Bringing Beyonce & Bill Gates Together: Inside Hugh Evans' Poverty-Fighting Global Citizen Festival

Robert Ascroft
Global Citizen co-founder Hugh Evans photographed at Pearl Jam's sound check on Sept. 25, 2015. "No movement is about an individual," says Evans of his organization's social media  mission. "It's about an amazing group of people coming together from different backgrounds."

"What a f—ing day it has been,” said Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, addressing the crowd of 60,000 at the Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park on Sept. 26. “Never before have we played for an audience that was 100 percent made up of activists.” It may have been a first for the Seattle rockers, but the fourth annual event has become a must-attend for music fans-turned-change agents, most given free tickets after going onto its website and completing nine specific “action journeys,” a series of tasks like petitioning world leaders to prioritize polio eradication or tweeting about making education accessible to girls around the globe all in an effort to end extreme poverty by 2030.

Pearl Jam capped a star-studded spectacle of donated performances from co-headliners Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay, plus side-stage sets by Common, Sting and Tori Kelly. Non-musicians from first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to Hugh Jackman and Bill Gates appeared, demanding gender equality, clean-water mandates and climate-change legislation.

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“All lives are created equal,” says Hugh Evans, the 32-year-old mastermind and CEO of 501(c)(3) nonprofit Global Poverty Project, who conceptualized and helped launch the Global Citizen Festival in 2012 as a way to encourage activism and pressure world leaders to ramp up financial contributions to good works. (This year at the concert, for example, the European Commission pledged €500 million to aid the Syrian refugee crisis.)

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“We’re acting not just for charity but for justice,” says Evans, an Australia native who started a nonprofit youth organization called The Oaktree Foundation, which helped drive education initiatives in developing countries. At 18, he began staging awareness-raising concerts -- Bono dropped by one show to jam -- spurring the Aussie government to double its foreign aid levels. After establishing GPP with community education expert Simon Moss in 2009, he teamed with Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis and Universal Music Group executive vp U.S. recorded music Michele Anthony, among others, to throw the first Global Citizen Festival, which has since hosted performances from Jay Z, Foo Fighters, Neil Young and Stevie Wonder.

Its impact? According to Evans, there were 2 million global “actions” taken on the night of the 2015 festival. As Anthony says, “For [attendees] to be involved in helping to effect change daily, that speaks to a different form of activism than perhaps this generation has seen -- and that we haven’t seen in a long time.”

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This article originally appeared in the Oct. 24 issue of Billboard.