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Can the world recover from the pandemic, asks Sarah Meredith, and what can we as global citizens do to help?

As I think back last year – just a few days before Australia was plunged into its first largescale lockdown, our organisations and sector were in a very different place. 

At Global Citizen, we were gearing up for our biggest campaign ever in the fight to end extreme poverty. 2020 marked 10 years until the deadline set for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals deadline. With progress towards the UN’s Global Goals stalling, we needed to do something bold to kickstart action – and 2020 was going to be the year to push the dial. 

Little did we know we were on the verge of some devastating setbacks. COVID-19 would soon send a long-lasting impact across the entire globe, impeding both fundraising and development efforts. 

Fast forward to now and, for the first time in 20 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty is set to significantly increase – at current estimates by more than 110 million people. This figure is staggering, and demanding of immediate concern and action.

That means that almost one billion people are now living with little to no access to clean water, basic sanitation, food, education, hygiene, housing and health services. 

I don’t know about you, but that makes me sick to my stomach as I sit in Melbourne worrying about COVID restrictions. 

The crazy thing about all of this is that we do have an actionable plan to address many of these issues and change the world for the better. We know what it will take to lift people out of poverty. 

But it’s going to take serious resources and political will and focus to make it happen. In particular, it is going to take rich countries like ours maintaining and increasing our aid budget to support our neighbours, as well as ensuring that everyone, everywhere has access to lifesaving vaccines.  

That is why we at Global Citizen launched the Recovery Plan for the World, a bold five pillar plan to end COVID-19 and kickstart a global recovery. This plan is not just focused on governments – they can’t do this alone – it’s calling on everyone to play their part. 

It is pretty clear; we know that if we can get vaccines to everyone who needs them; get children back in classrooms; get food back on the table for everyone; recommit to protecting our planet; and make serious progress on achieving better equity, we will be in a much stronger place to achieve the Global Goals by 2030. Without these things, we will fail – and we will all be worse off for it. Here are five ways the world needs to step up in 2021:

1. Ending COVID-19 for all 

Even if Australia achieves full immunisation, we will still be at risk of new COVID-19 variants which arise in areas of uncontrolled spread. This means that nobody is entirely safe from the virus until everyone is. 

It is critical that the world’s richest countries ensure that the world’s poorest have access to testing, treatment and vaccines. This can be achieved by supporting COVAX and ACT Accelerator, donating surplus vaccine supply, and supporting vaccine manufacturing efforts. And people everywhere must be confident in the vaccine and get it as soon as they can.

The Australian Government has been a leader in global efforts, but there is still more that could be done – and we are calling for a new $500 million investment to support this. 

2. End the hunger crisis

The world’s food systems rest on a knife’s edge. Extreme weather fuelled by the climate crisis has ruined crops, and the pandemic has severed supply lines, casting millions into starvation. Supporting smallholder farmers, funding school feeding programs and strengthening our global food systems are the best ways to stop the hunger crisis.

Australia has an opportunity to increase its support of global and regional food security programs such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development who work in our region. Australia has always been an ally for agriculture, farming and fresh food. Now, is a great opportunity to focus attention on the Australian Aid program to address this crisis.

3. Resume learning everywhere

Before COVID-19 emerged, one in six children were out of school. With COVID-19, the numbers of children in school plummeted even further. With schools facing shutdowns and a sudden transition to remote learning, many have been left feeling like they’ve slipped behind. 

School closures affected over 1.5 billion children worldwide and, according to UNICEF, one-third of school children have been unable to access remote learning. 

Without the right resources, such as distance learning tools and training for remote teaching, many of the most marginalised children may never return to school due to risks such as falling into child labour or child marriage.

Global Citizen is calling for Australia’s continued leadership in this field with renewed investments to the Global Partnership for Education, which works with education authorities around the world to develop strong and effective curriculums, and Education Cannot Wait which operates in crisis situations to ensure education can continue.  

4. Protect the planet

We know that the world’s 20 richest countries are responsible for 80% of carbon emissions. But it is the most marginalised people around the world who are bearing the brunt. We must restart climate action before the consequences become too severe to recover from.

Global Citizen is advocating for additional climate finance, supporting low carbon economies, and promoting carbon neutrality, in line with preventing global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. 

This includes Australia, where we’re calling for the government to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, with strong interim targets for 2030 to ensure swift action on climate as soon as possible. We are also calling for bold investment into environmental programs such as improving the health of our oceans (the lungs of earth) and solutions to the waste crisis. Securing this commitment, and others like it around the world, is the only way for us to safeguard our planet’s future as a healthy and biodiverse environment.

5. Advance equity for all 

To help the world recover, we must bring everyone with us on the ride.

The pandemic has been especially devastating for women, people of colour and the world’s poorest. Equity and fairness for all is essential to eradicating extreme poverty and achieving a better future.

Global Citizen will work with organisations across the world to address the many socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 and will call on world leaders to commit to filling the global justice gap.

In the Pacific, where gender-based violence is reaching new highs and remote communities still suffer from a lack of proper medical care or food supplies, understanding the varied needs of these diverse communities is key to delivering an effective response. Australia has prioritised investment in programs that support women and girls and is working in partnership on the ground to address inequity – but more can be done.  

The recovery from the pandemic is going to take a lot. It is going to take ordinary citizens like you and I – and collective action from organisations in the fundraising and philanthropy space, as well as the private sector – to get out there and call for action and funding priorities. 

It is also going to take leadership from our governments and politicians beyond our own backyard. We need bold ideas, supply chain improvements, innovation and funding commitments from our businesses. Importantly, it is also going to require our wealthiest individuals to commit funding to the Global Goals and the recovery plan goals. 

I believe that if the world does come together and to action the plan we have put forward, we might just see the progress we need. But only if we all play our part. 

Sarah Meredith is Global Citizen Australia’s Country Director. Over a period of 13 years, Sarah advised some of Australia’s federal and state Government Ministers and has completed a Master of International and Community Development.


The strategy to go global

F&P: How did your Global Recovery for the World come about, and how did you choose these focus areas? 

Sarah Meredith: Global Citizen’s mission is to see a world without extreme poverty by 2030, which is guided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (global goals) – 17 goals that, if achieved, will see this mission realised.  We work closely with the UN, civil society, NGOs and those working on the ground to develop our policy framework. The Global Recovery for the World five pillars have been formed to meet the most pressing needs in 2021 of the global goals. 

F&P: How are you promoting your Recovery Plan? How are you planning on getting your message out there and achieving cut-through?

SM: We’re communicating our message through all of our platforms such as, social media, to the media and via partners and supporters sharing the message in their networks. We will undertake a number of key major broadcast moments this year including Global Citizen Live in September. The Sydney Opera House has come on board as a partner for this event and we hope it will get the attention of the Australian people. More will be announced over the coming months, so please sign up to or follow us on social media if you would like to receive updates. 

F&P: How are you aiming to reach individuals and encourage them to become global citizens?

SM: Global Citizen aims to share information as widely as possible and activate our global citizens, partners and supporter base to share information to try and reach as many people as possible.  Through our broadcast, YouTube and online events we hope to provide greater opportunities for people across the globe to participate, take action and sign up to be part of the movement. 

F&P: How are you partnering with nonprofits to deliver your Global Recovery for the World framework?

SM: Everything we do at Global Citizen centres around strong partnerships.  We work closely with many civil society, NGO and non-profit organisations to develop our policy asks and work to secure new commitments towards eradicating extreme poverty. In Australia, we have partnered with organisations such as RESULTS Australia, UNICEF Australia, Save the Children, Micah Australia and the Global Health Alliance to advocate for increased investment from the Australian Government in global health programs such as: Gavi the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight HIV Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. To deliver on the Recovery Plan for the World, it is going to require all of us to play our part, and partnerships will be critical to success.

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