Global Citizen's Trillion-Dollar Ticket: How the Music-Friendly Advocacy Group Plans to End Extreme Poverty

ISSUE 22 2019 - DO NOT REUSE
Olivier Douliery/WireImage
Usher at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day in Washington, D.C.

Hugh Evans knew he wanted to spend his life fighting poverty after spending just one night in a Philippines slum on a humanitarian trip he took as a teenager. "What more motivation do you need, knowing there are people starving on the planet?" he says.

On Sept. 26, Evans, in partnership with global CEO advisory firm Teneo, will unveil Global Goal Live: The Possible Dream, a 12-month campaign to kick-start fundraising — in part by targeting Fortune 500 companies — that will culminate in a 10-hour global media event across five continents on Sept. 26, 2020.

The goal: ending extreme poverty — which the World Bank defines as living on less than $1.90 per day — by reaching $3.5 trillion in financial pledges by 2030. That's the amount of money it will take to reach the estimated 736 million afflicted people.

The brain trust behind the mission dates back to 2006, when Evans was helping organize a music festival in his native Australia for the multinational Make Poverty History Coalition and he met Universal Music Group executive vp Michele Anthony at the event. "I immediately offered to help recruit artists, managers and agents," says Anthony. "It's activism for a new generation."

After receiving various grants in 2008, Evans co-founded the Global Poverty Project, later renamed Global Citizen, a nonprofit organization that aims to eradicate global poverty through live events. The idea is to leverage fan engagement — and artist star power — to pressure governments and corporations to take action from the top down. A decade on, Global Citizen concerts have pulled in close to $40 billion in charitable commitments from around the world.

The first Global Citizen Festival in 2012 came together at the last minute, says Evans, thanks to two people: media mogul Sumner Redstone, who wrote him a check "on the spot" for $1 million, and Neil Young, who agreed to headline with just a month's notice — for free. The organization has expanded from its flagship event in New York's Central Park with additional festivals in cities like Montréal and Hamburg, Germany. Acts from Beyoncé to Coldplay to Cardi B have headlined, all using the stage as a platform that raises policy and financial commitments for causes that directly or indirectly reduce poverty.

Last year, for example, Janet Jackson denounced gender inequality during her set, and later, Comcast/NBCUniversal pledged $5 million for a gender-equality campaign. Shawn Mendes called for greater access to education, and then the Dutch government pledged $116.8 million to the Global Partnership for Education. When John Legend addressed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, asking him to take legislative action against racial injustice, Cuomo announced plans to reform the state's cash bail system.

Along with Anthony, the New York-based organization's board of directors now includes Roc Nation co-founder/CEO Jay Brown, Live Nation Entertainment COO for U.S. concerts Mark Campana and Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis. Atlantic Records released the first-ever Global Citizen EP in November 2018, and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin will produce and curate its international events.

Global Citizen also premiered Activate, a six-part National Geographic docuseries in partnership with P&G about humanitarian projects by such entertainers as Usher and Common who are working to end New York's cash bail system. "It's important that artists use their power to help those in need," says Usher.

Fans also play a major role. For tickets, people must participate in the initiative by tweeting at lawmakers to tackle climate change or signing a petition to support the Global Fund to fight AIDS. According to Global Citizen, 60,000 people are expected to attend its festival in Central Park on Sept. 28, which will be headlined by Queen with Adam Lambert, Pharrell Williams and Alicia Keys.

"It's not like there's a lack of money; it's that there isn't a sense of urgency to give," says Evans. "Just raising awareness is a waste of time."


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