Anti-poverty crusader Hugh Evans to join Rotarians in Bangkok
Hugh Evans regularly delivers the Global Poverty Project's "1.4 Billion Reasons" presentation. Evans will be a keynote speaker at the 2012 RI Convention in Bangkok, Thailand, 6-9 May.
B y the age of 12, Hugh Evans had figured out what his life’s work would be: ending global poverty.
Two years later, seeking an experience that would help him empathize with the 1.4 billion people who live on US$1.25 or less a day, he participated in a World Vision trip to the Philippines, financed in part by Rotarians in his hometown of Baldwin, Australia. He shared a tent in Manila with a family living in a slum built on a garbage dump.
Now 28, Evans oversees a team of activists around the world as CEO of the Global Poverty Project. He was named Young Australian of the Year in 2004, and two years later engineered a campaign that brought Bono to Melbourne to perform in a concert to raise awareness about poverty.
The publicity surrounding that event led to a commitment by the Australian government to increase its foreign aid budget, resulting in an additional A$4.3 billion annually for the world’s poorest. This past October, a day after the Global Poverty Project staged a concert in Perth as part of its End of Polio campaign, Australia committed A$50 million to the polio eradication effort.
Evans will be a keynote speaker at the 2012 RI Convention in Bangkok, Thailand, 6-9 May. Register online by 1 March for early pricing.
THE ROTARIAN: Your Global Poverty Project has gotten involved in eradicating polio. How did that come about?
EVANS: Based on their Rotary connections, many of my staff are passionate about polio eradication. We thought, how can we bring our resources to bear on this? We created The End of Polio, our grassroots campaign. Our goal was to raise $50 million from Australia and other governments. We managed to raise $110 million.
TR: You’ve been very successful. What motivates you?
EVANS: I’ve never forgotten a young man named Sonny Boy, who took me under his wing in that Manila slum. I believe it is pure chance that I was born where I was, and he, just as smart, was growing up in extreme poverty. We can’t boast of our successes without being thankful for our luck.
TR: What’s the core philosophy of the Global Poverty Project?
EVANS: We believe businesses need to have clear, transparent, and fair supply chains; that governments need to give their share as a proportion of their gross national product; and that governments in developing countries need to ensure that corruption does not flourish.
TR: You’ve enlisted the help of entertainers such as Hugh Jackman and Bono. How effective is that?
EVANS: Both of those guys are in a category of their own. We work with people who care about what they’re doing, and those two are dedicated to ending extreme poverty. Folks respond only to authentic messages, I think, not to celebrity-driven messages. The general public is savvier than that.
TR: What’s the reason behind your move last year to New York City?
EVANS: The United States is crucial in the campaign to end extreme poverty. It’s the largest donor in the world, but as a proportion of gross national product, its contribution is one of the smallest. According to a recent study, the American public assumes that 25 percent of the federal budget goes toward foreign aid. When they’re told that the actual figure is 0.2 percent, they can’t believe it. In the Global Poverty Project, we see our job, in part, as informing the public that it’s a minuscule amount, and that cutting it further is ludicrous.
TR: Does the flat economy make your work even harder?
EVANS: In some ways, it sparks a sense of compassion. People say, if we’re having it this tough in America, imagine how tough it must be in Africa.
TR: Is there still a role for Rotary in the growth of the Global Poverty Project?
EVANS: Rotarians were my initial supporters when I was young. I couldn’t have gone to Manila, then to India for a year at 15, without them. I continue to speak to Rotary clubs. In South Africa, we toured with a choir of Zulu warriors with the help of Rotary. The power of Rotary, as I’ve experienced it, is in its decentralization and how well it permeates the community.
TR: Part of Rotary’s mission is to advance world understanding and peace. How does your work contribute to that?
EVANS: Researchers have come up with a way of understanding the link between poverty and conflict through a tool called the Failed States Index. The index assigns a score based on 12 factors that indicate how well a country is functioning. The higher the score, the more challenged the country. It turns out that poor countries tend to score a lot worse. It seems obvious that there is a strong relationship between economic hardship and conflict, so efforts to alleviate poverty go hand in hand with efforts to promote peace.
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