In our series “5 Questions With,” we meet leaders from across the Global Citizen movement to learn more about them, their departments, and what inspires them to come to work each day. 

This week, we’re speaking to the intrepid woman behind Global Citizen’s biggest corporate partnerships about expecting the unexpected, rising to the challenge when the world is in crisis, and who funds and sponsors the movement to end extreme poverty once and for all.  

Sharon O’Sullivan is Global Citizen’s Global Head of Corporate Partnerships and Content Distribution. She joined Global Citizen three years ago and moved from the private sector to use her business experience to contribute to the mission to end extreme poverty.

Her background in media, corporate partnerships, and business strategy has contributed to her leadership role at Global Citizen. Companies like Discovery, ESPN, FX, and CBS have provided the foundation to create win-win partnerships where companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) work is amplified while creating a much larger impact together toward achieving the United Nations' Global Goals.

Sharon lives with her family in New Jersey, including her three children, her husband Danny, and their new puppy, Oscar.

Hi Sharon! How’s your week so far? 

So far so good! I am thrilled with the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act — it will impact every person in the US and on the planet.

Ready for your five questions? 

Let’s do it. 

1. First of all, what’s the best thing about your job at Global Citizen? 

The best part of my job is using my experience and passion to address some of the world's biggest challenges. In the past, I’ve run revenue and partnerships teams that have been focused on consumer engagement (that is, selling products). I enjoyed the work but always thought that maybe there could be a use for those same skills beyond driving higher quarterly earnings. 

Our work here at Global Citizen is truly partnering with companies to use their corporate social responsibility work to amplify the impact of our shared policy initiatives and drive incremental change to defeat poverty and defend the planet. It is incredibly rewarding, especially being part of a team that has stepped into the middle of several global crises and being part of the solution. It is very empowering.

Ahead of Global Citizen Live in New York City on Sept. 25, 2021, on the Great Lawn in Central Park.Ahead of Global Citizen Live in New York City on Sept. 25, 2021, on the Great Lawn in Central Park.
Image: Courtesy of Sharon O'Sullivan

2. Who donates to Global Citizen? Who are our corporate partners? 

While many nonprofits are funded by members’ monthly donations or, for example, gala fundraisers, Global Citizen’s campaigns and operations are funded by corporate partners, as well as through philanthropists and foundations. So instead of asking our community for money, we ask them to take action with their voice, their time, and their everyday choices. 

I manage the corporate partner side. Our global partners include Accenture, Cisco, Citi, Delta Airlines, Google, Lebashe, Procter & Gamble, and Verizon. We also have companies that come in to support us for our campaign events, such as the Global Citizen Festival, and those moments of global relief, like One World: Together At Home, or Stand Up for Ukraine.

I don't know of any organization that has the ability to respond as quickly to convene the private sector, governments, NGOs, philanthropists, artists, and media partners in the way that Global Citizen does, and get them uniting with citizens around the world for large-scale relief funding. It’s really amazing.

3. Global Citizen is all about defending the planet and ending extreme poverty, and many people view big corporations as being largely responsible for the state of the world today. So, I have to ask, how does Global Citizen decide who to partner with? 

The No. 1 thing is working with corporations that are looking to be part of the solution. Our corporate partners share our values. We have a deep vetting process for partners, and we ensure that those partners meet the standards of the UN Global Compact, as well as our own set of red lines. 

We ask questions like, do they sell tobacco or fossil fuels? Do they have a history of human right abuses in their supply chain? Are they part of the Ethical Trading Initiative? Has the company set science-based targets in line with the 1.5 degrees Celsius target set out in the Paris climate agreement?

We work with the partners’ CSR teams to together develop the policy goals for the partnership with the objective being to amplify the outcomes of their commitments and work. We really become a powerful entity to drive change, and for corporations to be leaders in the private sector.

4. Right, so how do you decide who can partner with Global Citizen? And how do you ensure they’re trustworthy and not just greenwashing? 

We really have a deep process of ensuring that we are partnering with brands and companies that are authentic in their ESG and CSR mission. And again, that their mission aligns with Global Citizen’s, to defeat poverty, defend the planet, and demand equity.

We campaign on all the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which go far beyond just one issue. Brand partners can align with us to take action on specific issues, like the commitment Citi made with us to finance women-owned businesses. 

I don't know of any organization that has the ability to respond as quickly to convene the private sector, governments, NGOs, philanthropists, artists, and media partners in the way that Global Citizen does.

Or Cisco and Verizon, who have worked to close the digital divide through their work and their commitments to education through Global Citizen. And we're currently working with Procter & Gamble on a campaign focused on menstrual hygiene with its brand Always, addressing the issues of period poverty worldwide. 

So, there are many ways companies can partner with us to have real-world impact on specific issues. And the good news is that we track their progress with regular reporting, so we hear the stories and see the lives that are impacted by these commitments. 

Image: Courtesy of Sharon O'Sullivan

5. What are examples of corporate commitments that stand out in your mind? 

Well, the most emotional was when the world shut down with COVID-19, and we were all locked down in our homes. With the creative direction of Chris Martin and Lady Gaga, within just a few weeks, we launched One World: Together At Home in April 2020. 

That was incredibly impactful because the entire globe, every human being, had been affected by the crisis. Our organization was able to stand up a campaign and global broadcast in four weeks that delivered $128 million in funding for the vital PPE needed by the World Health Organization, as well as relief efforts happening on the ground worldwide

It was powerful to do something positive that helped in a time of global need — and all of our corporate partners contributed significant funding and resources to the campaign. They walked the walk and they continue to do so. 

What's really powerful about Global Citizen is its ability to unite everyone around the world — citizens, activists, corporations, philanthropists, governments, broadcasters, and artists to come together and be united in a shared mission.We are a passionate and impactful group of people. This is a very special place to work.

Thanks for your time, Sharon! 

Thank you! 


Defeat Poverty

5 Questions With: Sharon O’Sullivan on Corporate Partnerships and Funding to Change the World