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Citizenship

A sit down with the cofounder of Global Citizen ahead of the 2015 Festival

The Global Goals make this year’s Global Citizen Festival more important than ever. A global movement and the UN are pushing heads of state to elevate their commitments to end extreme poverty by 2030. Ensuring that the Global Goals become famous worldwide and that countries follow through on achieving them for the next 15 years will be the job of global citizens everywhere.

Against this backdrop, I got to speak with Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans to discuss the evolution of the Global Citizen Festival, some of the major policy issues being highlighted in this year’s edition, his favorite running playlist and why fighting poverty is really about enabling people to lift themselves into prosperity.

What makes the 2015 Global Citizen Festival different?

Hugh: First, it’s a historic year for the movement. 2015 is the year when the world’s leaders will agree on the Global Goals. The stakes are higher than ever before.

We have to ensure that the goals become famous. There also has to be a movement to ensure that the goals are held accountable over the next 15 years.

PoP-300-Schools-2.jpegPoP students in Laos. | Photo: Nick Onken

The second big difference is Chris Martin’s special role as curator, which he signed on for the next 15 years. It’s an extraordinary commitment and he’s done an amazing job bringing together so many different ideas, concepts and creative partners to make this year so incredible.

Third, we’re not going for quantity of action, we’re going for deeper levels of action that really impact lives.

This is the 4th festival--how has it evolved over the years?

It’s evolved a lot. In the first year we barely pulled it off. I still can’t believe it happened in many ways. We were kind of blown away with the acts of the first two years.  

Then in year 3, when Jay Z wanted to headline, we started to find our groove. It was an extraordinary lineup with so many wonderful special guests taking the political influence of the event to the next level.

Now that we’re in this Global Goals year, I feel like we’ve refined the art, refined the partnerships, but we still have equal measures of passion.

What have been the biggest impacts of past festivals?

The World Bank’s $15 billion [USD] commitment to fund sanitation efforts across India, Bangladesh, Northern Nigeria, Haiti, Madagascar and other target countries--that was an extraordinary impact.

The passing of The Water for the World Act was extraordinary. The increasing of US investment in girls education was also extraordinary. It’s been wonderful to watch the evolution of public policy that has emerged.

water-for-the-world-act-passes-us-senate-millions_thumbnailPHOTO: The 111th Senate class photo via Wikicommons

It was an important moment when Erna Solberg announced a billion dollars for vaccines, which played a big role in supporting Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. We were honored to see the role that global citizens played in the replenishment of Gavi.

What are the key issues this year?

The first one is getting financing for development. It’s all well and good to have a great set of Global Goals, but they’re just a wish list unless they’re financed.

One way to finance them is to ensure that the current amount of money that the US government gives is actually targeted to the least developed countries, instead of middle income countries. Currently the US gives about 30 percent of its foreign aid to the least developed countries and we need that to increase to 50 percent.

Second, education. Coming off the heels of the Oslo summit in Norway, it irks me that the Global Partnership for Education has only $2.1 billion from developed countries to achieve all it needs to achieve.

We need to scale that up to $15 billion dollars annually, because if you think about the fact that 58 million kids lack access to primary school, plus the secondary school deficits, it’s a $39 billion dollar challenge.

Now that sounds like a lot of money, but that’s only 8 days of military spending.

We could get every kid into school if we really prioritize education. If we honestly believe what Nelson Mandela said, that education is the most effective weapon to change the world, it’s a no brainer. We need 12 years of quality education.

The third issue is water and sanitation. We know that a third of the world doesn’t have adequate sanitation facilities and over a billion people defecate in the open.

It’s great that the World Bank made the $15 billion dollar donation last year, but we need to focus that commitment on behavior change, because building toilets doesn’t end open defecation. It’s a behavior change issue.

The issue of food security is also crucial. We’ve made amazing progress since 1992, but there’s still 2 billion globally who have food insecurity.

5-trendy-foods-impact-b1.jpgImage: Flickr: Biodiversity International

The good news is that the US government is a leader in this area. Since Obama’s been in office, we’ve seen the annual investment in food security increase from $350 million per year to $1 billion now. But we need to codify that leadership and that’s why the Global Food Security Act is essential.

In addition, the Global Citizen actions excite me. Driving people to volunteer for the first time, driving people to donate their old clothes at H&M--I think these are the sorts of cool things that global citizens will be able to do over the next few months to help strengthen the movement.

Where does the Global Citizen Festival fit into global effort to achieve the Global Goals?

The goals will be gaveled at the UN general assembly the day before the festival.

What we need to do is ensure the goals become famous and that there’s a lasting  movement.

So from the perspective of the festival there are two objectives. One, it’s crucial to make sure the goals become famous through the 1 hour special on BBC worldwide, through the Youtube partnership, through our partnership with MSNBC and NBC.

The second goal is to ensure that there is a big enough movement every year for the next 15 years, so people will tune back in and say, “Where are those goals now? We didn’t forget about them. Has the world achieved them? What are heads of state doing?”

What does it mean to have the musical acts involved this year?

The good thing is that they’re all on my playlist. This morning I was running to Coldplay’s “Sky Full of Stars” and it’s wonderful when you can imagine them on the Great Lawn singing their heart out because they care about these issues.

And I know they really care, and that’s what makes it so cool. Chris wouldn’t give up weeks of his time to go with us to India if he didn’t really care. Ed Sheeran has proven to be a committed supporter through his social media channels and through his creativity already this summer and there is more to come. Beyonce wouldnt make a long term commitment to work with us through CHIME FOR CHANGE unless she really cared. Pearl Jam and it’s management wouldn’t have worked with us for the last 4 years unless they really cared. Pearl Jam’s manager even has a scholarship he runs through Global Citizen.

These are acts that you know really care, so full credit to them.

Is there anything people should be aware of regarding tickets for the festival?

This year is different. There are 5 action journeys, each with around 9 actions. Previously, it was based on how many points you had earned by taking sometimes disparate actions on the platform.

When you think about the funnel of engagement, we want to make sure that the people who want to create change will be able to do so and that’s where the new Global Citizen comes in.

That’s why I love what the new tech team has built, that’s why I love what the new editorial team has built in terms of really changing the way our content works. It’s been an amazing evolution to be a part of.

This will really be one of the first years where we can test what we’ve been dreaming about for a long time.

How does a big concert like Global Citizen Festival affect the world’s poor?

Our theory of change recognizes that there are major barriers to ending extreme poverty. Those barriers include lack of financing, trade barriers, corruption--these are ultimately perpetuating the cycle of extreme poverty.

Now, there are things we can do to overcome these barriers. We can advocate for better investment in health and education. We can advocate for trade rules to be changed. We can tackle corruption through ensuring there is greater transparency around, for example, the extractive industries.

Diamond_miners-1- wikipedia 620.jpgMiners in Sierra Leone | Wikipedia Commons

They’re complex policy issues but they involve actions that everyday citizens can take in their daily lives.

And so how does it impact the poor? Ultimately we believe that the world’s poor will lift themselves out of extreme poverty, but they need an enabling environment to do so. As we saw in South Korea after the war, investment in education created a great enabling environment so that when industry arrived and said we’re looking for a talented workforce, they had a talented workforce, because they were very educated.

We’re not going to pluck someone up from the bootstraps and lift them up out poverty. People lift themselves out of poverty and they do it through hard work, day in and day out. It’s a hard, hard process. Poverty alleviation is not easy. It’s family by family, village by village, community by community, world by world.

What we do is try to make sure there aren’t prohibiting factors that prevent people from escaping the perpetuating factors of poverty such as poor education and bad health. If you’re constantly sick you can’t get out of poverty. If you’re constantly contracting malaria, you can’t lift yourself out of poverty. It becomes a cyclical issue. Your productivity decreases, you get fired from your job, how are you expected to lift yourself out of poverty?

That’s why this is about enabling environments in which people can do it themselves,

How will you know the festival was a success?

If the goals become famous and if there’s a concerted movement among global citizens to ensure that the goals are held accountable for the next 15 years.


Inspiring words from Hugh Evans. It’s a great event and a great time to be excited about the future of our planet.

Get involved, take action and earn your tickets to the Global Citizen Festival at http://globalcitizenfestival.com.