Lenny Kravitz performs onstage during Global Citizen’s Power Our Planet: Live in Paris on June 22, 2023 © Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

People power: a citizen’s festival for the SDGs
Global Citizen’s convening power brings together artists, politicians and everyday people to serve the most marginalized members of society
1 Sep 2023

Did you know that, since 2012, every year during the High-Level Week of the General Assembly, the Global Citizen Festival brings together thousands of global citizens, artists, activists, world leaders, philanthropists, corporate leaders, and more in Central Park to take action to end extreme poverty?

The Global Citizen Movement was born in 2011, based on the belief that Nelson Mandela perfectly articulated: “Overcoming poverty is not just a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice.” The Movement’s first major event was the End Polio Concert organized in Perth in 2011 in collaboration with the WHO, UNICEF, the CDC and Rotary International. After that, it received a grant from the UN to take this youth movement all around the world in support of the Global Goals. Nine months later, the first Global Citizen Festival was held on the Great Lawn in Central Park.

Since then, $43.6 billion in commitments announced on Global Citizen Platforms have been deployed, impacting nearly 1.3 billion lives, with the support, commitment and leadership of many incredible partners.

Of course, the Movement is not limited to the concerts in Central Park, Paris, Accra, etc. As Michael Sheldrick, Co-Founder & Chief Policy, Impact, and Government Affairs Officer, tells us: “We act with the same urgency 365 days a year, working on private diplomacy and public campaigning around the world to ensure the plight of the world’s most marginalized populations stays in the headlines.” Beyond the big shows and world-famous musical acts, it is gruelling work involving intense collaboration with numerous organizations and partners at all levels.

Global Citizen allows everyday people to do just that. Regardless of your origin, gender, religious affiliation, or socioeconomic status, your voice matters!

The Movement also supports the tremendous efforts of its partner institutions, from the WHO all the way to local grassroots organizations, as well as inspiring leaders such as Prime Minister Mia Motley of Barbados and the Bridgetown Initiative to reform development finance. “Partnership is very much in our blood, it’s what we do to achieve our goals”, says Sheldrick. These partnerships involve not only politicians and organizations but also VIP Ambassadors who, outside the concerts and events, have supported Global Citizen from the start and take action, like Rihanna in her recent tweet to the US Treasury Secretary and the World Bank’s new President in support of global financial reform. 

They also join other forums bringing together the public and private sectors to draw attention to the plight of the most marginalized, like Coldplay partnering alongside Global Citizen, Re:wild, and the Center for Environmental Peacebuilding to successfully get six Brazilian states to agree to protect an additional 1.7 million hectares of the Amazon.

When asked how the Movement partners with the UN to contribute to the realization of the SDGs, Sheldrick explains that they work very closely together. In fact, the SDGs were announced to the world at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival by then Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Since then, they have worked with several UN agencies to campaign together. Moreover, data show that thousands of UN staffers are active Global Citizens who, beyond their day jobs, continue to take action to achieve the SDGs, and the Department of Global Communications is making great strides to bring these issues to the world’s attention. 

However, more can be done to expand public ownership, and partnering with civil society is essential for this. “After all, citizen-led accountability is key to deliver”, says Sheldrick. Yet because most everyday people hardly make sense of most UN resolutions, organizations such as Global Citizen can partner more with the UN to bring these kinds of discussions to the communities they affect, so it’s a two-way street – not only breaking down complicated issues so people can get engaged, but also so the UN can better understand and respond to the needs of those people. 

The initial adoption of the SDGs back in 2015 was a great example of collaboration with civil society, to take the SDGs and their policy language beyond the world of diplomats and statisticians and into the mainstream, which is necessary if we want the general population to support leadership from their governments.

To improve advocacy, we need to be able to measure impact. That’s why at the April 2023 thought leadership summit Global Citizen NOW, the Global Solidarity Report was announced, featuring a new scorecard to measure the strength and resilience of the international community. The report will be produced by our friends at Global Nation and launched this September at the GA and will look at public attitudes, institutional mechanisms, and visible progress, to collectively assess people’s willingness to collaborate, support cross-border institutions, and achieve successes for the planet and its inhabitants. Look out for the report’s release this coming UNGA.

Now, for those of you whose interest may have been sparked, do join the Movement. Download the Global Citizen app, start taking action, and let’s meet in Central Park on 23 September!

* Valerie Coutarel is Chief of the French Section Interpretation Service at the UN in New York.
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