It’s always been about enabling people to take tangible action in their lives.
The freedom part of that is saying that actually true freedom is not having to worry about where your next meal is coming from.
I had the pleasure to interview Simon Moss at the Global Citizen NOW Summit in New York City. Global Citizen is the world’s largest movement of action takers and impact makers dedicated to ending extreme poverty NOW. The voices of millions of Global Citizens around the world are driving lasting change towards sustainability, equality, and humanity by taking action every day.
Simon Moss is a campaigning and community education expert who is obsessed with creating ways for global citizens to contribute to ending extreme poverty by 2030. As a Co-Founder and Chief Product & Experiences Officer of Global Citizen, he has aided the creation and development of the Global Citizen platform and Festival, and overseen the more than 100 campaign victories that the organization has been a part of. He holds a Master of Development Studies from the University of Melbourne, lives in New York with his wife Rachel.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
My name is Simon Moss. I’m the co-founder of Global Citizen, and our mission is all about ending extreme poverty now. In particular, it’s about mobilizing the voices of citizens, normal people like you and me all around the world to make a difference every day, and we do that by advocating, calling for change with those with the means to make change, from world leaders and business leaders to individuals. This is a journey that started about 20 years ago when myself and Hugh Evans, one of our other co-founders, volunteered together in Australia when we were college students. We used to go door to door and into school halls, rotary clubs, church halls, and community groups talking to people about extreme poverty and doing little bits of fundraising to help build schools in South Africa and Timor. And what we discovered is that so many people want to make a difference, but they also feel this barrier that is holding them back.
Since 1980, the world’s economy has quintupled in size. Extreme poverty has fallen by 70%. When I was born in the early 1980s, almost half of the world’s population was in extreme poverty, that’s on less than $2 a day. And now it’s less than 10%. And we’ve got crazy, awful challenges like COVID, the current economic crisis, and climate change that has threatened to undo a lot of this progress. But actually there are so many things that each of us can do in our own lives through the way we talk to world leaders that can actually make a huge difference.
Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There’s an Indian economist named Amartya Sen. He wrote a book called Development as Freedom about 20 or 30 years ago. The title really captures the quote which is that development is freedom development. It’s the idea that we can meet our basic needs in life.
The freedom part of that is saying that actually true freedom is not having to worry about where your next meal is coming from. Not having to worry about whether or not there’s a roof over head, and that freedom to aspire, freedom to be human really comes from being able to have dreams, and to chase those dreams and know that while life will throw so many things our wat, it’s still possible to achieve them.
For me, that’s the core of what we do at Global Citizen – that the idea of development is not about making everyone rich, and it’s not about making everyone like Americans. In the world that we all live in, with 8 billion fellow citizens all around the world, there’s no need for anyone to not be able to meet those very basic needs. And so for me it comes down to just this very simple assertion that has so much living behind it.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The work we do at Global Citizen is all about connecting people. We often talk about this model of pop and policy. And so the first thing for us that’s been so essential is bringing people together around a common vision, but through different perspectives and skills. We bring world leaders and pop stars together. We bring everyday citizens and titans of industry together. That’s what we’re doing this week at the Global Citizen NOW Summit. And so the first bit is saying that those unusual bedfellows can actually create magic. If you can unite them around a common idea, a common goal, a common vision, then you can spark conversations and ideas and creativity.
The second piece of it is persistence. When we’re doing these really big global campaigns that we care about, it often feels like we’re pushing the rock up the hill and then COVID happens, or a tornado, a hurricane, or a devastating flood or drought. And you feel like all the progress that’s been made has been undone. But actually, the big picture, the meta story here is generally one of positivity and of resilience.
The third lesson that we’ve really learned is about honesty and openness. That this stuff is hard, and we need to be really upfront about when things are getting better and when things are getting worse. I think all too often, we who work in the media and tell stories to the public, don’t always find it easy to give nuance to the story. So a lot of the work we do at Global Citizen is about equipping people with not just the headlines, but with what happens afterwards. They’re not going to be able to build trust if they don’t feel like they’re getting the full story.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the Global Citizen NOW Summit and the app you’re currently involved in creating, which has the potential to make a positive impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?
We’ve had a Global Citizen app over the last seven or eight years and it’s always been about enabling people to take tangible action in their lives. It’s awesome to be able to tweet world leaders. It’s great to be able to write to your local member of Congress. But this recent redesign is about saying to people here’s something just for you that you can do today. We’re trying to live our lives and be good people, and we’ve got three minutes while we are waiting for the subway. We’ve got six minutes while we’re waiting for our kids to come out of dance rehearsal. We’ve got four minutes because we are waiting for someone to come to a meeting and are sitting in a cafe. How do we make it bite sized, but also give people something to then come back to later to be able to expand on? And so this redesign that we’re launching at the Global Citizen NOW Summit is all about meeting people where they are at so that they can do their little bit of good every day as part of this bigger movement of millions of people all around the world.
How do you think the redesigned Global Citizen App can actually help address these concerns?
What we’ve heard loud and clear from our users is that they want to be able to take small actions and be reminded of how they can have an impact and do good, and also see how that combines with others in having a larger impact.
So we’ve created a series of Journeys with really simple ways for people to take action that by themselves aren’t going to save the planet, or change humanity, but when lots of other people take them it can make a big difference. That might be about trying to eat less meat for a week or not using plastic. We also have a series of more complex campaigns about bigger issues like climate change.
There are billions of dollars at stake, and the only way we are going to get that billions of dollars to actually move into the hands of the world’s poorest people in the poorest countries is to do things like this. And for us the analogy is saying, hey, we know that climate change doesn’t stop because one day I decide I’d like it to. We’re all going to have to show up every day to do our little bit to see what difference we can make.
How do you think this endeavor can help change the world?
What we’ve seen through the actions of our global citizens, more than 33 million actions taken by millions of global citizens in the last 10 years, is that when you pull those actions and put them together, make sure they’re done at the right time, so you can unlock huge amounts of money. The campaigns that we’ve worked on at Global Citizen have resulted in more than $40B of new money being dispersed. We’ve tracked that money all the way through to its ground delivery, and that’s not what we did as an organization. That’s what this huge movement of people did in concert with grassroots organizations all around the world.
What we’ve seen over the last 15 years is that extreme poverty has fallen, that the number of kids out of school has fallen, that the number of people dying from preventable diseases, especially children, has dramatically declined, but we’ve also seen how vulnerable we all are when things like COVID comes along or when catastrophic weather events caused by climate change show up. And so for us it’s about saying, hey, let’s not just look at what we’ve done in the past, let’s look at where the world is going, and what all of us need to do. You don’t need to be a Peace Corps volunteer and go and spend years overseas to make a difference.
Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to create a movement that can make a positive social impact”?
I’d say have a big, hairy, audacious goal or collective vision. The first thing you need is to be able to rally people, not just about what we’re trying to stop, but what’s the better world that we want to create.
We can say we want world peace, but if we don’t have something that each of us can do today, then we’re not going to get there.
The third is having an open and honest set of intermediary steps. Not necessarily all of them, because this is hard and complex and it’s not just a checklist of 75 things, but you do need to be able to say, hey, here’s the journey. We’ve got to be able to go on together.
The fourth is a way for people to own this story. We need to find a way for people to say, I own part of this. This is what gets me fired up, so that each of us can have our own unique role to play. I’m not the sort of guy who’s going to tie himself to a bulldozer. But I recognize that the people who are willing to do that, they’re standing up for what they believe in. And what we need is a world where people are willing to stand up, to speak out loudly about the world they want.
And that leads me to the fifth thing, which is to say we need to all be willing to have the difficult conversations. Difficult conversations aren’t about screaming at our crazy uncle at Thanksgiving that he’s wrong. It’s about listening and understanding and going okay, why do they believe in something so different? Because most of the time when I’ve had conversations with people and I’ve broken it down to values, we actually share a lot in common. We all want freedom, we all want opportunity. So for me it’s that ability to create space for having those difficult conversations. Those conversations are probably not best to have on Twitter. They’re conversations that you have in your own life every day with people, so that you can build common understanding.
How can our readers further follow Global Citizen and your work online?
I’d encourage everyone to go to your app store, whether that’s on Google or Apple, and download the new Global Citizen app. It’s been completely redesigned from the bottom up. It’s free and it’s all about simple ways you can take action.
You can also follow us on all the social channels as @glblctzn. Our Instagram feed has a tangible mix of interesting and insightful facts that can provide curiosity.