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Kevin Rudd Tells Activists to ‘Be Persistent in the Face of Adversity’ Ahead of Global Citizen Prize 2020


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Global Citizen Prize honors leaders and activist across government, the arts and entertainment, business, philanthropy, and more, as well as among young people and Global Citizens. This year, we have faced unprecedented global challenges, and it’s more important than ever to celebrate those individuals dedicating their lives to uplifting their communities and even the world. Join the movement by taking action here to support the UN’s Global Goal and help end extreme poverty.

"Be very confident of what you believe in, why you believe it, and what you should do about it to give it effect.” That’s former Australian Prime Minister and President of the Asia Society Policy Institute Kevin Rudd’s advice to anyone who wants to help champion the rights of the world’s most vulnerable, but is unsure where to start. 

His message comes ahead of Global Citizen Prize 2020, an annual award ceremony honoring leaders and activists around the world who have taken exceptional and sustained action toward ending extreme poverty and achieving the UN Global Goals. 

As a Global Citizen Prize selection committee member, alongside nearly 30 former world leaders, activists, NGO leaders, and more, Rudd will help choose the winner of the 2020 Global Citizen Prize for World Leader, which recognizes the world’s most impactful government officials.

Previous winners include Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg, in 2018, and Deputy Secretary-General of the UN Amina Mohammed, in 2019. This year, four extraordinary finalists have been announced — Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel; Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva; President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen; and Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima. You can read more about each of the finalists and why they deserve to be recognized, here

In the lead up to the Dec. 19 event, Global Citizen had the opportunity to speak with Rudd about Global Citizen Prize, local and international activism, Global Citizen’s Give While You Live campaign, and why he has lovingly adopted the title of the “Sultan of Shit".


Why were you interested in becoming a panel judge for Global Citizen Prize this year? 

Having been part of the political process myself, I know that it's rare that people will acknowledge the positive things that you do in public life. I know from people who continue an active public political life that being acknowledged for what you are doing to positively turn the dial for all humanity's benefit actually helps. It helps psychologically to be recognized.

It also helps lead by example in terms of other leaders around the world. It creates an example for others to act decisively on turning the UN Global Goals from theory into practice, and the Paris agreement from a piece of paper into a climate reality. 

What would you say to those who want to champion the rights of the most vulnerable, but are unsure where to start? 

I've always said to be very confident of what you believe in, why you believe it, and what you should do about it to give it effect. 

Secondly, always ensure that your community activism, public activism, and international activism correlate with your personal area of fascination. If you are working hard and creatively at something that excites your intellectual passions and emotional passions, you're going to be phenomenally good at it. 

Thirdly, my advice would be simple, naked, human persistence. Also, know that there is a progressive future, and our job is to continue to aggravate the critical mass and force to drive the army forward. As for the platform for engagement, go where you feel most comfortable and where you will be used as a real foot soldier of change and not just as cannon fodder. 

What are your thoughts on the incredible changemakers named as finalists for this year's Global Citizen Prize for World Leader? 

I think it's a great list. I've got to know Kristalina Georgieva in recent years; I am on her international advisory board for the International Monetary Fund. Her passion for being ahead of the curve in debt rescheduling and emergency debt finance is remarkable against where we've been in similar economic and financial crises in the world in the past.

She is peddling at 1,000 miles per hour, most of it below the surface, to sustain confidence in markets and to keep 70 or 80 governments around the world solvent. Now I'm pretty respectful of that. 

As for the other women, they are also women with extraordinary, substantive achievements. This will be a difficult selection to make. 

You’re a passionate advocate for the issue of safe drinking water and sanitation, and are now the High-Level Chair of Sanitation and Water for All. Is UN Global Goal 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, the one you're most passionate about?

I'm pretty passionate about the whole set. Why am I, as my sons describe me, the "Sultan of Shit?" It's because no one else would do the job. That's the truth.

I'm the "Toilet King," and my mission in life is to get as practical as possible, and so in the last month, we've produced what I call a minister's handbook on how to finance toilet projects. [We want sanitation ministers] to pick up this book when they say, "how can I finance a sanitation project when I can't extract money from the budget to do it? What are my creative alternatives?" 

I also grew up on a farm in rural Queensland, Australia, where we had no sewage. I kind of know what it's like. It's not very dignified.

Global Citizen's 'Give While You Live' campaign calls for the world’s 2,000 billionaires to donate 5% of their wealth annually to support efforts such as the COVID-19 response. Why do you support this campaign?

I was first moved in public life by a guy called Chuck Feeney, who set up the Atlantic Philanthropies. He's one of the first billionaires and earned his money by developing duty-free stores worldwide at airports.

He earned $4 billion, retired, and then said that he wants to have given all his money away by the time he dies. He then set up his foundation to do that. At the age of about 88, he's now down to a bit less than a million dollars. 

When you deal with people like this, they get it. What Feeney has done is he set up a movement, well before Warren Buffett, well before Bill Gates, well before Mortimer Zuckerman. When I offered Feeney an Honorary Order of Australia, he declined. People like this speak volumes with what they do.

As prime minister and foreign minister, you often made the point that pursuing a global citizenship approach has profound local and national consequences. How can we all be better citizens of the world? 

We must all continue to be literate on the complexity of global challenges in sustainable development, climate, and international politics. That takes time; you can't just react to something you've seen; you need to dig in. 

You can then anchor that knowledge and underlying passion into a minimum of one institutional commitment with a global focus. That way, we can get to a stage where all of us identify first as global citizens rather than necessarily being a citizen of our country. 

Why is it important to recognize and celebrate activists and leaders through platforms like Global Citizen Prize?

My experience has been that the world divides into three categories of people. Most people prefer to observe from the grandstand. They like to watch the game and provide varying levels of gratuitous commentary, without ever having the guts to play the game and be engaged in the game to move the ball forward. 

The second category of people sees the major challenges in public policy, but their engagement is primarily to manage that issue to their personal advantage and their career development. The third is probably the minority, but it's a healthy minority: people who are prepared to get shit done. 

And that's the people Global Citizen Prize refers to. With or without any level of external recognition for their efforts, their motivating life force is to leave the world a better place. That's why you need them. They're the foot soldiers of reform. 

Without them, it's just a bunch of words from politicians.


Join Global Citizen in December 2020 to celebrate the leaders among us who have stepped up against a backdrop of unprecedented global challenges to take action for the world we want — a world that is fair, just, and equal.

The broadcast and digitally streamed award ceremony will also feature inspirational stories of human strength and unforgettable performances that will bring together artists, activists, and global leaders to remind each of us that, together, we will come out of this year stronger. Find out more about the Global Citizen Prize here

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