Hugh Evans started his fight against extreme poverty by mobilizing his friends when he was growing up in Australia.
On Saturday, Evans will try to mobilize the world to tackle poverty and COVID-19 with Global Citizen Live, a 24-hour live concert featuring The Weekend, BTS, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Lopez, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, H.E.R. and dozens of other artists performing at locations across the globe — from Lagos, Nigeria, and Seoul, South Korea, to the Champ de Mars in Paris and New York’s Central Park. On Tuesday, the group announced Prince HArry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, will join the event in Central Park to discuss global vaccine equity.
Unlike most star-studded concerts for charity, Global Citizen Live isn’t asking for cash from fans. It wants to display their voices — on social media, on petitions and in person — as evidence for world leaders and corporate honchos that people support action on these issues. Evans, Global Citizen’s CEO, says such an awareness campaign is needed now because COVID-19 has ended years of gains and pushed 150 million people around the world into extreme poverty.
The Associated Press spoke recently with Evans, 38, about how he wants people to battle poverty any way they can, because he believes only collective action can make a difference. The interview was edited for clarity and length.
A: We’re facing so many challenges right now, firstly, with the global COVID-19 pandemic, secondly, with the fact that wildfires are raging all around the world as a result of climate change, and thirdly, with so many people out of work due to COVID-19, there are now 41 million people on the Horn of Africa who are facing the devastating effects of starvation. And so we knew we needed to address these issues head-on, and we need to create a global moment of unity.
Q: You also want people to know this event is serious.
A: This is not a celebration. It’s really an opportunity to come together in solidarity, to call on world leaders to address these issues. Right now, the U.S. government hasn’t done enough on climate change funding. Also, no governments are stepping up enough to support the (United Nations) World Food Programme’s urgent effort to address the hunger crisis. That’s a $6 billion need right now. So we’re calling on businesses, we’re calling on governments, we’re calling on philanthropists to step up like never before.
Q: Global Citizen’s focus has always been fighting extreme poverty. Why have COVID-19 and climate change affected your work so much?
A: COVID-19 has forced millions of people out of work, especially the extreme poor who are in the service industry and who rely on interacting with people. When 150 million people have been pushed back into extreme poverty due to COVID-19, this becomes an existential issue for our mission. So we have to respond to the issue of vaccine sharing and vaccine equity. Climate change is the other side of the coin of extreme poverty because if you don’t equitably enable people to lift themselves out of poverty, then you have no pathway to also create a sustainable future for the whole planet. It’s not like one nation can sign on to the climate accord and then everyone else ignore it. They have to work in unison.
Q: Is it because of all these pressing issues that you were able to get so many huge stars together?
A: I think everyone on the planet is feeling the effects of these devastating crises that are affecting everyone. And that’s why I think the artist community is willing to step up like never before. They’re willing to use their platform to create systemic change. No amount of charity will address the issues the world is currently facing. We need to change the systems that keep people in poverty and perpetuate the climate crisis. And that’s why so many artists are joining together. They need to give a sense of hope that individual voices do matter, that your actions do matter and that you can influence world leaders to respond. They’re not immune to this response. They need to step up at this urgent moment, and that’s what we’re calling for with Global Citizen Live.
Q: How did you pair the artists with the places where they will perform? Did you want Jennifer Lopez in Central Park for maximum impact?
A: We wanted to represent all six continents, and we’re working on the seventh with Antarctica right now. We’re having some of the greatest artists of our entire generation, so we don’t look upon this moment lightly. We know it’s a huge responsibility, and if we’ve got one job, it’s to make sure that people take action.
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