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Festival Frustrations: 6 Times Global Citizen Couldn't Seal the Deal

In the months running up to the 2016 Global Citizen Festival on Sept. 24, 1.3 million actions were taken, leading to 44 commitments and announcements worth a phenomenal $1.9 billion, the impact of which will reach 199 million people. This is an achievement certainly worth celebrating. Yet, even amid all of this incredible progress made toward hitting the Sustainable Development Goals, there were disappointments. Six big ones, in fact.

This September was the one-year anniversary to the setting of the Sustainable Development Goals, which are the most ambitious targets ever set toward eradicating extreme poverty for all. Reflecting on setbacks is critical to keep us on the path to achieving these goals. It also serves as a reminder that success is by no means a given. This is hard work and the only way to succeed is, you guessed it, through more hard work.

1.    Italian Prime Minister Renzi is a no show, while 795 million people stay hungry

One in seven people will go to bed hungry tonight and one in four children in the developing world are underweight. Even with such an open and shut case for aid, it seems Italy’s leader is undecided.


Last year in Germany, the Group of Seven (or the G7) made up of the most economically powerful nations made a commitment to lift 500 million people out of hunger. Unfortunately, at this year’s G7 in Japan, food and hunger fell off the agenda with almost no mention of the crisis the world is facing.

Which is why we targeted the host of next year’s G7 summit, the Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, to ensure hunger and nutrition was the top of next year’s summit to-do list.

Global Citizens tweeted him, petitioned him, and called his embassies in key capitals around the world, urging him to attend the Global Citizen Festival and make a robust commitment to end global hunger. Chelsea Handler even face dove into a bowl of pasta.

Renzi never showed up.

Italy, previously a champion for food aid and now convening the G7 2017, has a unique ability to influence next year’s G7 agenda to include food and hunger as a priority. We know Renzi has heard our campaign. Now is the time to respond.

With World Food Day on Oct. 16, the opportunity is nigh for Renzi to step up and lift 500 million people out of hunger.

There’s still more work to do. Go here to take action and tell Renzi how important this is.

Tweet: @MatteoRenzi we need you to #Showup and lift 500 million people out of hunger at next year's #G7 in Italy. Can't ignore the hungry! #PastaPolitics #WorldFoodDay

2.  The French President tweets but then retreats

French President Francois Hollande woke up on Sept. 23, the day before Global Citizen Festival 2016, and was greeted with a tweet from none other than Rihanna.

We only had 24 hours left after months of outreach to ensure a French commitment for the Education Cannot Wait Fund, which seeks to help the 75 million children trapped in emergency situations with no access to education. So far the French government had not responded officially to the steady flow of 78,498 Global Citizen tweets, emails and petitions.  

Things began to look promising when, within hours of Rihanna’s tweet, Foreign Minister Andre Vallini tweeted on behalf of the President expressing their interest to have education on the agenda at the United Nations General Assembly meetings. Then President Hollande himself responded to Rihanna on the evening before the Festival. He assured Rihanna that education is indeed the number one priority of France.

Yet no commitment was made.

Hollande, in a private letter to Rihanna, expressed the importance of education and said he has increased France’s contribution to UN agencies, with a focus on UNICEF, by €100 million. In February of next year the country plans to hold a major international conference on protecting children in armed conflict.

However, this still does not address the critical ask of committing to the Education Cannot Wait Fund, which seeks to close a catastrophic funding gap of $8.5 billion for education in crises.

With the intensification of wars, terrorism, and natural disasters throughout the world, this problem will not go away. If education is indeed the number one priority, then prove it to the 75 million children currently going without.

And to Mr. Hollande, we say: If education is indeed the number one priority, then prove it to the 75 million children currently going without.

3. Tanzania takes one step forward … then two steps back on child marriage

In Tanzania today, child marriage pervades society, with two in every five women married before the age of 18. Child marriage denies girls their rights to go to school, exposes them to daily violence, and traps them in a cycle of poverty. Yet it is entirely legal.  Under the 1971 Tanzania Law of Marriage Act, girls as young as 14 can be married with a court order, and 15 year olds only need parental consent to enter matrimony. These loopholes are easily and frequently exploited by corrupt judges and poor families willing to trade their daughters for desperately needed resources.

For the past eight months, Global Citizen has joined forces with youth activist Joseph Aristarick, co-founder of Youth for Change Tanzania, who is urging his government to amend the law that exposes children to such brutality. It seemed progress had been made when in July of this year, the Constitutional Court ruled that marriage under the age of 18 was illegal and stated that sections 13 and 17 of the Marriage Act were unconstitutional. The government had one year to update its laws, the court said.

joseph_aristarick_tanzania.jpgAristarick and our partners Youth for Change Tanzania at the #LeveltheLaw Youth Symposium hosted by Global Citizen.
Image: Youth for Change

But a few weeks later, on Aug. 3, the government launched an appeal against this ruling. On Sept. 16 the government announced it had opted for guidance on the matter from the Referral Court instead of tabling the bill of amendments in the National Assembly “for a thorough deliberation of the law.”  

In other words, the process stalled out while the clock was ticking: every 28 minutes a girl is married under the age of 18. The government appeal was "one step forward and two steps back," said the Rebeca Gyumi, founder and executive director for the Tanzanian NGO Msichana Initiative.  

Well-known advocates such as Forest Whitaker joined the collective call for change. The Oscar winning actor and director implored the President in his letter, “to attend the Global Citizen Festival, announce your support for the High Court’s ruling, and urge accelerated progress for an international minimum marriage age of 18 for both sexes in Tanzania and around the world.”

Regrettably, on 24th September, the day of the Global Citizen Festival 2016 arrived with no concrete response from the Tanzanian Government.   

“I felt very sad hearing no response from my government on this important event,” Aristarick said. “I still believe that he would like to be part of, but for some reasons and his duties he was not able. I was disappointed because, through his presence at the festival the world would know the big efforts Tanzania have taken in empowering girls and women. Also, his commitment to #levelthelaw would be a leading example to other leaders in the Commonwealth and the world to end early and forced marriages.”

Yet there is still hope. The message is gaining ground. At the 2016 Global Citizen Festival, Aristarick took this message to the Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, and advocated with gender equality champions Forest Whitaker, Salma Hayek, and Andy Cohen. The message definitely resonated — the former Tanzanian President’s son, Ridhiwani Kikwete, posted the moment Aristarick handed over the level the law petition to his father with the hashtag #bethechangewewouldlovetosee. Nearly 33,000 Global Citizens have taken action to call for an end to child marriage in Tanzania and around the world.

Join the growing movement to level the law in Tanzania for the next generation of young girls.

4. Serious shit overlooked: work still to be done for fecal sludge management


It may be unpleasant or even taboo to talk about but “when it comes to creating misery and poverty, human waste mismanagement has few rivals,” according to Zafar Adeel, the director of United Nations University. Lack of proper waste management in some of the world’s fastest growing cities means that tons of fecal matter seeps back into water supplies, leading to devastating consequences. Over 800 children die every day from unsafe water, lack of basic sanitation and poor hygiene, while those that live miss around 443 million school days every year due to water related illnesses.

Yet, shockingly, fecal sludge management is low on the political priorities list. Which is why Global Citizen have been targeting key heads of the High-Level Panel on Water to ensure that dealing with shit is top of their agenda. The panel is an influential committee set up to help realize the goals laid out in Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water and sanitation; co-convened by the UN and the World Bank, it consists of 11 government leaders.

One leader that Global Citizen targeted heavily was Senegalese President, Macky Sall. Approaching the President via multiple channels, to invite him to the festival in order to make a commitment toward fecal sludge management. Pulling in allies like Forest Whitaker and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who wrote letters urging Sall to prioritize the 200 million tons of untreated fecal matter that spreads death, disease, and stunting (or, shortened height). Yet, disappointingly, the President did not attend.

forrest_whitaker_festival_getty.jpgImage: Getty

All is not lost however.  Inroads have been made with the High-Level Panel on Water. The World Bank made a call out on the importance of fecal sludge management when they announced their disbursement of $6 billion toward water and sanitation. Jeff Radebe, Minister in the Presidency for South Africa, announced on the Festival stage that, "Through our leadership on the High-Level Panel on Water, our government also commits today to ensure the panel champions proper sanitation and waste management services in cities and workplaces around the world."  An indication that specific funding towards this vital issue may well be disbursed soon.

Amina Mohamed and Minister Jeff Radebe.jpg

The High-Level Panel on Water has heard us. They will continue to hear from us on this matter until it is resolved for the millions at daily risk of death and disease.

Take action and tell world leaders they need to help provide access to sanitation for all.

5. One last push still needed from the UK to eradicate polio once and for all


Polio, a disease that mainly affects children under 5 years of age and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours, is set to be the second disease ever in human history to be eradicated. Since the global partnership between Rotary International, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was set up to tackle this cruel waterborne disease, cases have dropped from hundreds of thousands to just 26 a year. Yet no child should have to suffer from this debilitating and entirely preventable disease. All we need is one last push to deliver the 13-cent vaccination to every last child that needs it.

The UK is a world leader in polio eradication, as such Global Citizens have been campaigning for over a year to get the UK government to commit £100 million to help wipe out the disease by 2019.

It looked like the UK were going to come through this year. Beyond public declarations from individual MPs on the importance of polio eradication via tweets and letters there were also two seemingly concrete declarations.

In November last year at the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Global Citizen convened a polio side-event that invited countries to renew their political commitment for the end of polio. Among the many influential guests from the Prime Minister of Australia to the UN Secretary General was the Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugo Swire of the UK. At the event, Swire reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to ending polio and along with other Commonwealth leaders pledged to renew financial support to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

On World Polio Day 2015, former Secretary of State Justine Greening, in the presence of multiple politicians and the British Paralympian and Polio Survivor Anne Waful-Strike, wrapped up the evening with an explicit reaffirmation of the UK’s ambition to end polio.  Greening received 20,000 tweets from Global Citizens urging her to follow through on this pledge.  

Yet, for all the promising noises, the UK have still made no official commitment.  

World Polio Day is on October  24. The time is now to urge the UK Prime Minister to help make this horrific disease history.

6. Justice for genocide victims still not served, as Belgium and Sweden fail to follow through

AP_733470722878-Yazidi genocide UN report HERO.jpgImage: Filippo Monteforte/Pool Photo via AP

As signatories to the Rome Statute, Belgium and Sweden both have the power to refer crimes to the International Criminal Court. Which is why Global Citizens alongside the orgnizations Yazda, and It's ON U and Nadia Murad, a survivor of the genocide, have been pressuring them to bring ISIS to trial, for their crimes against the Yazidi people. Atrocious acts which resulted in the death of over 3,000 civilians, abduction of more than 5,000 and the displacement of 400,000 people from their homes. Thousands still remain in captivity.

On Aug 1., Margot Wallström, minister of foreign affairs of Sweden, responded to Global Citizen’s demands, tweeting that Sweden would argue for the ICC to prosecute those committing genocide, rape, murder and crimes against humanity against the Yazidi people.

Then on Sept. 24, at the Global Citizen Festival the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, Alexander De Croo, announced that his country was in favor of referring the case of Yazidi genocide to the International Criminal Court.

“We should stand up against people who commit genocide, and we must not be afraid to bring this to the international criminal court to make sure that justice is restored,” De Croo said in a video message to the 60,000-strong crowd.

Yet a declaration of support is not what the Yazidi people need from Belgian and Swedish officials. They need concrete steps to refer the case to the ICC. They need justice.

The world is now listening. In large part due to the 40,000 actions that Global Citizens took leading up to the festival on behalf of the cause, which De Croo noted “for raising awareness about the issue.”

Plus the high profile and accomplished prosecutor Amal Clooney has announced she is to represent Yazidi ISIS survivor Nadia Murad and her Yazidi non-profit organization Yazda when the case reaches the ICC. Global Citizens are already liaising with the Swedish and Belgian embassies and relevant ministers to help push the case to trial.

Time is not on our side. Recently ISIS burned alive 19 women who refused to have sex with their fighters. As Nadia Murad impresses, “The fate of most of 3,500 Yazidi women and girls who remain in captivity is known and probably most will face a similar fate if the world does not act now.”


When your priority is not someone else’s and you need it to be theirs, it can get frustrating.  Especially if the priority is seeing an end to poverty. Yet creating global change does not happen overnight, inevitably there will be some bumps along the road. What matters most is that global citizens keep the heat on. That is the only way to turn every single one of these disappointments into success stories. That is also the only way to transform the world.  

Ask Michael Jordan. He knows. “I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”