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Citizenship

Global Citizen Remembers Friend and Partner Hans Rosling

TEDSalon Berlin

The team at Global Citizen was saddened today to hear of the passing of Hans Rosling.

Founder of development data site, gapminder.org, evangelist for the progress that's possible fighting extreme poverty, and all-around nice guy, Hans was a long-time supporter of Global Citizen, and a role model for all of us.

I first met Hans in early 2009, as we were putting together the very first campaign that we ran, an education presentation called 1.4 Billion Reasons. I was enthralled by his TED talk, The Best Stats You've Ever Seen, and wanted his advice on how to communicate to the public about global health and development.

I remember two parts of that discussion still today.

Responding to my question about what the point of international development was, he stated it was a washing machine. I was confused, so asked him to clarify. He explained that for a family to have a washing machine, it meant that they running water and power in their home, and likely a decent-paying job. That means they had access to life's basics, and more importantly, owning a washing machine meant that the family's caregiver — almost certainly a woman — had more time on her hands, and would be able to invest in her own success and that of her family.

And, when I asked how he knew he's made a connection with the audience, he told me that he liked to hang outside the room after a presentation, and listen for a "Cinnabon moment." In Sweden, he said, there are often coffee and cakes at the event of events, and he would wander over, ostenibly looking for a cinnamon bun. And he'd listen. If they were excitedly repeating something from his talk, he'd succeeded. He'd make a note of what they loved, and keep doing it. If they were talking about something else, he'd change his talk.

Hans supported me, and Global Citizen, for years after that first meeting. He served as an advisor to our community education work for several years, he helped us train dozens of speakers, and he joined us in conversation with Bill Gates in London in early 2012.

And in recent years, he helped us respond to the Ebola crisis. I remember speaking to him one day in 2014 when he was in Liberia. An epidemiologist by training, he was one of the first people I knew to raise the alarm on the crisis, and as always, he was one of the first to spring into action.

Over a crackly line, he told me that health systems were being overwhelmed, and that we all urgently needed to push the global media to pay more attention, and support a stronger response. 

He was right — and within weeks the WHO had declared Ebola an emergency, and donors had come to the table with millions of dollars in funding to help stop the crisis. This was in no small part a function of the many calls that I know Hans had been making to governments and officials around the world, urging them to focus on the world.

Today the world is poorer for his loss, but we can all continue to live on his legacy — of cherishing and sharing the amazing progress the world is making, of fighting for data and evidence to be at the core of our policy-making, and of seeing the potential of everyone, everywhere.

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