Editor's note: This article was published in July 2021, and has been updated to reflect our latest impact and policy objectives for 2023.
The need for applying pressure to decision makers is more essential now than ever.
Ending extreme poverty is complex, requires a lot of money, thoughtful program design and implementation, and buy-in from decision makers, as well as citizens taking action on an ongoing basis. Otherwise, we won't be able to do it.
We count on Global Citizen to mobilize networks of young people around the world. Your voices must be heard. Shout loud and act now. Together it is possible.
-Amina J. Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General
Individual monetary donations make a big difference on the ground in both sudden crises and chronic challenges, as these facilitate program delivery, direct aid, and services to vulnerable populations. Defeating the racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, and economic inequalities that fuel poverty and achieving long-term sustained impact, however, can only be achieved through service delivery that’s accompanied by advocacy, policy change, high-level intervention, investment, and taking collective action.
In short, traditional charity and fundraising alone, or direct service delivery as important as they are, are not sufficient to end extreme poverty. We need to shift billions of dollars to address the root causes of the systemic factors of poverty.
Before the global COVID-19 pandemic, economists estimated an additional $350 billion was required annually to end extreme poverty in the poorest countries.
The good news is that the world has more than enough resources available in public financing, philanthropy, contributions from the private sector, and other innovative finance instruments such as Special Drawing Rights to fund this unmet need.
As David Beasley, Head of the World Food Programme, tweeted in 2021:
“In spite of COVID's economic impact, global wealth increased by $28.7 trillion in 2020. YET, record numbers of people are still starving. Just .02% of this INCREASE alone would save 41 million lives. Just $6 billion to avert famine! What am I missing?”
Advocacy & the Activist
Advocacy and activism are critical tools for applying sustained pressure on policy and decision makers to engender social change towards achieving a world free from extreme poverty. Citizen engagement through activism is central to effective advocacy. And providing platforms that enable everyday citizens to engage in activism, to use their voices to demand action, is vital to creating such pressure.
Advocacy has an important role to play in tackling the world’s greatest challenges and can take a number of approaches. While continued investment in programmatic aid is imperative, this must be done in concert with investment in advocacy and activism.
Advocacy educates key stakeholders and decision makers about the implications of policy decisions and helps to highlight the impact of these decisions on affected individuals and communities. And where there are unmet financial needs to ensure programmatic delivery, advocacy has the ability to drive resource mobilization. The need for applying pressure to decision makers is more essential now than ever.
Even before the global COVID-19 pandemic, progress in eradicating extreme poverty had slowed, stagnated, and in some countries even reversed.
In South Africa alone, the number of people living in poverty has increased in recent years, with at least a quarter of the population estimated to be still living in extreme poverty. It is in part due to the scale of this challenge that a movement like Global Citizen exists in the first place: concerned citizens must hold their governments and decision makers accountable and make sure they follow through on their commitments.
That is why Global Citizen has spent the last decade focusing on disrupting traditional approaches to pressuring governments, corporate leaders, and philanthropists to make serious commitments towards ending extreme poverty. Global Citizen’s advocacy model leverages our relationships, platforms, and convening power to call for swift and robust action, securing commitments and then ensuring follow through on these commitments, making sure they are delivered when and where they are needed most.
But we’re only able to inspire commitments thanks to the power of Global Citizens everywhere taking action, both in person and via our platforms. And we’re thrilled that over the last decade, citizens have embraced our model. Global Citizen’s “action taking” advocacy model democratizes activism.
It is is one that empowers the voices of everyday citizens, activists, and celebrities, while complementing the essential work of on-the-ground organizations that are directly feeding and housing families, educating children, mitigating climate change, and more.
Our model ensures the inclusion of global voices that represent ethnic, socio-economic, gender diversity. It enables Global Citizens to proudly balance their commitment to advancing society with their love of community, music, and culture. Our model appreciates that people don’t need to be policy experts or philanthropists to effectuate change — they simply need to care enough to take action, whether at home or alongside thousands of other Global Citizens.
Global Citizen strives to shine a spotlight on activists and humanitarians working on the world's most urgent crises; offers a platform for winning concrete commitments; is an incubator for changemakers; and is driven by a community of people who care about their fellow human beings, no matter where they are in the world.
Why else would Global Citizens from South Africa, France, Egypt, Eswatini, Jordan, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, the Philippines, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland, Nigeria, Germany, Colombia, and more, join their voices to call for COVID-19 vaccine equity?
What Does It Mean to ‘Take Action’ With Global Citizen?
During the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 campaign in 2018, in the first 24 hours following its announcement, more than 100,000 people registered to be Global Citizen activists — taking 1 million actions in the first week alone. Again in 2020, Global Citizens took actions from across 114 nations to support #EndSARS and condemn police brutality in Nigeria.
Once an individual registers to become a Global Citizen, “taking action” involves performing relatively simple but important acts. These acts of courage have the potential to advance public policy, unlock opportunity, and in doing so are able to yield tremendous impact globally.
Actions include things like signing petitions, taking quizzes to learn more about global issues, emailing and phoning up legislative representatives, sending tweets to business and governments and sharing social media posts, sharing images and videos of oneself standing up for the issues you care about, and more. Taking an action means being an advocate and activist.
Global Citizen provides an easy-to-use app and platform to both amplify activists’ voices on the issues they care about and combine individual voices to form a collective voice of Global Citizens all around the world, creating momentum that leads to real impact. The first half of 2021 alone saw an incredible amount of action-taking, Global Citizens took actions focused on addressing vaccine inequity, as part of our "VAX LIVE" campaign: including:
- Joining Pope Francis, and Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in calling on the pharmaceutical industry to take “every possible measure to increase global supply must be on the table, including the temporary suspension of intellectual property.” And in the coming weeks, we will be launching a new push targeting those countries still opposed to a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights.
- Teaming up with Selena Gomez to call on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the rest of the G7 to share at least 1 billion additional doses with the world’s poorest countries by September.
- Calling on the Pharmaceutical industry to put people before profit by offering vaccines at not for profit prices, especially to the poorest countries.
Then, in September 2021, Global CItizen Live was broadcast from an unprecedented seven continents. The global event featured over 24 hours of music performances, with commitments from world leaders, businesses, and philanthropists to defend the planet and defeat poverty. Throughout the campaign, more than US$1.1 billion, 157 million trees planted, and over 60 million COVID-19 vaccines were announced.
In 2022, we called on Global Citizens to take action to support our "End Extreme Poverty NOW — Our Future Can't Wait" campaign, rallying millions of Global Citizens around the world to demand the world's top political and business leaders take immediate action in three critical areas: empowering adolescent girls; breaking the systemic barriers that keep people in poverty; and taking meaningful climate action.
How Does Someone Take Action With Global Citizen?
It is a simple process and the best way is to download our app or use our website to register as a Global Citizen, and start taking action.
Every action completed creates a ripple effect that, when combined with actions taken all around the globe, can change the world for the better. Combined actions taken by Global Citizens around the world add up to sustained momentum that can't be ignored — and this momentum grows in the run up to Global Citizen's festival events, which bring together the world's biggest names in entertainment, Global Citizens, activists, world leaders, corporations, philanthropists, and other champions of change.
At these events — such as the annual Global Citizen Festival — world leaders, business leaders, and philanthropists take the stage to make commitments responding to the actions taken by Global Citizens. These commitments may include financial contributions or policy changes to improve global food security or gender equity, or to reduce the impact of climate change, and many other issues that Global Citizens care about.
And for Global Citizens who have earned their spot in the crowd by taking action with us, these events mark the culmination of their efforts to defeat poverty, demand equity, and defend the planet.
Combined with stunning musical performances from the world's biggest artists, with thousands of action-taking Global Citizens in the audience, our events are a moment of celebration for the impact we're achieving together. But, as well as Global Citizens taking action, what goes on behind the scenes to encourage a political or corporate leader to make a pledge through the Global Citizen platform? What goes on from A to Z?
How Does Global Citizen’s Model Drive Commitments for Change?
Global Citizen has always operated through local and global partnerships, with our campaign planning and architecture being thoughtfully designed in consultation with NGOs, activists, and partners.
1. Ahead of launching our "Recovery Plan for the World" campaign in early 2021, for example, Global Citizen consulted partners as diverse as the World Health Organization, the SDG 2 Advocacy Hub, the World Food Programme, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Education Cannot Wait, and OutRight Action International, as well as individuals such as education advocate Esther Ngemba, award-winning SDG Advocate Eddie Ndopu, and COP26 High Level Champion Nigel Topping.
Behind-the-scenes, our policy team works with such experts and on-the-ground organizations to develop the advocacy plans and outcomes needed to get on track to achieve the Global Goals. This helps us ensure that our strategies are in direct collaboration and alignment with the leaders helping shape policy, drive action, and enact change on both a national and global scale.
"The proposed ‘Recovery Plan for the World’, particularly the first objective of ending the pandemic, is very well aligned with the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 Outbreak adopted by the African Ministers of Health at the onset of the pandemic in February 2020."
- Dr. John Nkengasong, Director for the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention
2. In identifying the ideal partnership, Global Citizen looks for alignment around our core mission of ending extreme poverty. For example, nowhere is poverty more prevalent than in rural communities and particularly amongst smallholder farmers. Across Africa alone smallholder farmers account for two-thirds of those living in rural poverty. This is why, since 2018, Global Citizens have been supporting the work of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the only multilateral organization dedicated exclusively to addressing rural poverty.
After finalizing our policy objectives, the next step of the process involves identifying governments, corporations, and foundations that could be persuaded to make policy, financial, and other commitments toward these issues.
Global Citizen then takes our policy priorities and advocates directly to specific governments, foundations, and corporations worldwide, consulting a range of stakeholders, and looking at past track records to pinpoint future opportunities for commitments. For example, Global Citizen has been campaigning to fund the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) since our very first music event in 2011. Since then, Global Citizens have taken millions of actions across many campaigns, targeting specific governments, resulting in pledges like a CAD $100 million commitment from Canada to help eradicate polio in Afghanistan as well as in the two other endemic countries, Nigeria and Pakistan, and to continue to protect many polio-free countries.
For Global Citizen’s impact team, a commitment made by a world leader, philanthropist, or corporate leader on stage is just the beginning of the process. Afterwards, Global Citizen continues to monitor the commitment progress and follows up with the relevant parties to make sure money is disbursed and policies are changed.
While government commitments account for a vast majority of commitments Global Citizen tracks, funding from businesses is able to be immediately deployed and received by those in need. You can find out more about our impact here, as well as see details on specific financial commitments and how each is progressing towards being fully disbursed.
For example, the $127.9 million secured in commitments through One World: Together At Home in April 2020 has helped 140 local organizations around the world respond to COVID-19. Should a commitment be undelivered, reprogrammed, or delayed, Global Citizen will pursue a suite of potential actions that holds commitment makers accountable, ensuring funding is disbursed as pledged and lasting impact is achieved.
We call out those who are off track or fail to keep us abreast of delivery of their commitments because speaking up and holding world leaders accountable when they break their promises is the work of responsible citizenship and we believe that Global Citizens are up to the task. And because our activists take actions throughout the year and not just in the run up to our festival events, we provide a platform for maintaining ongoing pressure on politicians who make commitments.
In recent years, Global Citizen has also focused on driving accountability amongst billionaire philanthropists who pledge to give their wealth away to charitable causes.
In 2020, Global Citizen and Forbes worked together to refine the way philanthropy is measured amongst the Forbes 400. With a focus on actualized giving — or money donated directly to charitable organizations — the 2020 Forbes 2020 rankings were based on an updated methodology that focuses on money out the door, not held in a donor advised fund (DAF) or foundation bank accounts.
In addition to amplifying activist voices to engender change, Global Citizen also facilitates the delivery of critical resources to communities most in need. Over the years, over $41.4 billion in funds mobilized by Global Citizen have been disbursed to support direct service delivery — reaching organizations and communities all over the world working to achieve the UN’s Global Goals.
Since 2009, Global Citizens have taken over 33.5 million actions. Today, these actions, in combination with high-level advocacy work, have led to more than $43.6 billion being distributed to our partners around the world, impacting over 1.29 billion lives in the fight to end extreme poverty.
The results speak for themselves — to cite just a few, more than 1.29 billion people have been impacted by commitments that have led to improved sanitation systems, health care access, gender equity, digital technology in classrooms, and marine protection, among many other issue area breakthroughs. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Global Citizen to shift gears and move from in-person to virtual events, the efficacy of the Global Citizen model remained and was pivotal to advancing the global response to COVID-19.
Through our COVID-19 events, including One World: Together At Home and Global Goal: Unite for Our Future in 2020; and VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World in 2021, among other major moments, Global Citizen has helped to mobilize $2 billion in cash grants, and secure 26 million vaccines for distribution across the most vulnerable communities.
In September 2021, Global Citizen Live was broadcast from an unprecedented seven continents, wth the global event featuring over 24 hours of music performances, with commitments from world leaders, businesses, and philanthropists to defend the planet and defeat poverty. Throughout the campaign, more than US$1.1 billion, 157 million trees planted, and over 60 million COVID-19 vaccines were announced.
Global Citizen’s advocacy model has fostered global solidarity and a shared hope that poverty can be defeated.
This has turned into a mass movement of people demanding that their leaders build a world that allows everyone to live in peace, free from hunger, and capable of pursuing their dreams, and then holding them accountable to make sure commitments that are made become actions that are delivered. This is why continued investment in advocacy is imperative.
There isn’t a moment to lose. As inequality rises, access to lifesaving vaccines is not available globally, and our planet faces increasing and compounding threats from climate change, it’s on us to make sure that our leaders take action — and that we play a part in helping to create a more fair and sustainable world, for ourselves and for our planet.