Mary Burke ran a strong campaign for governor in 2014, but came up short. In so doing, though, she gained a new outlook and mission.
“I got dragged through the mud for 13 months, I lost in a really public way and I let down hundreds of thousands of people, and yet as I reflected on it I realized I never felt stronger or believed in my abilities more,” Burke told Madison365 in an interview.
Following the election, Burke began to reflect on the impact that community support had on her ability to persevere.
“All the negativity during a campaign could bring you down, especially if you’re not used to it, but what I found is I had this amazing community,” she said.
She also gained a new understanding of confidence after the reading the book, The Confidence Code.
The book highlighted the many ways that women may lack confidence compared to men, despite being just as or more capable.
For example, women on average will not apply for a job if they do not meet one or two of the desired qualifications because they believe they are under qualified, while men will only meet half the qualifications and considered themselves qualified, according to Burke.
She has found that some men do not even read the qualifications at all.
This, Burke believes, is all rooted in confidence.
“Research shows that for men their belief in their abilities exceeds their actual abilities, and for women, on average, it’s the opposite. Our belief in ourselves is lower than our actual abilities,” Burke said. “There’s no difference in abilities, but that gap is important.
“This gap between men and women isn’t genetic,” she added. “We’re born confident, but then we start receiving the messages that say you will be better liked and more accepted if you tone it down and play it smaller.”
From there, Burke was able to combine the effectiveness of a supportive community base with the need to inspire more confidence in women, and she started Building Brave, an app-based community that is striving to connect, inspire and empower 10 million women around the world.
“I reflected on it and realized a part of being considered equal in society is to believe in ourselves, there are a lot of biases out there but to be able to address them and move forward we have to believe in ourselves,” she said.
Though she originally intended for Building Brave to be a grassroots organization, after holding numerous strategy sessions in 2015 Burke learned that women in Wisconsin didn’t want another monthly meeting.
“It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but when you hear it from five sessions you have to pay attention to it, so we pivoted and thought, well, a good place to meet women where they’re at is here on their phones,” Burke said.
The Building Brave app became available for public download in October. The app combines similar communication components like those found on Facebook with interactive challenges and activity tracking like that of Fitbit.
Featuring a variety of content from managing college life to best professional practices to tips on relationships and health and well-being, the app is geared towards all women with a particular focus on young women just entering the professional and academic spheres.
“Those are huge transitions you’re going through in your life and that’s when doubt can really creep in,” Burke said.
Users can click on a topic of their choosing and each topic features tips and practices that users can implement into their daily lives to improve their mental, emotional, physical, and financial well-being in their personal and professional lives.
The practices are short and users can even challenge their own followers to do the practices as well.
“We need that support. Otherwise, it’s so easy to define ourselves by our failures and shortcomings,” Burke said. “I think it will have been really difficult to get to the place I am now without a community.”
Users complete practices to work toward earning completion badges and points. Every two weeks the app features three charities that focus on girls and women, and app users can use their points to vote for their favorite charity. The winning organization receives $1,000.
“In the long term we’d like to become a major grant making organization,” said Burke.
The app also features private communities where membership is limited to individual groups, organizations, conferences, and workplaces.
The app has been available in Google Play and Apple app stores for a little over a month and has well over 1,000 active users.
“This is not my community. The community is only as strong as the women in it and it will go where women want to take it,” Burke said.
Although a community of 10 million women is the goal, building and sustaining an active community is the focus.
“What’s important to us is not the number of downloads, what really matters is whether people are engaging, because that’s a community,” Burke said. “I’d whether have a small engaged community in which you build it than have a lot of people who are coming in and out. I don’t know how long 10 million is going to take, but we’re not chasing the number, we’re chasing the community building.”