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Did the Global Citizen Festival end global poverty?

Did the Global Citizen Festival end global poverty?

WhyDev’s Brendan Rigby won the lottery to attend the Global Citizen Festival in New York. However, as he does not live any where near New York, Brendan decided to transfer the tickets to a friend who does. But on a few conditions. Sharlene Yang, author of this post and recipient of the tickets, had to perform three actions for Brendan – one before the Festival, one during and one after. Before, she funded a microloan through World Vision. During, Sharlene wandered around Central Park on the day of the Festival, chatting to other Global Citizens and reflecting on the event. This post is the reflection on the event, including a few photographs.

On a warm autumn evening on September 29, 2012, I was one of the 60,000 attendees at the Global Citizen Festival, hosted by The Global Poverty Project.  The event was held during the week when many world leaders and change-makers assembled in New York City to tackle the global challenges of our day.  The United Nations General Assembly, Clinton Global Initiative, Social Good Summit – one could say that we were in good company especially if you consider yourself a global citizen.

So what exactly defines a global citizen?  There is no clear-cut definition of global citizenship but these words evoke a sense of humanitarianism and idealism such as in the video below.

Joining us in Central Park at the Great Lawn were well-known public figures such as Katie Couric, Muhammad Yunus, Olivia Wilde, Sophia Bush, Selena Gomez, and Katherine McPhee.  In addition to a musical lineup to the beat of K’Naan, Band of Horses, Black Keys, Foo Fighters, Neil Young with Crazy Horse, and John Legend, Beyoncé and Hugh Jackman also made video appearances. Interspersed between the musical acts were videos introducing the “Elements of Extreme Poverty”, such as Maternal Health and Polio Eradication, live tweets (#globalcitizen) as well as speakers from UNICEF, Half the Sky, Malaria No More, and other global organizations. As mentioned earlier, we were definitely in good company.

However, throughout the evening, the question of what makes a global citizen floated continuously through my mind. How does one qualify or even prove his or her global citizenship?  Is it as simple as tweeting and posting several messages regarding whichever cause on your profile?  Can you simply declare that you are a global citizen and that makes you one?  Perhaps it is only a feel-good term – wouldn’t we all like a title after our names that read “Global Citizen”?  I suppose many of us are on a journey of becoming global citizens. But, how does one know when he or she has arrived? When do you get the quintessential stamp on your passport that qualifies you as a global citizen? I clearly had more questions than answers.

Looking around, it seemed everyone was enjoying the music and the concert; after all, this was Foo Fighters’ last concert appearance and the legendary Neil Young will be closing the night. I chatted with a couple of concert-goers whom were there mainly for the music, whether it was checking off that bucket list item of seeing Neil Young in concert, or considering the fact that it was a huge (and free) concert in the middle of Central Park. I asked several people whether they were motivated in any way by the fact that this was a benefit concert promoting the cause of ending global poverty. Did they learn anything about global poverty through this event?


In hindsight, I should have asked if the concert inspired them to take any specific actions to end global poverty. Although the cause was an acknowledged and appreciated aspect, these attendees admitted that they had mainly wanted to see certain musicians. That’s fair – as I understand that it was a concert, which was one of the primary draws, but I do hope that these people leave the concert without forgetting that poverty is a reality for many in the world.

According to The Global Poverty Project, there are 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day. Throughout the concert, a major emphasis was placed on polio eradication. The encouraging note was that more than 2 billion children have been immunized, and we are closer than ever to ending polio. Usually when one hears statistics, taking on a cause can seem daunting or overwhelming. But, 1% (we are 99% polio-free) is quite attainable in our generation. It is likened to running a marathon and knowing you have one more mile to go without the risk and potential of hitting the wall.

Learning that Neil Young was a survivor of polio also made the cause more personal, which is key. I also felt that despite all the efforts that went into the production of the concert, there could have been more thought given to the experience design and consideration of interactive elements during the event to engage more people. People can be inspired going to a concert, hearing the featured speakers, listening to the music, but the question remains – What is the likelihood that they will go home and actually take real action? Is there a way to measure the impact of these types of events on the attendees? Should there be a survey conducted, if not already? Will people continue to share what they learned with others and motivate others to join the cause? Or is it another aid and benefit concert that encourages slacktivism?

Yet at the same time, the impact of these concerts should not be underestimated as it can potentially plant seeds and eventually inspire a forest of people to take real action while influencing NGOs and governmental partners. There is strength in numbers and seeing a community united in action towards a common goal as evident by the public commitments made through the Global Citizen platform. The high turnout and success of the festival represents an emerging trend of maximizing social media tools and digital video to communicate with the public in hopes of generating a movement and calls to action.

Hugh Evans, CEO and co-founder of The Global Poverty Project, announced the “social media campaign has been off the charts”. An article in the Wall Street Journal reported, “More than 71,000 people had signed up online, resulting in more than 3.5 million page views. Nearly 200,000 pieces of information were shared on Facebook, and just a bit more than that on Twitter. About 170,000 people signed petitions via the site, and there were 98,000 videos viewed to completion”. According to The Global Poverty Project, there was $1.3 billion pledged in commitments to help fight extreme poverty around the world.

Overall, I cannot promise any answers to the questions posed as I continue to wrestle with how best to approach the complexity of today’s global challenges. I believe that is one of the purposes of this blog, WhyDev, is to encourage one another to never stop questioning and never stop learning. So, from one aspiring global citizen to another, I leave you with this quote by Robert Kennedy:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

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Sharlene Yang

Sharlene is a communications and media professional currently studying international development at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. She is dedicated to seeking sustainable solutions in development and enjoys collaborating with others. With her passion for storytelling, she hopes to share transformative stories through media and visual arts.

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