As the co-founder and CEO of the Global Poverty Project, Hugh Evans takes a unique humanitarian approach to helping the world's poor, working to encourage awareness and engagement on the individual, corporate and governmental levels of society. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One On 1 profile.
From the first day of the year to the last, Hugh Evans is a big thinker.
"I said, 'Okay, we're going to run this Global Citizen Festival, and I'm committing, my New Year's resolution is to make sure that we get over $100 million in new financial commitments for the world's poor,'" Evans says.
Hugh Evans is the co-founder and CEO of the Global Poverty Project, an organization that seeks to harness the power of the individual, corporations and government to end extreme poverty for more than a billion people around the world.
The Global Poverty Project is perhaps best known in New York for spearheading the Global Citizen Festival, the now annual social action concert in Central Park.
The festival has attracted musicians like The Foo Fighters, the Black Keys and Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
For Evans, the concert is not so much about raising money as it is about awareness and involvement.
"You can't just run a series of benefit concerts, or else you're going to get benefit solutions, which are just going to be a bit of charity here and there, you know?" Evans says. "I'm not at all dissing charity, don't get me wrong. I'm just saying that you have to think about it both from a charitable perspective and from a systemic perspective, because otherwise you're never going to end extreme poverty, and that's our mission."
Concert goers have to earn their way into the show.
Evans calls it "game-ifying the experience," by acting in five different areas.
"'Learn' is basically educating yourself, 'Saying' - tweeting and sharing, 'Give' your time and money, so volunteer or donate, 'Buy' - purchase ethical products, or 'Do' - engaging from an advocacy point of view, encouraging members of congress or senators to act," Evans says.
Among the project's campaigns is the eradication of polio, challenging people to live on the equivalent of the extreme poverty line for five days and increasing government aid and making it more transparent.
The project's inspiration - the Make Poverty History campaign in Australia - convinced the government there to double its foreign aid in 2007, releasing an additional $4.3 billion over a five-year period to the world's poor.
"If I tried to spend the rest of my life raising money, I could never raise that amount of money," Evans says. "But if we effect change that involves business, government, civil society, everyone working together, that's a powerful combination."
But is there anything really new in the fight against poverty?
"What is different about this generation is the social connectivity of social media, and so if you can capitalize upon that to build a movement, you have the power to build a different type of movement than what's gone before us," Evans says.
"We actually have to have an academic discipline about the way we go about our work, so that it can stand the test of time," Evans says. "If we don't, then we deserve all the criticism we get and then some. "
His energy and earnestness are palpable.
Not that he hasn't experienced moments of doubt along the way, especially in the first months in New York.
"We sat down with our board, we sat down with my colleague Michael who's here, and we sat down, and we're like, 'Are we really going to be able to pull this off?'" Evans says.
"It was actually about literally a month after that that Sumner Redstone generously came on board," Evans says. "He personally made an amazing contribution that set off a trajectory."
Evans is comfortable meeting with world leaders and speaking at international venues, such as the United Nations.
A few years back, Evans was living in Great Britain, getting his masters at Cambridge University, when he was invited to address young leaders from various countries of the British Commonwealth.
Queen Elizabeth was in the audience.
"It wasn't just like a speech that you give at the local club, it was in the pulpit at Westminster Abbey," Evans says.
His team then met with the Queen's private secretary about polio eradication, leading to a pledge of $118 million by the Commonwealth Heads of Government.
Evans’ decision to take this path probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to those who knew him growing up in Melbourne.
He helped his middle school raise the most money in Australia for the humanitarian organization World Vision.
Evans was rewarded with a trip to the Philippines, part of which was spent with a young man named "Sonny Boy" and his family.
They lived in a slum built on top of a garbage dump called 'Smokey Mountain,' eating and then sleeping on the same slab of concrete.
"They slept soundly that night, but I didn't sleep. I was listening to all the sounds around me and the smells, and that's when I think I said, 'I've got to commit to do this,'" Evans says.
And so he did.
"That's why I immediately applied for the scholarship to go to live in India at Woodstock School, because I just knew I had to go," Evans says.
"Literally probably wasn't until I jumped on the airplane that the full weight of spending a year away from family and friends in a remote part of India, what that meant really hit me," Evans says. "I did cry all the way to India."
Evans had more than a few experiences reminding him he was far from his native Melbourne.
In the Himalayan Mountains, Evans and a friend tried to help a man hurt in a car accident.
They personally took him to a local hospital, only to find there was no emergency room, and the man died.
"I saw a couple of experiences that year, where I saw that life is a lot more fragile than I like to admit," Evans says. "I thought up until that stage I was invincible, and I realized at that age, I'm not invincible."
A few years later in South Africa, Evans says he and a friend tried to help another man who had been in an accident, but refused to leave his car unguarded.
So, they found a local police officer.
"He put a gun to our head, so his assumption was that we caused accident," Evans says. "So you had to think really quickly, right? And we managed to convince him that we needed him to guard the car, and eventually that's what he did."
These kinds of experiences gave Evans both the ability to think quickly and a greater perspective on the immense task at hand.
"I've seen enough poverty in the world to realize that if we're going to change it forever, we're going to have to get governments on board and businesses on board to make some serious impact," Evans says.
His wife Tanyella works for an educational non-profit also in the development sector.
Evans says they are able to make some time for life outside of work, but not a lot, because there is so much to do.
"You have to commit to it, you have to go all out, or otherwise it's not going to happen," Evans says. "It's not a debate, because for us, how trivial are my sufferings or sacrifices compared to the sufferings of the world's poor? We've got to see an end to extreme poverty, and if we're not committed, who will be?"