Surprise guest Beyonce and joins Jay Z at the Global Citizen Festival in New York on Sept. 27, 2014.
Photo by Alex Welsh for MSNBC

Webby Awards: Global Citizen Festival


Most people don’t hear the word “vaccination” and think “Fun.”

Nor do many pair JAY Z with sanitation efforts in Northern India. Or Tiësto with girls’ education in Rwanda.

But on Sept. 27, the music industry’s biggest stars and the world’s humanitarian leaders came together for the third annual Global Citizen Festival to spotlight efforts that could change millions of lives across the globe. Celebrity activists like Adrian Grenier, Hugh Jackman, and Jessica Alba, and world leaders like United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the musical acts: Beyonce, JAY ZFun., TiëstoNo DoubtStingCarrie Underwood, and The Roots. The concert was hosted on MSNBC and by Chris Hayes, Alex Wagner, and Ronan Farrow.

Global Poverty Project (GPP), the organization that hosts the annual festival, aims to end extreme poverty by 2030 by increasing the number of people taking action against poverty. MSNBC partnered with GPP to support that goal, pledging to tell the stories of the suffering so as to encourage our audience to join the movement. 

Free concert tickets were awarded to people who completed GPP’s digital “action journey” – a sequence of positive actions meant to secure commitments from charities, corporations, and countries. Actions ranged from petitioning governments to pledge money toward vaccinations to sharing a hope for the world on MSNBC’s Growing Hope Digital Tree. Last year, the “action journey” focused on improving education, vaccinations, and sanitation. 

To echo these efforts, MSNBC spent the three months leading up to the concert traveling to Nigeria, Rwanda, and India, cataloging the strife and survival of people living in extreme poverty. 

At Global Citizen Festival, stars and musicians unite to fight poverty
In Central Park on Saturday, some of the world’s biggest stars and musicians came together to shine a light on efforts to fight poverty around the world.

In Kano State in northern Nigeria, we met Aisha Isyaku, a volunteer community mobilizer and Islam teacher who travels from house to house with UNICEF’s polio vaccination team. She became a champion of polio eradication after her best friend contracted the disease. Nigeria is one of three polio-endemic countries left in the world.

In Rwanda’s Rugamara village, we met Epiphanie Karuranga, an uneducated mother of five who funds her children’s education by weaving baskets. Karuranga says she eats less than her children so that she can afford to buy them school supplies. Only 15.6% of Rwandan girls attend secondary school, but initiatives like Connect to Learn are working to change that.

And in northern India’s Khanpur village in Haryana, we met Surjit Kaur, the leader of a group of local women who banded together to educate their community on the benefits of sanitation using some unusual tactics. Sixty percent of open defecation that occurs in the world happens in India, spreading disease and harming children’s development.

Leading up to the concert, MSNBC aired 34 television segments and produced 30+ digital pieces, including the aforementioned original documentaries, social media campaigns, and interviews with celebrity activists. Our content humanized GPP’s goals; it showed viewers the faces of extreme poverty and urged them to act.

The seven-hour Global Citizen Festival aired both on MSNBC and, and featured not only world leaders and musical guests, but profiled individual Global Citizens who’d been awarded tickets after taking remarkable actions to end poverty. 

By the numbers: 

  • 60,000 people attended the festival
  • 250,000 people took digital action toward ending extreme poverty
  • 3.6 million total viewers watched the festival on MSNBC 
  • 117,000 video streams on and 232,000 video views on YouTube
  • 1.5 million impressions on Facebook

The global issues confronting today's youth
Young people today are as cause-driven as their predecessors with the benefit of advanced technology and social media savvy.

Webby Awards: Global Citizen Festival