Partnering to End Extreme Poverty – Interview with Michael Sheldrick, Chief Policy and Government Affairs Officer, Global Citizen

Michael was interviewed by Katri Bertram

In this interview, we talk about what makes a good partnership, and how Global Citizen leverages its partnerships to achieve immediate results also in times of crisis such as Covid-19 – all while staying true to its mission to eradicate extreme poverty. You’ll find some key takeaways summarized at the end of the interview.

Michael Sheldrick, Chief Policy and Government Affairs Officer, Global Citizen

Tell us a bit about your background and work, and what types of partners you engage with in your role at Global Citizen?

I’ve been advocating on issues of extreme poverty since high school. I previously worked on high impact campaigns in Australia helping to secure what was at the time the largest ever increase in Australian Aid. I currently oversee our Impact, Policy, Philanthropy and Government Affairs team at Global Citizen, where I’ve coordinated several international advocacy campaigns focused on the eradication of extreme poverty – including universal sanitation, access to education, and the eradication of polio. Intimately involved in the production of Global Citizen campaigns around the world, I have the privilege of working with governments, world leaders, nonprofits and non-governmental organizations, philanthropists, and artists from around the world towards the common goal of achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

When you engage with a new partner, how do you go about discussing the impact you and the partner would like to achieve?

Global Citizen works under the premises that no one alone can eradicate poverty. Innovative partnerships between governments, foundations, philanthropists and civil society has no alternative.

The very first thing we discuss is policy alignment, making sure that our partners share our vision of eradicating extreme poverty and the implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We work closely with new partners to determine which aspects of the Global Citizen platform will be most impactful in furthering and amplifying specific, measurable and time bound policy objectives focused on one of many issues we work on, whether that is education, sustainability, gender equality or something else. Based on the evidence-informed policy agenda, partner needs, the audience, and our mission, we work to develop a campaign strategy to define what success looks like through measurable goals and deliverables.

Key to implementing this strategy effectively and achieving the desired impact is to have a clear understanding between partners of who is responsible for what. We then maintain close and regular contact – especially during the peak period of a campaign – to further refine joint strategies, provide updates, share valuable intel and highlight shared outcomes when met and exceeded. 

We are living through difficult times with Covid19. Has it been challenging to coalesce such diverse partners around a common goal, especially when you are running on tight deadlines?

Global Citizen’s sole focus is the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030. While there is, of course, no silver bullet to ending extreme poverty, we focus our advocacy efforts and campaigns around deep, systemic, and sustainable change in support of our partners who are working to deliver transformational and scalable impact in communities in areas like health, education, food security, or water and sanitation. Campaigning on global health issues in particular has been at the core of Global Citizen’ work for a decade, beginning with the launch of one of our very first campaigns: The End of Polio.

As COVID-19 began to spread worldwide, we knew this virus would have a massive impact on our collective ability to realize that goal. For context, some estimates have stated that the economic impact of COVID-19 could force an additional 71 million people into extreme poverty and push those who are already struggling into a deeper hole. In response, we immediately pivoted our work to support some of our long-term partners leading the global response, crucially the World Health Organization. Our corporate partners quickly jumped into action with us and helped to motivate and mobilize others—many even ran internal employee match giving campaigns to support the effort —and within three weeks, we had created the “One World: Together at Home” special which raised $127.9 million, and just two months later, the “Global Goal: Unite for Our Future” campaign which saw $1.5 Billion pledged in new cash grants, and $5.4 billion in loans and guarantees from the European Union.

We’ve had to change long-standing plans and goals for this year in order to meet the unprecedented need and we’re grateful to have partners willing to adapt and respond to the critical moment before us. But it has not been without its challenges. The benefit of running two campaigns one after the other meant we were able to learn fast, implement changes in real time, and address key learnings quite quickly. One process we found incredibly helpful in managing partner expectations and involvement was the dissemination of clear guidelines on roles and responsibilities for participating partners. This new process allowed us to scale our efforts in a short time, successfully bringing in new corporate, foundational and NGO partners to our campaigns.

You’ve been working with Global Citizen for several years. Has your engagement with partners changed over the years? 

As Global Citizen has grown, so have our partnerships. Global Citizen takes pride in the strength, trust, and mutual benefit of our partnerships. We partner with a wide array of organizations whose work aligns with our mission of eradicating extreme poverty through strengthening health systems, food and agriculture, access to education, improving sanitation and hygiene education, environmental activism, and more. As we have continued to branch out and develop action plans to fight the changing issues contributing to extreme poverty, our partners have been essential to our evolution and success.

By working with our partners to better understand how funds raised during global citizen  campaigns are used, our impact team can track accountability, track success towards meeting the SDGs, and showcase the lives impacted by our campaigning and partner pledges. Throughout the year our impact and content teams continue to engage with partner pledges and commitments to represent accountability and campaign success in creative and market specific ways. Global citizen case studies are one example of how we represent the end to end nature of campaigns, commitments, by telling the stories of action takers, our partners and the lives impacted on the ground. The Global Citizen model of advocacy, action, and accountability is made stronger by working with our partners.

Based on your experience, what determines whether you have a good partnership? 

Our goal is to innovate the philanthropic space, and so we are particularly energized when partners want to think creatively with us about how to make a difference as opposed to just ‘raise awareness’ or ticking a box. We view these relationships as just that – partnerships – so it’s inspiring when we get to work with those who are genuinely invested in the impact of our work together. I believe a good partnership is one that is long-term, boundary-pushing and based on a shared passion or mission for achieving a common goal. In our world, that goal is ending extreme poverty, full stop. And over the past decade we’ve been lucky to have some remarkable partners on this journey with us.

“I believe a good partnership is one that is long-term, boundary-pushing and based on a shared passion or mission for achieving a common goal.”

Michael Sheldrick, Global Citizen

One recent example of a good partnership for us was with the European Commission who agreed to chair the Global Goal Unite: For Our Future Summit. Regular and transparent meetings, clear understanding of shared objectives, and a mutual commitment to realising them, resulted in an effective campaign in an incredibly short amount of time.

Can you give one or two examples of successes that you have achieved thanks to working in partnership?

On the corporate side, we are particularly proud of our work with Procter & Gamble. Since 2016, we’ve partnered with them to design joint campaigns to tackle gender inequality, pulling women out of poverty by ensuring their safe access to water & sanitation, and more recently, undertaking the issue of plastics. The partnership, which leveraged the power of Procter & Gamble as a consumer brand, strengthened P&G’s leadership and role in directly impacting lives on the ground. In the first year of our partnership, we focused on building brand affinity by educating our audience on P&G’s initiatives. In the second year, we launched the #SheisEqual campaign, which mobilized over $1 billion that will impact over 20 million women and girls’ lives. And in the third year of our partnership, we worked with P&G to produce a docu-series, ACTIVATE, to drive action around global challenges that premiered in 172 countries. All in all, because of our work with them, more than 268,500 actions were taken in order to make a tangible impact in the lives of millions of women and girls.

We also work with nonprofits including the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) – soon to be transitioning into the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund in 2021 – which provides essential behavior change programming for sanitation and hygiene to more than 24 million people across Africa and Asia. Global Citizen’s partnership with WSSCC in past years has unlocked millions to support these life-saving programs, and we are working with them this year to drive commitments for the new Sanitation and Hygiene Fund in 2021. Recognizing the importance of good hygiene to addressing both the pandemic and broader health needs, this fund will drastically scale up investments in sanitation and hygiene in schools, health care centers, and at the household level. Global Citizen has been working closely with them to introduce the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund both in government outreach and to the public via our growing online platform.

Global Citizen has also had a longstanding partnership with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is an international organisation that uses an innovative co-financing model to provide easy access to vaccines in the world’s poorest countries. Gavi makes vaccinations cheaper and easier to access in the developing world, helping to safeguard the lives of millions of children around the world. In 2020, we worked closely with them and other key global health campaign partners to rally support from world leaders. This campaign and public support helped the agency to raise $8.8 billion in new commitments for the period of 2021 to 2025, far exceeding the target of $7.4 billion. For the remainder of 2020, Gavi is co-leading COVAX, the global effort to secure a global response to COVID-19 that is effective, fair, and equitably distributed. We are proud to continue our campaign with Gavi around this effort for the rest of 2020 and beyond.

There are many different types of partnerships, and people or organizations may enter partnerships based on different motivations. How do you ensure that you are progressing on the impact you want to achieve? 

Our partners know that in order to make real change, we will hold them accountable to their commitments. In fact, we have a whole division dedicated to impact and accountability. I believe that’s part of why these partners want to join our efforts – they know we take our work very seriously and that in order for us to effect real change, they have to do more than pay lip service to the cause.


A recent example is how we worked with partners that made commitments during One World: Together At Home. During the event, Procter & Gamble (P&G) – one of our longest-running partners – pledged $12M to local and regional organizations responding to COVID-19. As part of our due diligence process, P&G had to complete a series of thorough questions, including which organizations they were giving to, how much they were giving to each, the disbursement schedule for each, and more. P&G additionally had to sign a commitment confirmation letter acknowledging Global Citizen’s impact and accountability process. Global Citizen is dedicated to tracking the delivery and impact of each commitment pledged on our stage and/or platform. For each commitment, we follow up if possible with both the commitment-maker and the beneficiary organization to ensure the full delivery of funds, and to collect any relevant impact metrics. P&G’s $12M commitment during Together at Home culminated in a six-part mini series, which highlighted the on-the-ground impact the beneficiary organizations were able to achieve with the funding.

If you would have to define successful impact, what would this be?

It’s hard to quantify success because at the end of the day, our mission is to eradicate extreme poverty and there is still a lot of work to do to reach that goal. We’re proud of the success we’ve had thus far – to date, the actions of our community, along with high-level advocacy efforts and work with partners, has resulted in commitments and policy announcements from leaders valued at over $48 billion, affecting the lives of more than 880 million people.

On a more granular level, the recent One World: Together at Home campaign raised over $127 million – $55 million for the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and $72 million for local and regional organizations responding to COVID-19. In just three short months, over 95% of the funding dedicated toward the WHO’s immediate COVID-19 relief has already been disbursed with the final set to be released in early August.

Working in partnership is not always easy. Do you have any advice for dealing with partnerships that face difficult situations or are challenged by difficult relationships?

We always approach our work from the perspective of finding a common ground. Sometimes the most challenging part can be working with partners who have different ideas about how to get from point A to point B. But at the end of the day, we know our partners are coming into this work with an authentic desire to help people and that they are invested in the success of our work. If challenges occur along the way, I find it sometimes useful to reset through a clear and written re-articulation of shared responsibilities and outcomes. Too often, the speed with which partnerships must move in difficult times often result in misalignment on who is responsible for what and it is worth taking a brief pause to recalibrate.

If you look forward 5 to 10 years, would you hope that organizations work differently together? If yes, how?

Absolutely – we are always looking for new ways to engage partners and citizens. The philanthropic space has remained largely the same for the last 250 years, so we are actively searching for innovative ways to change how we conduct business, how we activate new communities of philanthropists to give big and to give now — not later, and how we work with our partners to offer more opportunities to invest in and help scale the work of SDG-focused organizations around the world. Had you asked me this question one year ago, I wouldn’t have known that we’d be working day and night with our partners to support efforts to develop and deliver COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, all from the comfort of our living rooms. It’s a reminder that we always have to stay vigilant and agile as the world continues to change.

Global Citizen is a movement of engaged citizens who are using their collective voice to end extreme poverty by 2030. On our platform, Global Citizens learn about the systemic causes of extreme poverty, take action on those issues, and earn rewards for their actions — as part of a global community committed to lasting change. Learn more about Global Citizen here.

Summary of key take-aways:

  • Start by making sure that your partners share your vision.
  • Key to achieving the desired impact is to have a clear understanding between partners of who is responsible for what, developing guidelines on roles and responsibilities can help.
  • In a crisis, be ready to pivot your work to support your long-term partners.
  • A partnership is energized by thinking creatively about how to make a difference as opposed to just ‘raising awareness’ or ticking a box.
  • A good partnership is one that is long-term, boundary-pushing and based on a shared passion or mission for achieving a common goal.
  • If challenges occur along the way, take a brief pause to recalibrate and reset through a clear and written re-articulation of shared responsibilities and outcomes.
  • Always stay vigilant and agile, the world continues to change.

Published by Katri Bertram

Katri works in international development, and is a mom of four children. She is driven in her work to ensure that all people can receive quality healthcare, gender equality becomes a reality, and organisations working in these areas leverage the power of partnerships for impact. 
Katri has worked at the World Bank, where she headed External Relations for the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents (GFF), and Save the Children, a non-governmental organisation that works in 120 countries, where she headed global advocacy, policy and campaigning.
 Katri lives in Berlin/Germany, and is Finnish by nationality. She is a graduate from the London School of Economics (Master in International Relations), the Hertie School (Master in Public Policy), and the University of York (Bachelor in Economics and Politics). 
Also follow Katri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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