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Who Ya Gonna Call To Save The World? Well, Rihanna, Of Course!

Global Citizen’s Music Movement harnesses the power of pop stars like Adele and Rihanna to effect change.

Who Ya Gonna Call To Save The World? Well, Rihanna, Of Course!
[Photo: Paul Morigi/WireImage]

Wanna get a politician to act? Get a pop star involved.

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In an ideal world, passionate reasoning for action from the masses should be enough to get the attention of the people in power. But too often it’s not. Just ask the folks at Global Citizen, the New York global action platform that is working to eradicate extreme poverty.

Case in point: The power of Rihanna. When Global Citizen couldn’t get France to commit funds to its #EducationCannotWait campaign to help kids affected by natural disasters, poverty, and other crises last year, it got the Barbadian singer involved. It had been lobbying the French government to commit to its Education Cannot Wait fund. But it couldn’t get a definite answer out of the Élysée Palace, says Simon Moss, cofounder of Global Citizen. Then Rihanna reached out, and the ice started to thaw.

“The French were always very polite, and they talked a big game,” Moss recalled last week during The Fast Company Innovation Festival. “But when you asked them how much money they were going to give, they wouldn’t respond.”

Rihanna wrote an impassioned letter on Global Citizen letterhead, then Tweeted to her 80 million-plus followers: “@fhollande: Did you see my letter? Waiting on your answer! We need your leadership on #EducationCannotWait.”

Within 24 hours, then president François Hollande had written back and weeks later released $2 million for the initiative.

Moss says he wishes he had Rihanna in his corner more often, but realizes he needs to keep her in reserve for special occasions.

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Global Citizen uses music in several ways to get attention for issues like hunger, education, and climate change, Moss explains. When citizens agree to act on global issues, whether it’s calling Congress or sending Tweets, they get free tickets to concerts given by Rihanna and others. The most recent, in Central Park, featured the Chainsmokers, Andra Day, Stevie Wonder, and Green Day, and 60,000 people attended.

“It doesn’t always feel like it, but we live in a democracy, and our leaders are pretty responsive,” Moss says. “Issues like education and hunger suffer more from inertia than opposition. Politicians are sometimes a little timid. Putting them on stage and getting people to clap for them is a huge carrot, and we can have a huge impact.” Since 2012, Global Citizen’s methods have resulted in $35 billion, he says.

Moss argues that people are increasingly paying attention to the dire circumstances in poor nations and the moral duty of rich nations to lend a helping hand—but their time and attention is limited. The trick is to eke out just a little more engagement, and get people to act in small but meaningful ways–like sending Tweets to political leaders.

“We’re not competing with other charities or NGOs, we’re competing with life,” he says. “We just want to get a little more attention for these issues. For us, working with celebrities and influencers means you’ll stop in your newsfeed and say, ‘Wow, Coldplay shared this.'”

Global Citizen’s big challenge now isn’t to increase government spending, but rather to preserve it. President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget includes a 30%-plus cut in international aid.

“When Trump was elected, he said some worrying things about America’s role in the world. We put it down to what people say on the campaign trail. When he released the budget outline, it became clear this wasn’t a slight difference in policy. This was a different worldview,” Moss says.

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Global Citizen has done an Adele-themed spoof video to get people to call up Congress. It was viewed 5 million times. But the cuts on the table still amount to billions of dollars.

Taking on Trump’s worldview, it seems, will take more than even Rihanna’s star power. It’s going to take you and me, Moss says, and a whole army of musicians singing as loudly as they can.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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