Who will end global poverty?

By Michael Sheldrick, Vice President of Global Policy and Government Affairs, Global Citizen 1

shutterstock_249974521For the second year in a row, the Trump Administration has proposed slashing U.S. development assistance programs by almost a third. Even though strong support on both sides of the U.S. Congress may prevent many – but not all – of these cuts becoming law, it is clear that the best hope for this period may be maintaining current levels of support. As the largest donor country, U.S. leadership on foreign aid is incredibly impactful. For example, based on our experience at Global Citizen, business leaders and policy makers announced 390 collective commitments in response to campaigns we either led or supported between 2012 and 2017. These commitments totaled more than USD 35 billion with nearly half of that, USD 15 billion, coming from just 5 countries, including the United States. And of the total number of new commitments, the United States makes up a nearly a quarter. In fact, the United States has been one of the largest contributors to many of the causes we champion, be it polio eradication, water and sanitation, or food aid.


Source: Global Citizens

Given the United States’ significance to these efforts, it is arguably more important than ever to engage U.S. citizens – and their elected representatives. Communicating to them about the impact their tax dollars have in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities is a challenge Global Citizen continues to embrace. In 2017 alone, Global Citizens took 358,000 actions – ranging from tweets, emails, petitions and direct phone calls – to demand Congress stand up for U.S. foreign aid. Every single member of Congress received at least one call from a Global Citizen in their constituency demanding that he or she defend foreign aid against the Administration’s proposed cuts.

Yet, while encouraging the United States to remain engaged in the world, we must also look to other governments to play a greater role in the effort to end extreme poverty by 2030. To rely on the United States alone is to put at risk all of the great gains the world has made in recent decades in child and maternal health, education, sanitation, and women’s empowerment. Germany is an obvious candidate. The second largest donor country in terms of sheer volume after the United States, Germany, is set to increase its aid assistance even further in coming years. The Nordic countries too are engaged. I have particular admiration for Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who has appeared on at least one Global Citizen stage every year for the past four years to announce a major development commitment.

Other countries too have begun to step up more. At the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) replenishment conference, which took place in February 2018 in Dakar, we saw new and ambitious commitments to the tune of USD 2.3 billion to support education systems across 89 developing countries. As one of the co-hosts, France’s President Macron pledged EUR 200 million, a 2 000% increase from their EUR 1 million contribution in 2014. Perhaps more surprising, and equally significant, Senegal pledged USD 3 million, more than both Japan and Korea, becoming the first African donor to the GPE fund. Finally, the United Arab Emirates, already a generous contributor to global health efforts, announced USD 100 million, its first ever contribution to the GPE.

But beyond leaning on governments to do more, ultra-high net worth individuals are potential development champions too. According to Professor Jeffrey Sachs of the Sustainable Solutions Development Network, the world’s 2 000+ billionaires have around USD 10 trillion in wealth – enough to fully fund the incremental effort needed to end extreme poverty, provided governments also do their part. Bill and Melinda Gates are well known for their support of global health efforts, but as Sachs rightly asks, who will champion global education, clean water and sanitation, and food security for all?

In the end, achieving the United Nation’s 17-point Sustainable Development Goals to – amongst other ambitious targets – end extreme poverty by 2030 was always going to require a transformative and ambitious commitment from our leaders. U.S. foreign aid cuts, while a blow, need not imperil this effort. But it will take action from everyday citizens, Global Citizens like you and me, to ensure others step in as well and keep us all on track to finally end extreme poverty.

1.Global Citizen is a social action platform for a global generation that wants to solve the world’s biggest challenges. It supports, encourages and engages governments, whether in the United States and beyond, as well as billionaires and the general public to take a leading role in efforts to end extreme poverty.