Last September, 60,000 self-made activists danced and sang to a free concert by the likes of Neil Young and The Black Keys on Central Park’s Great Lawn. The attendees had signed petitions, watched online videos, and pledged support to a variety of organizations to be there. They were the first participants of the Global Citizen Festival, a long-shot effort assembled, in a short 18 months, by the will of 30-year-old humanitarian wunderkind Hugh Evans.
“As we stepped back from the concert we were exhausted but thought, could we possibly take it to a whole new level this year?” Evans remembers. So, this year, the CEO of the Global Poverty Project is going bigger. But first, he wants Trojan, Durex, and other major condom companies to pitch in.
On Monday, Global Citizen, an arm of the Global Poverty Project, launched its “Day of Action” for women’s equality: a social media blitz asking the largest condom companies to donate 2 percent of profits toward family planning initiatives in the developing world.
“All research suggests if you get women and girls access to contraception, families become healthier, girls stay in school, women can better plan their lives, and they ultimately kick the poverty cycle,” Evans points out. For 222 million girls and women in the developing world, those needs aren’t met. These are facts and figures he’s conveyed to the companies, but knows only large-scale pressure can drive the point to results. That’s why he’s enabled what he calls “digital democracy.” The festival doesn’t function on the pay-per-ticket model most charity concerts utilize, but hands out free tickets only to those who take a specific action toward tackling some lofty goals aimed at the world’s most pressing issues. A tweet at one of the companies gives you five points toward the eight that will put you in the drawing to win tickets to this year’s Global Citizen Festival.
It’s well worth it. On September 28, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Kings of Leon, and John Mayer will take the stage at Central Park. Last year, the mobilization was huge, but this year an agenda has evolved into four very specific channels that can be targeted to chip away at the 1.2 billion people currently living on under $1.25 a day: education, health, women’s equality, and global partnerships between the public and private sector.
“Strategically, we believe if we’re going to ultimately address these issues head on we need to create systemic change,” Evans says. “This is not about charity ... if we approach it from digital democracy, working together to encourage heads of state and leaders, then you’re going to create lifestyle change.” Tackling the issue dollar by dollar, he says, is inconsequential. “I always think of the fact 1.2 billion are in extreme poverty and $600 billion is needed. How could we ever—we could never fund that.”
The focus on social media and online campaigning is fittingly ahead of the curve for the young Australian who spent his high school years plotting solutions to bridge the massive global disparity. At 14, during a volunteer trip to the Philippines, Evans was deeply impacted by the struggles he saw in the slums of Manila. Returning home to Melbourne, he decided he’d devote his life to tackling extreme poverty from there on out. And it wasn’t just talk—Evans went on to lead projects for humanitarian group World Vision, and then founded the Oaktree Foundation, which has since provided education to 40,000 young people from Papua New Guinea to East Timor. In 2008, he co-founded the Global Poverty Project, and for the second installment of the Global Citizen Festival, he’s made more direct goals in those four specific focus areas.
The most popular one so far, Evans says, has been women’s equality, which he views as an indicator that society has come to view it as a paramount issue. It was in 2003, during a year working in a region of South Africa with the highest rate of HIV/AIDS, that he had this revelation himself. Evans noticed how impactful gender-related violence and reproductive issues were on the wider health of a population. “I saw there was an interconnectedness of gender rights and other broader public health issues,” he says.
The section lays out its goals thusly: there’s a request for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to make the issue a global priority on the post–Millennium Development Goals agenda, a plan to provide 100 million people with clean water via the Water for the World Act, and a contest for users to design a condom. Each goal is mapped out from now to the festival and then onward through 2015.
If all goes well with Monday’s condom company push, the money will be filtered through the Global Poverty Project’s new campaign, It Takes Two, a global family planning initiative. It’s a heap of seemingly daunting aspirations, but for a guy who’s résumé reads like Evans’s, it’s just part of a broader target he’s had his eye on for 16 years, and he has no plans of shying away from the task.
“While there are still 1.2 billion people in this planet living in extreme poverty, then my life’s work is not over,” he says. “Our work is to build the largest possible civil society movement."