Global Citizen Festival's Co-Founder Explains Its Birth & Mission

Global Citizens Festival, 2013.

Fans  at the Global Citizen Festival concert in Central Park in New York City on September 28, 2013. 

Prior to the launch of the Global Citizen Festival in 2012, co-founder Ryan Gall spent his time filming documentaries and hosting small charity events. Now he’s now helping organize one of the world’s largest single-day charity concerts, thanks to an inspirational moment during a Texas music festival.

“The idea came when I was at Austin City Limits one year,” Gall tells Billboard. “The stages at ACL are all very heavily branded with sponsors, so you might have the Dell Stage or Pepsi Stage. Then it hit me that there should be a Charity: Water Stage or the Hope Campaign Stage. I wanted to combine those two worlds.”

Shortly after, Gall pitched the idea of creating a massive charity concert to Global Poverty Project CEO Hugh Evans, who had experience working on the Make Poverty History Concert in his native Australia. Evans quickly took to the idea and the Global Citizen Festival was born.

Sting to Perform With No Doubt at Global Citizen Festival 

 With a continued mission of ending extreme poverty by 2030, the Global Citizen Festival will celebrate its third edition in New York’s Central Park on Sept. 27, with headlining performances by Jay Z, No Doubt, Carrie Underwood, fun., the Roots and Tiësto. Sting will make a cameo during No Doubt’s set, with other surprise guest appearances also in the works. All of the artists involved have waived their performance fees.

Coinciding with the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, the free, ticketed event will also feature dozens of onstage appearances by world leaders and politicians, along with celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Jessica Alba, Ryan Reynolds and Adrian Grenier. The participants will heavily push the event’s major themes of vaccines, education and sanitation.

“We’ve got a number of different celebrity hosts discussing those issues, along with corporations, prime ministers and leaders who are making announcements on stage,” says Gall. “We give a little music to entertain, as well as education.”

Gall is particularly excited by a scheduled appearance of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will make a significant announcement about sanitation in India during the event. “He represents a sixth of the world’s population, so that’s a pretty big win,” he says. “It means that we’re getting a pretty big reach in what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Jay Z, No Doubt Headlining Global Citizen Festival 2014

This year’s Global Citizen Festival awarded 48,000 free tickets to people who took social actions on, including signing petitions and emailing world leaders. Additionally, 12,000 VIP tickets were sold, with proceeds going toward underwriting festival costs. The 2013 event saw more than 250,000 users take 900,000 actions on issues of health, education, women’s equality and global partnerships.

Those who can’t attend will have the opportunity to watch a live broadcast of the festival on MSNBC (and, beginning at 4 p.m. eastern on Sept. 27. A one-hour primetime special on the festival will air that evening at 9 p.m. on NBC News. Ken Ehrlich, whose credits include 34 Grammy Awards, is producing the broadcasts.

“We’ll be taking both the musical performances and some of the speeches by world leaders and compressing them into a form where, in a way, the one-hour show is a mini version of the six-hour show,” Ehrlich explains to Billboard. “The intent is to try and capture both musical moments and non-musical moments where some of these world leaders will make pretty heavy announcements -- none of which we’re at liberty to reveal until the show.” The television broadcasts will also feature the journey of 10 attendees who earned their way into the 2014 Global Citizen Festival.

Ehrlich notes that many of the musical performances will be tied to the themes of this year’s festival. “I don’t want to go into them, other than to say that the songs each of the acts have chosen is on target,” he says. “We’ll be tying some really interesting things that will be said prior to or following these performances as part of the show.”

The Global Citizen Festival is funded through brand sponsorships and private donations. This year’s partners include Caterpillar, Citi, H&M, World Childhood Foundation, the Riot House, Noise4Good, EKOCYCLE, BidKind, Universal Music Group, iHeartRadio and New York’s Paramount Hotel.

While Global Citizen Festival has enjoyed success in spreading its message of poverty awareness over the past three years, Gall wouldn’t confirm that the event would be happening again in 2015. “We all hope so,” he says.


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