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On a recent Sunday, Hugh Evans was working the room—if you can call it that—at the 70,000-seat SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. There were 25,000 fully vaccinated people in attendance, plus plenty of performers to greet (Jennifer Lopez, H.E.R., Eddie Vedder), hosts to shmooze (Ben Affleck, David Letterman, Gayle King), and a prince and pregnant duchess to thank for serving as co-chairs.
They had gathered to film Vax Live, the latest mega-event staged by Global Citizen, the group Evans co-founded and of which he is CEO. Last year, in April, Global Citizen produced “One World: Together at Home,” a television and online special broadcast on all the major networks and hosted by Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Stephen Colbert. The list of performers involved reads like a Wikipedia page of the most famous contemporary musicians: Lady Gaga, Chris Martin, Lizzo, John Legend, Taylor Swift, Elton John. The virtual event reportedly raised nearly $128 million from corporations and foundations for coronavirus health-care workers to receive protective gear and other essentials. The only other fundraiser in history to raise a comparable amount was Live Aid in 1985.
“If I’m honest it was pretty stressful,” Hugh, 38, says now of executing such a massive undertaking at the height of Covid chaos. “It was the first time in my life I herniated a disc! But we knew as soon as Covid struck that our mission—to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030—could not get back on track if we didn’t first end this.”
I met Hugh in Perth in 2011, when I was prime minister of Australia and he was campaigning to get the national government to pledge funding to eradicate polio. Immediately I was impressed by his preparedness to speak truth to power and his passionate intensity. Here was a young man who had found his true north: He was determined to dedicate his life to ending global poverty.
But the truth is, he seems to have been born with this moral compass. By age 12 the Australian schoolboy was participating in fundraisers to address famine in Ethiopia; at 14, after witnessing extreme poverty on a trip to the Philippines, he knew he’d devote himself to eradicating it. In 2002, at age 19, he co-founded Australia’s first youth-run aid organization, the Oaktree Foundation. Six years later, with dozens of successful philanthropic campaigns under his belt and friendships with countless famous do-gooders and world leaders, he launched what is now Global Citizen, which, alongside such entities as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UN, has done more than anything I can think of to raise awareness of, and dollars for, the world’s neediest people. “Extreme poverty is a $350 billion per year challenge. It can’t be addressed with a water well here and a black tie dinner there,” he says.“We’re building a movement that leverages millions of people around the world to convince governments to move. That’s what has enabled us to secure $48 billion in commitments from world leaders. We are holding governments’ feet to the fire 24/7. It’s the power of global democracy at work.”
In the last year and a half, with the world facing greater crisis than even he had fathomed, Hugh has stepped up as a true savior. I have not been surprised. From the moment I met him back in Perth, I have never seen him waver. Year after year, he has channeled all his energy into building a sophisticated global movement to drive change. Whatever title someone holds or their level of fame, I have never seen Hugh daunted. His sense of purpose enables him to override every obstacle and stay on course. He always finds a way to make a connection.
Take Their Word for It
Hugh Jackman, Actor and Global Citizen Advisor
I have been a supporter of Global Citizen from the very beginning—maybe 12 years. Our first big meeting was a dinner in my living room. Hugh used to sleep on our couch. He and I first met at a conference in 2008 where Australians came together to imagine what our country (and the world, for that matter) can and should look like in the year 2020. We spent hours talking, and it quickly became apparent to me that Hugh was not only incredibly smart and driven but that he was going to be a great leader for the younger generation. I almost immediately got on the Hugh Evans train, because if you want to make a difference in the world, particularly in the area of extreme poverty—something I’m most interested in helping to eradicate—his plan is so much better than anyone else’s.
Most of us are stuck in traditional ideas of how to make change. But Hugh’s idea was to create a movement for the next generation—an idea where millions of young, like-minded people could wield a lot of power and get the attention of our world leaders.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization
I was introduced to Hugh around a decade ago, when I was the minister of foreign affairs of Ethiopia, and Global Citizen invited me to join one of their events in Central Park. Hugh’s energy, vision, and passion are infectious. He has made a real difference in not just raising awareness of the critical challenges facing the world’s most vulnerable people but in mobilizing and motivating organizations, from governments and philanthropists to the corporate world. Global Citizen is also committed to informing and influencing young people, which is critical.
Idris Elba, Actor and UN Goodwill Ambassador for the International Fund for Agricultural Development
When I was working with Hugh and Global Citizen on the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Sierra Leone, I saw firsthand how his efforts radically change lives and communities for the better. He’s a strong and empathetic leader who sees the big picture and works tirelessly to maximize his impact.
John Kerry, Former U.S. Secretary of State, Currently Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
I’m personally grateful for Hugh’s focus on the climate crisis and the spotlight Global Citizen has helped to shine on the intersections among issues like climate, poverty, public health, and injustice. He has a remarkable ability to bring together unlikely but influential partners in the service of work that matters in every corner of the world.
Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway
Hugh Evans is a visionary. He has the ability to convert ideas into action. He has the capacity to make people want to act and contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. And last spring Global Citizen saw the need to mobilize to fight the pandemic.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Actress and Global Citizen Ambassador
Hugh and I met in September 2016. I was filming a TV show in Montreal, and I was invited to present at the Global Citizen concert in New York City. His dedication to the cause and his passion for meaningful change are magnetic and really drew me in.
Hugh believes that everyone has a role to playin tackling the world’s biggest problems—from world leaders to engaged citizens to billionaires—through Global Citizen’s Give While You Live campaign, which we launched together in 2019. He works tirelessly and is always looking several steps ahead to understand how philanthropic action can unlock government action. He understands deeply how both systems can work together to effect change, and he masterfully coordinates these efforts to make the biggest impact. So many philanthropic leaders pledge money or espouse ideas without putting action behind them. There’s a sense of urgency in everything Hugh does, which is crucial, because we’re fighting urgent problems like extreme poverty and climate change. I have hope for the future knowing that Hugh and Global Citizen are fighting to make an impact for this generation and the ones beyond.
Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN
In 2014, when I met Hugh, he was building a platform that sat at the nexus of pop culture and policy. This space was a new frontier for the UN, and our collaboration with him was born out of the need to popularize our sustainable development goals to tackle gargantuan injustices, from climate change to gender inequalities to poverty. With Global Citizen, Hugh has unlocked funding and resources. His movement recognizes that all of us—heads of state, celebrities, or global citizens—have some level of influence to effect change.
Photographs by Amanda Demme
Styled by Alison Edmond
In this story: Hair and grooming by Johnnie Sapong for Leonor Greyl and Boy de Chanel at the Wall Group. Production services provided by Viewfinders LA. Shot at SoFi Stadium.
Lead image: Evans photographed at SoFi Stadium. Prada jacket ($3,000), shirt ($845), and pants ($1,260).
A version of this story appears in the Summer 2021 issue of Town & Country.
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