Central Park’s Great Lawn burned brighter than the New York skyline, as 60,000 phones stretched in the air during Jay Z and Beyoncé’s surprise performance of “Forever Young”. The crowd below the stage was not composed of just fans, but rather of Global Citizens in support of one cause: the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030.
This past Saturday marked the third annual Global Citizen Festival, a concert spearheaded by the Global Poverty Project in an effort to promote education, activism and political reform to help underprivileged populations across world. The most unique aspect of the concert, however, was the audience – all of whom earned their admission by taking action online at globalcitizen.org in the name of basic human rights.
Headliners like Jay Z, Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood and Tiesto stood alongside international leaders, including India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to urge the global population to assist and sustain the movement. As if those names were not influential enough, note that President Obama prepared his own speech for the event, aired by video on the big screen.
Hugh Evans, an Australian humanitarian who has already made his way onto the Forbes “30 Under 30” list of social entrepreneurs, is responsible for organizing not only the event but one of the largest movements to eradicate poverty. As CEO of the Global Poverty Project, Evans has dedicated his life to rallying public, private and diplomatic commitment for this mission. We had the chance to speak with him backstage during the Global Citizens Festival.
Riley Griffin: What kind of effect would eradicating extreme global poverty have on the world? Why do you make the distinction?
Hugh Evans: We focus on extreme poverty because it is the worst form of human suffering. The World Bank defines “extreme poverty” as those who live on less than $1.25 a day, and currently there are 1.2 billion people in that condition. The reason why we focus on this is because it’s the sort of useless suffering where a child would die for the lack of a ¢30 immunization, or access to appropriate sanitation and water. The effect that eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 is that we will see a society that is far more equitable, where the place where you’re born doesn’t dictate the opportunity you have in life. That’s why we’re focused on this goal.
RG: Are we currently winning the war against global poverty?
HE: What is amazing is that the last fifty years, since the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) came into practice, have resulted in the most successful anti-poverty push in human history. More people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the last twenty years than in the 200 years prior to that. So we are winning the war.
When I was born, extreme poverty was at 52% of the world’s population, now it has been lowered to less than 20%. The trajectory is downwards. This is not just due to economic growth. In part it is due to interventions – like those that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did – with access to vaccinations and immunizations, agricultural farming, water and sanitation, and education (particularly for girls). These are the interventions that are lifting people out of extreme poverty.
RG: Why is modern technology an essential tool for ending global poverty?
HE: Technology plays an important role in the eradication extreme global poverty by providing new crop varieties, better access to vaccines, new immunizations and better technology concerning sanitation. However the digital revolution also plays a key role. People are connected. The Global Citizens out here tonight are connected with their friends across the developing world. Millennials don’t necessarily define themselves by their own country; instead they are connected to this planet.
RG: This is the third consecutive year the Global Citizens Festival is taking place. Why is music the best platform for creating social change?
HE: We have seen throughout history that music is the great uniter. When Nelson Mandela led the anti-apartheid movement, the Zulu singers brought people together. Similarly back in the days of William Wilberforce, we saw the song “Amazing Grace” unite the movement against slavery. Music has always been the force behind social justice movements.
RG: The Global Citizens Festival occurs at the same time as the UN General Assembly. What kind of significance does this have for implementing political reform?
HE: Well the whole point of this is to dovetail the United Nations meeting with an opportunity for leaders to make new commitments on behalf of the world’s core, in the names of their countries. Tonight, we’re delighted that Prime Minister Modi of India, Prime Minister Koirala of Nepal, Prime Minister Solberg of Norway, the President of the World Bank, and the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Foreign Minister of both Norway and Canada are here to support our cause. They have all made amazing commitments. Through tonight’s concert we will impact the lives of over 259 million people. We set off trying to achieve 50 million, but the number became so much bigger through the momentum of the movement. Really, it blows my mind.