe and Del. Externally, collaboration arises between NGOs. The ‘problem’ World Pulse and other organizations seek to address is oppression, but oppression is a huge, complex, and widely encompassing problem with deep roots and pervasive effects. With something so powerful and ingrained in systems, how do you even attempt to dismantle it?
Zoe and Del explain that you have to realize that you play a role in a larger movement. A good NGO knows what it does, and has a specific focus and targeted mission. Then, it does that well and it does that wholly, with the understanding that it is just one piece. Given the complexity of the issues, and the limited funds available, competition will not overcome oppression. In fact, competition is a tool of oppression and only through collaboration can we create an effective tool to challenge it. World Pulse engages in a host of partnerships and recognizes that even in a field with no shortage of challenges or demands, NGOs need to take that extra step to make their efforts coordinated, if the goal is to sincerely challenge oppression and its causes, not just its outcomes.
In my class, we have attempted to confront the notion of “good development” and understand what that term means at its core and what it should look like in practice. It is clear that the buzz in the international development sector surrounding “good development” can be a façade more than a reality; the claims of good development are not always matched by frameworks that truly aim to implement practices that uphold people, empowerment, or inclusion as the central focus. After having had an engaging conversation with Zoe and Del, I have a firm appreciation for the work of World Pulse as a sincere effort to expand the capabilities of women globally and empower the marginalized voices that are often silenced.
With the scope of international development challenges we face in the world, and the vicious integration of these challenges with one another, it is easy to be overcome by feelings of helplessness or inadequacy as a single individual. Especially as a young person eager to see change and address the inequality I know to exist, the reality can feel daunting. The opportunity to connect with Zoe and Del, and hear their stories of struggle and triumph, reminded me that I am not alone in this fight. I am headed down a path where the professional and the personal will inevitably intertwine, as they have for Zoe and Del, which can be cause for hesitation. It is clear, though, that this is their passion, it is what they believe in, and it is not just about their lives, but also the lives of women around the world—and that is worth investing yourself wholeheartedly.
What Zoe, Del, and I did in that one-hour breakfast conversation was an example of what occurs daily through the network that World Pulse has established. There are grassroots, “kitchen table conversations,” occurring—great ideas, sincere interactions, and visions for action coming together in informal conversations. Women know their experiences of oppression and are best situated to tell those stories and create solutions. Collaborating and sharing stories, one woman to another, is a seemingly simple act, but in a world dominated by hierarchy, competition, and exclusion, it is unique and under-utilized force in fighting oppression.
If we take the emotions I was left with after meeting Zoe and Del—feelings of confidence, motivation, connection, encouragement, validation, appreciation, and part of something bigger—and multiply those to a global scale, that is the impact that World Pulse has. It builds a community of women, founded on an appreciation for our differences and understanding that our respective experiences offer unique insights that can be shared. It values the women who are its stakeholders as participants and active agents in the development process. It brings women together to exchange ideas and build new forms of knowledge, to support each other to continue the fight that we are all in, and to empower one another with our own voices. I think it is an example of “good development” and I am excited to make my own profile and be part of this work.