It was the reason Neil Young signed on in the first place. The same reason The Black Keys did too. And Foo Fighters. The fact that The Global Festival was going to be more than “just another Live Aid”, in the words of organizer Hugh Evans. This was to be a concert with a true difference, and on Saturday, 60 000 fans took to the Great Lawn of New York’s Central Park to play their part. Streamed live online, and with input from around the world, the show really did become the global event it was intended to be, fusing the power of social media with socially active fans.
Run by Evans, CEO of The Global Poverty Project, the Global Festival was created as a way to get music fans involved in the hype and buzz of the United Nations General Assembly, which takes place annually in NYC. 120 of the world’s leaders have been gathering in the city for talks and discussions around critical issues for the past week and a bit. Evans wanted to direct some of that energy into renewed efforts and commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), specifically with regard to eradicating extreme poverty.
What better way to entice people into engaging with the issues than offer them a free concert with top musicians? As some concert-goers said, it was a small price to pay. After having signed up to become “global citizens”, which entailed watching and sharing video content, emailing links to their friends and thereby scoring the points needed to gain entry into the concert, the fans listened as more videos were shown and celebs came out on stage to highlight various initiatives around the world.
“The only way this will be relevant to our generation is if it is sustainable,” Evans said in an interview before the event. He and his team set about creating a kind of “digital dashboard” for navigating the issues at hand — like how polio is almost entirely wiped off the planet but still needs attention in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria; or how education in India is being driven by women-led organizations.
“We’re trying to strike a balance between engagement and the desire for people to go on what we call a commitment journey,” he said. “If they come in because they care about the Foo Fighters, we hope they will leave caring about malaria and HIV/Aids too.”
Evans highlights the need to have to have artists that care about the issues too and are willing to donate their services. Public personalities also play their part, like Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and actor Hugh Jackman. “What Jack represents is the power of social media to create change,” says Evans. “And you can see it. On Twitter or Facebook or Google Plus, there’s constant dialogue and great conversations happening around the hashtag #globalcitizen.” Indeed at the concert, fans were told numerous times to take out their phones to tweet leaders — in one case, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, to ask them about their plans for eradicating poverty around the world.
As Hugh explains: “The end of extreme poverty goes to the very humanity that drives technology. It’s the greatest social problem of our time. It’s the issue of our generation — [we] need to step up and take action.” If he and The Global Project have anything to do with it, the first step’s already been taken.