The Story Behind #GlobalCitizen

By Vanessa Papas: In one of his final speeches former SA president Nelson Mandela challenged us to be the generation to end poverty, and now one organisation is taking that challenge seriously.

Hugh Evans is the CEO of a unique movement headquartered in New York, with offices in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Global Citizen is not a foundation, or a society, or even a charity. It’s simply people just like you and I who are prepared to act on the belief to tackle the world’s greatest challenges from extreme poverty, the refugee crisis and global pandemics to climate change and gender inequality.


Global Citizen’s work is focused on finding, supporting and activating global citizens. They exist in every country and among every demographic. Hugh is certain that if we had more global citizens active in the world, every single one of the major challenges we face could all be solved.


Citing Nelson Mandela and William Wilberforce as his strongest role models, Hugh explains how a privileged upbringing in Australia – winning the ovarian lottery as Warren Buffett termed it – drove him to question the status quo of international governance and was a catalyst to his life’s journey.

“In 1998, my classmates and I started raising money for communities in the developing world.  We were an enthusiastic group of kids and raised more money than any other school in Australia and I was awarded the chance to go to the Philippines to learn more,” says Hugh. “We were taken to a community on the outskirts of Manila and I was placed in the care of a boy around my age named Sonny Boy, who lived on what was literally a pile of steaming garbage called Smoky Mountain. It was a rancid landfill that kids like Sonny Boy spent hours every day rummaging through to find anything of value to sell or sustain themselves on.  That night I spent with Sonny Boy and his family changed my life forever. We lay down on a concrete slab half the size of my bedroom at home -myself, Sonny Boy, and the rest of his family, seven of us in a long line, with the smell of garbage and cockroaches crawling around us. I asked myself, why should anyone have to live like this when I had so much?  Why should Sonny Boy’s ability to live out his dreams be determined by where he was born? My pursuit to understand the ‘why?’ was the start of my work.”


Since 2012, millions of Global Citizens around the world have taken over 14 million actions to solve the world’s biggest challenges. That’s 14 million e-mails, tweets, petition signatures and phone calls targeting world leaders to end extreme poverty by 2030. To date, the actions by Global Citizens along with their high-level advocacy efforts and with their partners, have resulted in 130 commitments and policy announcements from leaders, including financial aid valued at over $35-billion that, if delivered upon, will affect the lives of 1 billion people.

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“Ending extreme poverty by 2030 is an absolutely achievable goal – we just need the political will,” says Hugh with complete conviction. “The good news is, the data is on our side. We are seeing real, tangible progress in areas like maternal health, child survival rates, and access to clean water and sanitation services. Through our campaigning and advocacy work in particular, we have been able to raise over $35-billion in financial commitments from governments and the private sector that will help support gender equality programs, education initiatives, and global health. People want to support these issues, they often just don’t know how, and our goal through events like the Global Citizen Festival is to get them engaged in the issues – and keep them engaged.”

Each year  Global Citizen hosts  a massive music festival featuring some of the top artists in the world. The first festival was held in Central Park in 2012, and has since been taken to Canada, the UK, Germany and India. 2018 marks the first time Global Citizen is bringing the festival to Africa.

“We wanted to mark the centenary year of Mandela in a way that paid respect to his legacy, but also catalysed the private sector, the youth of South Africa, the wider African continent and indeed world leaders to take action. Kweku Mandela has been an incredible friend and advisor to Global Citizen for many years and we started this campaign with the families blessing and at their invitation and with the support of Patrice and Dr. Precious Motsepe. Madiba did not care much for tributes, he was concerned with action, results, and impactful outcomes to ensure the restoration of the dignity of all the people of South Africa, Africa, and the globe. It is our hope that this Festival drives leaders to pursue such action and results in the effort to end extreme poverty. All the artists joining us perform for free because they support the mission.”

The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 will be held at the FNB stadium on December 2.

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“Every day, Global Citizens around the world are making great progress, although there is still much more to be done. Ten percent of the world’s population – about 750 million people – still remains in extreme poverty. This is intolerable in 2018 and we really hope our campaigns in South Africa this year will have a major impact,” says Hugh.