As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads across the world, it has become ever-more important to mobilize the international community to address the global challenges of our time. The stakes are as great as they have ever been—from a once-in-a-century pandemic to a volatile climate, grave financial crisis, and unparalleled restrictions on migration and mobility. This past year marked the beginning of Global Goal Live: The Possible Dream, a movement led by the global advocacy organization Global Citizen, to tackle the $350 billion a year funding gap for such critical global challenges as gender equality, human capital, and sustainability.(1) As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the movement’s culminating Global Citizen Festival concert across five continents responsibly adjourned from September 2020 to September 2021.
This will not be the first Global Citizen Festival. Since 2012, the Global Citizen Festival has been an increasingly watched annual event where thousands gather to raise awareness and marshal the next generation of global citizens.(2) This past year has served as a tragic reminder of the ongoing importance of this mission. It is imperative that the 2021 Global Citizen Festival—in whatever forum and/or medium it is held—prepare to inspire a record number of citizens to take up the varied causes of global citizenship: disease, hunger, and equality, to name just a few. There are valuable lessons to learn from the 2019 Global Citizen Festival to ensure that this kind of mobilization effort succeeds in the future.
It is hard to believe that only a little more than a year ago, approximately 60,000 people gathered on the Great Lawn at Central Park in New York City to attend the 2019 Global Citizen Festival.(3) It was a stirring scene then to see so many people, particularly young people, join together for more than six hours, in common cause, as citizens of the world. The festival included electric performances from Queen, Alicia Keys, OneRepublic, Carole King, Pharrell Williams, and more.(4) Between acts, heads of states, United Nations representatives, United States congressional leaders, Oscar winners, entrepreneurs, and other trailblazers stood at the podium to celebrate the global community, and to commit to action on poverty, disease, gender equality, education, the environment, and a number of other significant issues.(5)
For years, world leaders, politicians, musicians, actors, business people, social activists, and concerned citizens have taken to the stage to shine a light on the many challenges facing the world today. The work of the Global Citizen Festival has resulted in billions of dollars in commitments to global causes, and an incalculable impact on the lives of millions of people.(6) Among the more notable commitments in 2019, Mexico agreed to adopt a new feminist foreign policy (the first country in Latin America to pursue such a policy); Namibia declared that it would ratify and implement the International Labor Organization’s Convention on Violence and Harassment (the first country to do so); Norway committed millions of dollars to the Global Fund and Education Cannot Wait; Antigua and Barbuda promised to work towards removing plastic pollutants from the environment, and Barbados focused on mobilizing to end climate change.(7) And, several members of the United States Congress, including Senator Chris Coons of Delaware and then-Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, pledged their support at the festival, including for the Keeping Girls in School Act.(8)
The private sector also made headlines at the 2019 Global Citizen Festival. The LEGO Foundation pledged millions of dollars to Education Cannot Wait and called on other private sector companies to do the same.(9) Verizon partnered with The New York Times to provide educational resources and technology for approximately seven million middle school and high school students in need (which has become especially critical in light of the COVID-19 pandemic).(10) Cisco also signed the new Sustainable Ocean Principles to help decrease ocean plastic pollution.(11)
These commitments and actions—on the part of governments and corporations alike—spoke volumes and are of vital importance in advancing the agenda of global citizenship. However, the 2021 Global Citizen Festival will need to do more to capitalize on this momentum to mobilize everyday citizens into action in these trying times. Indeed, the festival will offer a rare opportunity to turn good-willed and conscientious participants into active citizens who can make a difference beyond one day. And the festival will need to use its growing platform to tell people how they can get involved and stay engaged throughout the year. Much of the many-hour festival in 2019 touted the admirable work of governments and businesses to achieve progress in education, sustainability, equality, and economic growth. However, more time could have been spent looking forward, and telling those in attendance, and watching on television what they can do to effect change for many years to come.
There are a number of ways that the 2021 Global Citizen Festival can advance this call to action for everyday citizens, including:
- disseminating literature that further details pressing global issues;
- stressing the importance of the United Nations sustainable development goals and fulfilling the objectives, with particular focus on public health in a COVID-19 world;
- providing more opportunities for interested citizens to ask questions and learn about ways to engage now and in the future;
- inviting more guest speakers from all walks of life to discuss global challenges; and
- encouraging participants to use their smartphones and social media to further an interactive experience and get others involved.
The Global Citizen Festival has a unique chance to engage participants around the world. The organizers of this landmark event should not only seek to raise money and awareness for global causes (as important as that is), but also take greater steps to groom a new generation of active and engaged global citizens. Given the times, this year’s festival will be more critical than any other—and the organizers must ensure that they seize the moment for the sake of our future.