Meet Hugh Evans, The Australian Philanthropist Who’s Changing The World With Music
Charity, it is often said with a grain of truth, starts at home. By using music as its dam buster, Global Citizen is mobilising an army of homegrown charity activists.
Global Citizen is led by co-founder and CEO Hugh Evans, an Australia-born philanthropist who, in his pre-teen years, identified wrongs in the world and set about solving them.
“It’s all I’ve ever cared about, since I was literally 12 years old, was the eradication of extreme poverty. It’s the simplest truth about me and our co-founders,” Evans told TMN during a recent trip to Australia.
Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s Band-Aid campaigns taught us that music could “Feed The World,” Global Citizen’s mission is no less grand and also involves a galaxy of music stars.
It’s strategy, however, is a unique one.
Global Citizen takes the “strength in numbers” concept, and puts it to work.
Its team identifies causes to support, and then suggests actions for its members to pursue in support of it. By posting, tweet, messaging, voting, sign, and inspiring others to listen, its members can earn rewards, which can then be redeemed for tickets to concerts, festivals and more.
Everything that the charity does, Evans explains, “is always focused on one specific policy change that can occur. And can citizens use their collective voice to influence that.”
You can’t buy tickets to a Global Citizen show, you have to earn your way. And they’re a hot ticket, with the likes of Coldplay, Metallica, Billie Eilish, Beyonce and Jay-Z, U2, BTS, Rihanna, Foo Fighters and many others performing at its events.
Global Citizen Festival this year celebrated its 10th anniversary, with an edition that raised A$3.69 billion (US$2.4billion) to end extreme poverty.
And, to date, the organisation has facilitated 22 million “actions” in the fight against extreme poverty.
Thanks to its ongoing work, Evans and Co. have driven commitments of more than $41.4 billion to be distributed to partners across the world. In real terms, according to the charity, that’s a benefit to 1.15 billion global citizens who just need a break.
As the Global Citizen’s “pop and policy” approach evolves, a growing lineup of world leaders have stepped in with support, including former POTUS Barack Obama, United Nations Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Australians have played their part. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has spoken on stage in her role as global partnership for education board chair, while Hollywood power couple Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness have been long-time ambassadors.
Aussie artists including 5 Seconds of Summer, Kylie Minogue, Delta Goodrem, Guy Sebastian and Amy Shark have supported the cause, and, in September 2021, the Sydney Opera House hosted the Australian leg of Global Citizen Live, spanning six continents and lauded as the biggest live cause event in history.
For Evans, one of those Road to Damascus moments occurred when, in July 2005, the stars of the music world gathered at Hyde Park in London, and at cities around the globe, for Live 8, a follow-up, to 1985’s landmark Live Aid concerts.
Live Aid was about raising money for famine relief. Live 8 shifted the goal posts, instead pressuring leaders at the G8 summit, which was unfolding several hundred kilometres north from the action, to make firm pledges of support.
At the time, Evans was studying at Monash University in his hometown, Melbourne.
“It was very much an inspiration,” he recounts. “I saw how at that point, the idea itself captivated the whole world. I love the idea that a campaign, well designed, with really clear outcome, can captivate people from all sides of the globe to achieve something bigger than all of us. Yeah, that was really, really, really exciting to me.”
Earlier in the year, the late South Africa president Nelson Mandela delivered the legendary “Make Poverty History” speech at Trafalgar Square in central London, the ethos of which is carried on by the work of Evans and others.
Mandela said that day, “overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity,” Evans recounts, “but it’s an act of justice. So everything we do focuses on the systemic not on the chart below. I do believe charity is critically important, but it’s hard to scale.”
Especially so when your campaign is “trying to mobilise for a $3.5 trillion challenge, which is extreme poverty, and then obviously multiples of that for climate change.”
In the second part of Mandela’s speech, the great statesman explained that, if slavery and apartheid and poverty is not natural, it’s manmade, and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.
“That whole piece around actions and the actions of human beings was very much the impetus for us to use action-taking, as the foundation of our model.”
That currency has “been enabled us to digitally leapfrog a kind of old-school activism.”
Evans, who co-founded the organisation in 2008, sees his role as a conduit, operating in the political centre connecting the shores of creators with decision makers and partners, all for a good cause.
Traditional media has “a moral responsibility, because they effectively are the platforms for news now.”
By “building bridges in the centre,” he continues, “you solve the biggest problems on the planet. Because challenges like climate change, they’re actually science-based. It’s common sense. It’s about inputs and outputs. And you can solve them through good public policy. But when you’ve got media outlets that are pushing people further to the political right or further to political left on both extremes, it doesn’t promote any constructive dialogue at all. We need to invest that Global Citizen in that centrist in problem-solving, democracy-strengthening dialogue that will actually enable us to address our major challenges.”
There are many more challenges to overcome. And opportunities to grasp; Evans identifies three or four standouts.
One of those is the continued rollout across the African continent, following the expansion this year into Ghana, with a concert at Black Star Square Accra, headlined by British grime star Stormzy.
“I really want us to focus more on Global Citizen operating in emerging markets, specifically, across Africa, but also across Southeast Asia, Latin America. I want us to be in places that are uncomfortable. And so I want us to pave the way with big partners, and do extraordinary things that have never been done before. We want to actually engage audiences and young people in markets that have never been engaged before.”
In time, Global Citizen’s activism “should diversify into sports and esports. creating the opportunity for gamers to do good for athletes to do good. It is really another chapter.” Evans explains.
“You cannot rest on your laurels at all. Everything we’ve done in the past, doesn’t matter at all for the year ahead.”