Global Citizen’s Hugh Evans on Jennifer Hudson’s River Cruise, a Fundraising Flood of $6.9 Billion, and Other Large and Small ‘Goals’

CEO Hugh Evans gives props to Chris Martin’s BLM dedication, Christine and the Queens' Paris romp, and America’s $545M pledge toward a COVID-19 vaccine.

JUNE 27: In this screengrab Jennifer
Global Citizen

On Monday morning, not that much more than 24 hours after “Global Goal: Unite for Our Future” wrapped up Saturday night, the chief force behind that worldwide broadcast/streaming event, Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans, was still moving like a jack-rabbit.

Before it even hit the air, “Global Goal” had helped raise $6.9 billion from governments, entrepreneurs and foundations for COVID-19 vaccines and racial/sexual/social injustice causes. When Variety caught up with him Monday, Evans was already moving on to other philanthropic endeavors, including fall events aimed at the pre-election moment (“this is a must for democracy, to get everyone to vote”), and this morning’s announcement launching “The Juneteenth Pledge” with Pharrell Williams, Kenya Barris and Van Jones, aimed at rallying the private sector around making June 19 a paid holiday in the United States. “It’s a busy morning,” he said, as he got on the phone to discuss the last several months of Global Citizenry.

VARIETY: Global Citizen’s relationship to Chris Martin has found him serving as a curator for 15 years. When you enter into an event such as “Global Goal,” do you have a want list of ideas and acts you share with him? Are you pushing to get a Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus on board?

EVANS: We have a team of producers who work on every project. Last time, with “One World,” Lady Gaga was a large part of that, with myself, people from Universal and such. This time, that pool broadened to include Michael Rapino from Live Nation, Scooter Braun, Amanda Silverman from Lede and the team at Maverick Management. Every day at 6 p.m., we would meet and express the ideas about our mission. The best thing about this time around was that once Chris, Miley, Dwayne Johnson (host of the televised portion), Hugh Jackman, Kerry Washington and Forrest Whitaker signed on to participate, that gave the campaign momentum.

Were you looking for artists to express certain aspects of the “Goals”?

Yes. We wanted to make sure that the musical artistry component captured really important themes and modes of creative expression, especially about how to fight COVID-19, how to fight racial injustice, how to fight sexual injustice. Also, we didn’t want it to be like so many of the at-home specials that have taken place. We wanted to have creative differentiation. Have Usher on the streets. Have Bieber and Quavo together in a studio. Fortunately everyone said yes.

A sense of spectacle at times made “Global Goal” different from “One World: Together at Home” (in April): watching Miley sing from the bottom dot of an exclamation point in the Rose Bowl, or Jennifer Hudson slowly float down the Chicago River, or Christine and the Queens bounce around Paris’ Grand Palais. There was more of a sense of staging.

That’s exactly what we were trying to do. Right now, the world needs hope and unity. But also, as the world grapples with what opening up looks like, the look made sense. That’s why we had the Grand Palais. And I thought Christine’s performance was amazing — she is so talented. We also wanted to give the artists a part in creating their own vision. That thing with Jennifer Hudson on the river was her idea. We said we didn’t want to see the same performances that we have seen for the last 3-4 months of the pandemic, and each artist gave us something unique. We want to give the audience an opportunity to dream differently than what they are used to in this moment. One of the first things that we thought about was mixing up the creative expression of “Global Goals” alongside the policy. As important as the policy is, you need the creative expression to make this all work.

When did you know that Coldplay’s track, “Paradise,” would be dedicated to Elijah McClain (a young Black man whose death at the hands of police is just now coming to light)? Seeing his name on the screen was breathtaking.

Thanks for singling that out. Chris called us prior to its airing and told us that the one person he wanted to dedicate the video to was Elijah. If everyone knew Elijah’s story — that the reason he was walking home wearing so many clothes was due to anemia — all of it all of it is such a devastating story. I was in tears reading it. I believe that every nation has to have a conversation about reconciliation. South Africa did it post-apartheid. Germany did it after World War II. America has never truly had a national conversation about what it means to end racial segregation, what it means for us as a nation to come to terms with that history. I consider myself part of this, as I have lived here for 12 years. We know that nothing is going to bring Elijah back, but we have to have that conversation, to grapple with the immense consequences of racial injustice, and ask ourselves become united again in the United States of America.

Global Citizen commenced in 2010 in Australia and in 2012 in America. How has it progressed beyond its initial goals?

The greatest progression is the digital evolution of activism — how it has blossomed in the last 10 years due to the power of connectivity through Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms that we are on, heavily, as well as YouTube. It is more possible to bring the world together faster. I couldn’t imagine, 10 years ago, that we could be broadcast into 180 countries as was “Global Goals” this weekend. When Miley Cyrus and Coldplay tweeted at the Prime Minister of Sweden, and he replies that his country will step up its investment in developing and distributing vaccines, it’s amazing to see the confluence of pop and public policy all at once.

What does it mean to get the commitment of $6.9 billion, only weeks after raising $127 Million for COVID-19 just weeks previously?

We were wracking our brain, thinking that we would be lucky if we made $250 million in this campaign. To then see 41 governments, including all G7 countries — the first time during Global Citizens existence that we managed to get them all to commit all at once — and North America, South America and my native country, Australia… it is the first time in my career this has happened. To have $1.5 billion in cash grants and a further $5.4 billion in loans and guarantees from European investment banks, it is the thing we dreamed of. How wonderful it would be if some of the major investment banks actually invested in sustainable development goals for poorer countries on a regular basis. It’s mind-blowing, but it does put it into perspective when you step back and realize that actually achieving sustainable development goals and ending extreme poverty is still another $350 billion-a-year proposition over the next 10 years. It makes our contribution relatively small. We must keep our eyes on the prize and the bigger goals ahead.

How is it that so many of the countries you dealt with are dealing with the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and still came up with money to additionally tackle racial, sexual and social injustice?

You’re simply seeing excessive waves of generosity now. The UK government, two weeks ago, during the Gavi Summit (the Global Vaccine Summit 2020) raised a record $8.8 billion. The European Commission on May 4 raised another $8 billion. This is before “Global Goals,.” In a short amount of space, that is unheard of.

A number of global leaders made their presence known during “Global Goals”: Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson, Cyril Ramaphosa, Justin Trudeau. Maybe you need to stay apolitical here, but what can you say about any interaction that you had with the American government and Donald Trump? The United States did commit $545 million toward your COVID-19 relief efforts over the weekend.

We interacted with the U.S. State Department initially, and with the White House. Look, I’m a big believer in the fact that there are certain issues that must transcend politics. The reason that we have to is due to the sanctity of human life. When you’re talking about whether you can find a vaccine for everyone on the planet, there’s no room for vaccine nationalism.

That sounds like something that should be on a T-shirt.

The fact that the United States made the largest contribution overall — over a half-billion dollars — says a lot. Again, this is the first time all G7 countries have come together around the idea that a vaccine, once developed, should be available to all. That the U.S. put money behind that, not just rhetoric, is a huge outcome in and of itself. It shows that the U.S. will put money in an idea whose time has come. The last time something like that happened was in response to the polio outbreak, and Jonas Salk developed a vaccine. When he got asked, “How are you going to pay for that?,” he said, “Did you pay for the sun?,” implying that this was for the public good. This is also a moment of introspection for the pharmaceutical industry as companies are coming out and stating that they do not intend to profit if and when they are the first to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. We would implore every pharmaceutical company to adhere to that principle. The world now is 99% free of polio. The same should be true of COVID-19.

Did you get nervous when Trump announced the end of the U.S.’s relationship with the World Health Organization, with whom you’re so closely aligned?

It’s no surprise that WHO is a partner of Global Citizen. I’ve been vocal about my support for Dr. Tedros (Adhanom Ghebreyesus, inspector general of the WHO) and the United Nations. In that environment, you have to consider how you bring everyone to the table. Our motto at Global Citizen is about putting the mission first. The day we fail to do that is the day we’ll fail to succeed. We’ll get everyone to the table — somehow.