The following is a conversation between Liza Henshaw, President of Global Citizen, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.

Denver: Global Citizen is the world’s largest movement of action takers and impact makers dedicated to ending extreme poverty now. Global Citizens have taken over 33.7 million actions since 2009.

Today, these actions, in combination with high level advocacy work, have led to over $43 billion being distributed to their partners around the world, impacting 1.29 billion lives in the fight to end extreme poverty and address other pressing issues. And here with us to discuss this work is Liza Henshaw, President of Global Citizen.

Liza Henshaw President of Global Citizen

Welcome to The Business of Giving, Liza.

Liza: Thanks for having me.

Denver: Liza, what does being a Global Citizen mean to you personally and also in the context of the organization’s mission?

Liza: Well, I love that I can answer for me personally because it does give me a sense of being connected to people that I’ve never met, in places that I probably can’t even find on the map, even though I’m trying to go to as many of them as possible;  I believe that we are all connected, and we all have the ability to do something small and big.

And if climate change hasn’t taught us, I think COVID certainly taught us: We are all really, really connected, and it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. And I think that particularly the younger generation really have that feeling. They know it in social media. They know that they’re following everyone.

And I find it super inspiring personally to know that there’s a mom on the other side of the planet who’s doing the same things that I’m doing as a mom, as a citizen, as a world traveller. So I think that for me personally, it’s that sense of connectedness.

And then when I look at the rest of our 12 million Global Citizens, I know it’s the community… not everyone is a Stray Kids fan or a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, but they all come in together because they know that their voice matters in that action they take.

And then they look around, and they’re like, Oh, it’s not just me. I’m part of 12 million users who are taking, you know… I think we’re up to 35 million actions. And I think that sense of belonging and that you’re not alone is really critical to the feeling of being a Global Citizen.

Denver: Yeah, that’s a great point. Pretty ambitious agenda for an organization. How did it get started? What was the inspiration that got this thing up and running?

Liza: So I have the privilege of working for the three co-founders. They were Australian mates in high school. And they went to do this concert in Australia called Make Poverty History. And it was such a success that Stevie Wonder called up and said, “So I’d like to do it again. I’d like to do it for you next year.”

And one of them said, “There is no next year.”  And he goes, “Yeah, there is now.” And I think it’s an example of: Do something, and you’ll be surprised; and then you’ll do something more and something more. And the founders came to New York. They put on an unbelievable event in 2015. That was when I noticed them, and I was like, Wow, look at the movement of people!

And I personally had been frustrated with what was going on with climate change in this country. And I said, It’s the youth and the movement of people applying pressure onto world leaders to say: This is what we care about. And I said, All great change has happened because of that movement of people who are exercising their voice.

And I said, I want to go be part of that movement. I don’t want to convince people that climate change is real anymore. I want to figure out how we’re… those people are going to go away naturally. I want to work on…. with the people who know what’s happening and that we need to find solutions.

And that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We have to do something, and then something more, and then something more. So I discovered them, Global Citizen, in 2016. And it’s like I’ve blinked, and all these years have gone by.

Denver: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, you’re absolutely right about doing something, and Stevie Wonder is right. Sometimes we spend too much time planning… and you just do something, and then something else happens, and then something else happens; and an action is a big piece of it.

And of course, it’s at the heart of your movement. You mentioned a moment ago, you have 12 million Global Citizens who have taken 35 million actions, give or take a couple. How do you define an action? What’s an action?

Liza: An action can be as simple as you watching a small video on our platform and taking a quiz, and you get a couple of points for that. It can be as big as joining us at a park or a beach. We’ve done it in Johannesburg, where you spend the day cleaning up trash on the beach. And for those actions, you go into a lottery to win a ticket to one of our events.

 And then everything in between: a click, a like, a share, a petition, lots of in-person; we go back and forth between in real life and on the digital platform. But it’s really an engagement so that we know you’re participating with us and then you do one.

And they usually, again, usually start with an easy one. You’re like, Oh, okay, I could sign that. And then we come back and you’re like, Oh, I could write that. Oh, I could call my legislator and tell them that this is important to me. And I got Saturday free, I’ll go clean up some trash on the beach.

So, again, people, we are here offering all of them. We’re not trying to force anyone into a certain path, but people, as I said before: You do something and it kind of feels good, and then you do the next something, and it feels even better.

Denver: Yeah, that’s right. And you’re doing them with somebody else, whether you’re with them or just alongside them on social media, and you feel like you’re not alone. You’re all doing it together, which is great.

Liza: And then we have some pretty good rewards. So when you get enough points, you can earn tickets to lots of other events. And then what people know  about us is you can earn tickets to our big events. And that’s the only way to see them is by taking action.

Denver: There you go. Money won’t get you in. It’s only going to be your sweat equity in terms of what you’ve done. That’s great.

Talk a little bit about some of your focus areas. Obviously at the heart of it is defeating poverty. There are, I guess, over 700 million people in the world now who are living in extreme poverty. Give us an idea of what you do to address that issue.

Liza: So we go to what we believe are the root causes of extreme poverty, and we work closely with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. There are a lot of those, so we boil it down to really: hunger, gender, and the planet. And we try to find root causes where we can actually make a change. Something as simple as girls needing period, menstrual hygiene products.

When we were in South Africa, the government had said they were going to do it, but nothing was actually happening. So we built it into our campaign that you would call the government saying: You promised this. These are girls in poor communities, and they just need pads and sanitary napkins so that they can stay in school…. because they were dropping out of school for something as simple as needing a sanitary napkin.

So we had 100,000 Global Citizens call to the point where the South African government was calling us saying, Make it stop! What do you actually want from us? And lo and behold, during our event in 2018, after a lot of back and forth on what we thought was going to be the amount of money, the energy of that concert, the President, Cyril Ramaphosa, actually changed his talking points backstage in order to commit…I think it was about 1.65 million rand. And every year since then, he’s increased the number so that millions of girls in South Africa are getting the menstrual hygiene products they need so they can stay in school. And staying in school and educating the girl child is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet on ending extreme poverty,  because girls just lift their community.

So it just starts with something as simple as a sanitary napkin, or a toilet. I worked in India for World Toilet Day, November 19th, if that’s not in your calendar, because you need to have girls’ and boys’ bathrooms, because when girls start to develop, they drop out of school because they don’t want to share a bathroom with a boy.

And so it’s just these simple things. The solutions are not difficult, it’s implementation. And that’s the area we work by having our Global Citizens take action, apply the pressure onto the government to either release the funds or actually just get the implementation done and: Lets keep girls in school. And that’s just one example of how we are going about trying to end extreme poverty.

Well, a lot of what we want in the world… we have the vision for… is to make sure that the girl child is just as respected as the boy. And a lot of that is about equity and making sure that marginalized people have access to the resources that they need, from food and education.

… it is really about creating a world that’s fair and just so that everyone gets the resources they need.

Denver: Yeah, that’s a good example. And governments, just like Global Citizen, sometimes they start small. And then you do a little bit more the next year and a little bit more the next year, and it begins to build.

A second focus area… and this kind of spills over to what you were just talking about is demand equity. Talk a little bit about that.

Liza: Well, a lot of what we want in the world… we have the vision for… is to make sure that the girl child is just as respected as the boy. And a lot of that is about equity and making sure that marginalized people have access to the resources that they need, from food and education.

So in some of our campaigns, they’re really about trying to remove some of these systemic barriers that have prevented marginalized people getting what they need. And again, those can take place in the form of removing child marriage. We worked in New York on removing cash bail.

We have worked in South Africa on just making sure that access to education for kids who can’t actually get to school is there, but it is really about creating a world that’s fair and just so that everyone gets the resources they need.

Denver: Mm-hmm. And it looks like extreme poverty really runs through everything you do, because when you begin to think about defending the planet, it is those people who have the least to do with global warming that are suffering the most. Tell us about the work there.

Liza: So I have been working in the climate space clearly for a long time. I used to be at the Environmental Defense Fund, and there’s so much work to be done, but I think we’re all looking for the one thing that will fix everything. And there is no such thing. This is an incredible problem.

I remember someone telling me that whatever solution we get will make the tax code in the U. S. look like a simple… like a child’s board book. So I think that what we bring to the table on this is finding solutions where if our members apply pressure, we can actually get something done.

And a few weeks ago, let’s say it was the middle of June, President Macron invited Global Citizen to Paris to work with him on a financing summit. And it wasn’t glamorous work, but the piece we felt we could get the most traction on was working with the new World Bank president, Ajay Banga.

And we ended up getting new debt pause clause options, which on our platform, probably, I’ll say at least half our Global Citizens now know what that is.

Denver: Cool.

Liza: And it was something as simple as making sure when catastrophe happens, that you don’t have to service your debt anymore. You can take those funds in order to rebuild. And if that had been in place a year ago when the floods came to Pakistan, that would have opened up $33 billion that they could have been helping their people instead of servicing debt, which wasn’t doing anything for the people on the ground.

So that’s a tiny instrument that our Global Citizens… first, we educated them. Then we told them you take these actions. Then we did a couple of stunts in Washington to make sure the new World Bank president heard and saw us. And lo and behold, he’s on our stage saying, Yes, I can do that. I can put a pause on that debt.

And it doesn’t fix the whole problem, but it was one thing. And there are a bunch of people who will be affected when the next catastrophe happens, that their government will have a little relief there and can be helping out their people.

Denver: Yeah. It’s really just an application of some basic common sense to a circumstance, and you have to bring it to people’s attention and tell them what they need to do. And when you follow common sense, you absolutely make the lives of millions of people a lot better.

One of the initiatives, and you have some specific ones, but tell us about one, I think it launched earlier this year, called Power Our Planet.

Liza: So Power Our Planet was what we did with President Macron in Paris in June when he was hosting the climate financing summit. And it was in that campaign that we applied pressure onto the World Bank in order to change, frankly, some pretty old constructs from the ’70s on how debt is worked with the IMF and the World Bank.

And there’s a lot more to be done there. We did get the relief on the debt pause clauses, but there’s so much more we can be doing with the money that the World Bank has access to in order to help people who are the victims of climate change… who, as you said before, they’ve done the least amount to contribute to the problem, but they are on the front lines of receiving the brunt of severe weather.

Denver: You have 12 million members, and so much of your work is driven by youth who have a lot of energy, a lot of idealism, and I think they look at the world in a completely different way… certainly than I do, coming from a different generation. Are there any new innovative or creative strategies you’re using now to engage them?

Liza: Well, I think we have to keep reinventing every year because we engage on our platform using every social media platform. So things that we’re doing today, frankly, didn’t exist two years ago. And things that were super successful for us five years ago, they’re not using anymore. So our Global Citizens sort of tell us where they are, and we want to go meet them where they are as well.

And it’s interesting for me that some of our in-real-life actions are actually now becoming more popular, when maybe 7 years ago, it was all digital all the time. But I think maybe it’s a product of COVID, maybe something else: They actually want to meet each other in-person.

So we have different ways when you come in-person, we can tell you’re there, and you get points for it. We work with all the new social media platforms in order to take those actions. We noticed they also like to talk to each other, so our community-building tools give them an opportunity to see what others are doing.

And I think the last one that we point out is the celebrating of other changemakers, even if it’s super small in a community, again, that maybe you can’t even find on the map… and you hear her story of what she’s doing for her community. And it’s very inspiring. So we are trying to lift up other on-the-ground changemakers saying, Do you see what she’s doing? It’s 25 kids in this school, in this place, that she’s affecting, and her story is really like unbelievably inspiring. Think of what you can do, too.

And then they start sharing that. And a lot of these changemakers are writing in to us about our stories. And we also have some partners who help fund them in  winning a prize that will help… and their little NGO that they’re working on. So I think that that sharing of what other people are doing is part of our overall platform.

So it’s not just a petition or something on Snapchat or TikTok, but you’ve gotten to know a real-life person doing something. And you’re like, Well, I could do that. Let me do something in my community.

“It is the stories of other people. I mean, as Global Citizens and as a society,we’ve been storytelling since the dawn of time, and it is a powerful tool. And if that story resonates with you and gets you up, and you go over and help the next set of people, it gives me faith in what we’re doing just as mankind, as womankind, and as people who seek a better vision of this world we share.”

Denver: Yeah, it just seems that peer learning is so powerful. When an organization is telling you to do something, that doesn’t really sink in as much as when you see somebody your own age, your own peer, your own level doing something, you’re just so much more influenced.

The other thing that struck me is that everything old is new again. And I remember when my daughter got her first place, and she got mail, and it was like, Why are you sending mail, I was wondering, to a 23-year-old? And she was so excited to get mail. She just said, “ I actually get to open something.”

And you’re thinking that they’re all digital, and that they’re not going to want snail mail, but as you say, We think that, and then you realize they all want to meet together again or something like that. There’s some things that just come around that always have you changing the way you look at things. So it’s really interesting. Partnerships…

Liza: It is the stories of other people. I mean, as Global Citizens and as a society, we’ve been storytelling since the dawn of time, and it is a powerful tool. And if that story resonates with you and gets you up, and you go over and help the next set of people, it gives me faith in what we’re doing just as mankind, as womankind, and as people who seek a better vision of this world we share.

“Global Citizen is an advocacy organization. We need and support and admire the organizations on the ground building schools, building the maternity clinic, handing out food, teaching a small shareholder farmer how to do the accounting in order to manage her land. We want all of those groups thriving. And if our platform can shine a big light on what they’re doing, and that attracts funding for that group, that’s awesome.”

Denver: When I think of partnerships, I think of Global Citizen, I think of government, and I think of activists, and I think of corporations and others. Tell us about some of your partnerships and some of the keys in their philosophy and your approach when you try to link with other partners.

Liza: So we have such great partners from the NGO community, to individual philanthropists, to our corporate partners, and governments. I tell people sometimes, we traffic in favors. So we reach out to someone and say, Could you help us with this? And they’re like, Oh, I can give you a little help here. And then you go over.

And people are inspired, whether you’re Procter & Gamble helping give away menstrual hygiene products… and they have an action on our platform. If you take this action, Procter & Gamble will give away Always pads and different things there. We do it with our partner, Cisco, who trains at their network academy in Africa. They fulfilled their commitment. I think there are over 100,000  network engineers being trained at their cost so that they can go have good jobs on their own.

We have  partnerships with governments. I mean, people say when they see us tweeting President Macron or signing petitions. We’ve worked with his group. We want to apply pressure, and they want the pressure because they want to do something.

President von der Leyen from the European Commission has been a great supporter and partner for Global Citizen… our campaign just for Stand Up for Ukraine when the Ukraine war broke out… President Lula from Brazil. So our community is the public sector, the private sector, the Global Citizens, and then we refer to them as the implementation partners.

Global Citizen is an advocacy organization. We need and support and admire the organizations on the ground building schools, building the maternity clinic, handing out food, teaching a small shareholder farmer how to do the accounting in order to manage her land. We want all of those groups thriving. And if our platform can shine a big light on what they’re doing, and that attracts funding for that group, that’s awesome.

We don’t take any of the funding through us. We don’t want it coming into us and taking anything off the top. We’re often posting it right on our website: Here are the places, if you want to give, give directly here. And if you want to change systems like the World Bank, come onto my platform and take some actions and learn some more.

Denver: Yeah. And I speak to so many nonprofits who get frustrated with government, and government can be bureaucratic. It can be slow. It can be frustrating, but at the end of the day, you really can’t make any significant change unless you have government at the table. And if you know…

Liza: It’s where the big money is.

Denver: Where the big money is, yeah. It’s just… it’s unavoidable if you want systems change… Well, you have this community; it’s all over the world. You have so many cultural differences. You have so many regional differences. And I guess if there’s a common voice, it’s music. Music is your catalyst. Tell us about the role of music and art in Global Citizen.

Liza: It’s so fun that when you come to a Global Citizen event, you are going to hear an eclectic set of songs. You’re going to have gone… like this September,, you’re going because you love Red Hot Chili Peppers. But you’re then going to hear Ms. Lauryn Hill and you’re going to go, Oh my God, she’s talented! This is so fun.

Then you’ll probably hear some K-pop that maybe you didn’t know about, and you’re not going to be able to look away because these kids are so incredibly talented. That was my experience the first time we had NCT 127, like five years ago. I couldn’t look away. It was so fun to watch them.

And then you look at the crowd, and last year, I remember all the people wearing a Metallica T-shirt. They’re out in front and they’re dancing to everybody else. So they came for Metallica, but they got to hear everything else. And it really is a uniting sense of movement. You’re standing there, you’re dancing.

And the same thing happens in… we did a big show in Accra, and the place went bananas. And it was a big lineup, and it’s just really fun. And again, the artists who perform, they do it… they do not get paid. We have never paid an artist. They come, and they perform. They’re using their platform.

They’re helping us with the actions and encouraging fans to take actions… go to see Global Citizen. And it’s really, it’s inspiring. Many of them have worked with us, like I said, Lars from Metallica, Chris Martin from Coldplay. They’ve been with us for forever. And then we also work with the new ones like Jungkook of BTS, who will be with us. This was a big announcement last year.

He’s got a lot of fans. He drove a crazy amount of actions on our platform. And it just brings a whole new set of Global Citizens into the mix. And I’ll bet you, we turn a couple of Jungkook’s fans into Red Hot Chili Pepper fans by the end of our evening, on the 23rd.

Denver: Well, it’s got to keep you current, that’s for sure.

Liza: Oh, my kids think I’m super cool.

Denver: Yeah, I bet. 

Liza: Yes.

Denver: It’s also a great platform to make some big-time announcements, right?

Liza: Yes, on the public and the private sector. And we get a lot of people who want to come and… “Can we come on your stage? And can we announce this, that or the other thing?” And we’re quite particular about it. We don’t… you can’t come and recycle something you’ve announced before and just because you want it on our bigger stage.

So there is an impact team who works on what you’re going to say on our stage and that it’s new. And when you announce something on our stage, you agree to a very serious set of rules from us, where all the data…you will report on it; you will report when the money is dispersed, or if it was like training the way Cisco did.

 You will tell us everybody who… when you’ve  graduated all the classes. And we produce an impact report every quarter to track every single commitment on the stage, and that it’s been fulfilled, money dispersed to the impact partner on the ground who was to receive it.

And I can report that in the 11 years we’ve been doing this, I think six commitments from the stage have not been fulfilled, and they were for more geopolitical reasons when, as you can imagine, when one government says something and then they’re not in power anymore.

But we really do try to even mitigate against that because it’s a big platform. We broadcast all over the world. We’re usually in over 180 countries. And if you say it on our stage, it’s our job to make sure that it happens.

Denver: Follow-through and implementation. Well, in New York, when’s the stage going to be this year? Tell us a little bit of what’s going to be happening later this month.

Liza: Very exciting. September 23rd, our 11th year on the Great Lawn of Central Park. It is just a beautiful place to hear music. Gates open at 2:00. The show will start at 4:00. We have an incredible lineup, from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Anitta, Conan Gray, D-Nice, Sofia Carson, and Stray Kids.

We always have a lot of very fun hosts and some government leaders. You’ll always be surprised by the president of which country will walk out. And our longtime ambassadors like Bill Nye, Bridget Moynahan, and Phoebe Gates, and my favorite, Rachel Brosnahan, who has been, I think she’s been with us maybe nine years. She wasn’t even Mrs. Maisel when she started working with us.

And it’ll be a great show, very fast, beautiful day in the park because it’s the end of September in New York. And take action. We’re almost completely out of tickets. We save a few more for people to download. Download the app. Take action. And when you’ve fulfilled all your points, you go into a lottery. But I will tell you, the lottery is getting a little tough now because New York is ready for our 11th show.

“…don’t let the perfect or the complete solution be the enemy. Do something now, and then do something more again after that.” 

Denver: I think they’re ready to get together. As you said, it’d be in person, and party a little bit. You have such a complex job and such a complex organization. With everything you’ve talked about, how do you try to balance and prioritize? I mean, you have systemic change that you really want to see, but you also have urgent action because of disasters and COVID and things of that sort.

You have these global crises that cross borders, but you also have a lot of local concerns. I mean, do you have a way you think about this or an approach to try to create?… There’s a lot of tensions inherent in that to create some semblance of balance and priorities.

Liza: We do. When something comes in and there’s a lot of inbound for us, our instinct as an executive team is we want to say yes to everything because we really do believe our platform and our Global Citizens can make change. But we can’t do everything, and we can’t be everywhere.

So we do a process in order to see what’s the go/no-go decision on something like that. When President Macron called us, we really put that show together in 8 weeks. Most people would never do that. That was crazy. But we thought the timing with the new head of the World Bank, that we were playing for some significant stakes.

And then we worked with a couple of foundations who were incredible about turning around the funding that was needed in a week. I mean, these things in the professional foundation worlds, that’s a pretty crazy time frame, too. But unfortunately, there are a lot of things we can’t do.

We look to other organizations to see if they’re running something, if we can support it on our platform. One thing that I find frustrating in the NGO community is the sense of competition. We’re not in competition. If you’re doing something great, I want to support it on our platform. I want to amplify it and have you do it.

So there are times we look at something and we say, There’s a better aid organization and we will do what we can, from getting our Global Citizens engaged on your content, but we will push them over to yours. So, really, we do about 3 or 4 major events per year, and then a bunch of smaller ones that we can do on the platform.

 The model scales more digitally, so whatever we can do where we’re engaging our Global Citizens and, again, where they are… to even take some small action, we really want to do that. But there’s so much more work to do. COVID set more people back into extreme poverty, that the urgency… we used to say that we wanted to end extreme poverty by 2030… and we’re like, No, we have to do this now. We have to take all of these actions as soon as we can.

And as I said before, don’t let the perfect or the complete solution be the enemy. Do something now, and then do something more again after that.

Denver: Yeah, that seems to be that the people who are really succeeding these days are the imperfectionists because they recognize that things change and you have a plan, but then four weeks later you have another plan. And you have to be able to live with that ambiguity because that’s just the way the world is these days.

Finally, Liza, looking ahead over the next decade, what are your hopes for the impact and growth of Global Citizen?

Liza: I would like to see Global Citizen super active in Africa. I spent a lot of time traveling there. I have fallen in love with the different places that we’ve gone. The youth there are just beautiful, caring people who want to create the solution for their own country.

And I think that the Global Citizen model of music and action and rewards and community is set for the different African countries that we’re going to. I’d like to take the model, bring it there, and then see how it changes and flourishes and becomes more African.

But I think at its heart will be people taking action with music and a sense of community. And knowing that the change and the vision that they seek for their community is within their own hands.

Denver: Yeah, yeah. I don’t think the world has fully appreciated that the future is Africa. It really is going to be.

For listeners interested in learning more about the organization, the festival, how to get involved, all the rest of it… you gave us some general principles, but we need websites and where they need to go and what they need to do.

Liza: You need to go to or go to your Apple /Android store and download the Global Citizen app. It’s a very simple sign up, and start taking action. I promise after a couple actions, you’ll be taking more, and you can win rewards 365 days a year to concerts and sporting events all over the world.

We have products. We have coupons. We have giveaways. And you’re going to find a whole community that you really enjoy meeting and taking action with them. And then a couple of times a year, you’ll really enjoy going to a big, beautiful concert. And sometimes those concerts are on the Great Lawn of Central Park, September 23rd, Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And sometimes they’re in… we were in Accra, Ghana. We’ve been to Johannesburg, Paris, Hamburg, Mumbai– awesome place. And you never know where we’ll be next, but the only way you will definitely know is by being a Global Citizen with the app, taking action.

Denver: You’ll never know where you’re going to be next. That’s what makes it so much fun.

Liza: I really don’t, but it’s very fun.

Denver: Well, thanks so much for being here today, Liza. It was a real pleasure to have you on the program. And all the best for another great festival!

Liza: Yes. Thank you so much.

Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Uncertain World, is available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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