Global citizens take action, mobilize billions to end extreme poverty

by Rahim Kanani | rahimkanani | Rahim Kanani Media Group, Inc
Wednesday, 16 September 2015 04:29 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“People care, and they want the world to be better, but they need to know that their actions make a difference and they need to understand how to get involved,” explained Hugh Evans, CEO of The Global Poverty Project, an international education and advocacy organization working towards the end of extreme poverty by 2030. In an interview, we discussed the evolution and growing momentum of the Global Citizen platform, impactful moments and milestones over the past few years, what to expect from this year’s Global Citizen festival on Saturday, September 26th in New York City’s Central Park, and much more.

In such a short time, Global Citizen has become a powerful platform and movement for ordinary people to participate in extraordinary change. To what do you attribute such intense excitement and engagement around this movement?

We have indeed seen extraordinary growth. Since January, the number of global citizens on the platform has increased by 788%. For us, being a Global Citizen is more than a label, it's about creating a lasting movement to end extreme poverty and this generation is uniquely positioned to make a difference in 2015, to take action and not be bystanders to the problems facing the world.

We are immensely grateful to our partners at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who decided to make a big bet on Global Citizen in this historic year. People are realizing that it is statistically possible to end extreme poverty in the next fifteen years, and with their support Global Citizen's digital platform has become the destination for passionate and committed citizens to create change.

Over the last several years, what would be some of the most important milestones or moments in the Global Citizen movement?

In 2012, more than 30,000 attendees signed our petition calling on world leaders to prioritize polio eradication and the total number of signatures rose to 62,000. This massive, public show of support provided the ammunition needed to knock on the doors of world leaders, from Canada to Australia, securing funds to help eradicate this debilitating disease. 

An important moment ahead of last year’s Festival was the circulation of a petition calling on U.S. leaders to support the Water for the World Act, a bill that would help the U.S. Government to more efficiently increase access to water, sanitation, and hygiene to millions around the world. In response, global citizens took 53,000 actions supporting access to water and sanitation worldwide, our movement helped empower the organizations working to support the Water for the World Act and ensure Congressional leaders paid attention.

Also, throughout the 2014 Festival campaign, global citizens took over 85,000 actions related to child survival, particularly vaccines, which resulted in commitments worth over USD 1 billion, and which could directly affect the lives of 34 million kids through immunization and other health programs by 2020. These commitments were made by Norway, Luxembourg and the United States of America. Funds will be distributed through GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance and The Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

This September, what will be the focus of the Global Citizen Festival and how does the festival itself tie into the goals and ambitions of Global Citizen more broadly?

This year in particular is an historic year for the Global Citizen Festival. The UN releases a new set of Global Goals in September, and we want the Festival and the platform to be the place people around the world look toward to help make these goals not only famous, but also give them the tools, connectivity and education to help achieve them.

More broadly, given the importance of this year to the world, we introduced our most challenging actions to date -- in-person check-ins, phone calls, letter-writing -- to engage our global citizens more than ever before. We were also very excited that Chris Martin of Coldplay made a 15-year commitment to be the curator of the Festival, which will provide an annual accountability moment around the progress towards achieving the global goals.

What kind of impact do you believe Global Citizen has had so far on the international agenda to end poverty, and what kind of impact would you like it to have moving forward?

The Global Citizen movement has grown to almost six million people. Actions taken by these Global Citizens have resulted in 87 commitments and policy announcements, including cash commitments valued at US $18.3 billion. Just recently, one of our 2015 Festival hosts, Stephen Colbert ,invited global citizens to tweet at Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, asking Norway to increase their commitment to improve girls education. Prime Minister Solberg received 10’s of thousands of tweets, letters and voicemails from all over the world, and she responded by agreeing to attend our Festival in September and called on the support of other nations to contribute to the Global Partnership for Education.

We will be continuing our commitment of holding our world leaders accountable to the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development designed to fight inequality, protect our planet and end extreme poverty by 2030. Moving forward, firstly we would like to see the G7 put up the funding needed to fulfill their commitment to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition. Also, we want to see a fully funded Global Partnership for Education - that can deliver 12 years of free, quality education to children across the world. We will also be working on end open defecation, ensuring sanitation, and clean drinking water for all.  We are also dedicated to finishing the job of eradicating Polio - our team has been working in partnership with Rotary to get Polio at the top of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta this coming November to that end.

Looking back at when Global Citizen was founded, what do you now know that you wish you knew when you first began this journey?

I’ve learned there is a big portion of the world's population who are on the fence when it comes to global development and global health. People care, and they want the world to be better, but they need to know that their actions make a difference and they need to understand how to get involved. I've learned that deep cynicism exists, and that for many people these issues seem to lay far from their own door. And most alarmingly, many people aren't yet convinced that ending extreme poverty by 2030 is an achievable goal.  

But that's what drives us, bringing new people into the movement. Every single Global Citizen can make an impact. And the good news is that extreme poverty has more than halved in my lifetime. From 52% of the world’s population in 1982 to approximately 20% of the world’s population today. Change is possible, but we need a lasting movement to achieve it.