Global Poverty Project CEO to speak at WCU, kick off campus effort

The 28-year-old co-founder and CEO of a global organization committed to eradicating extreme poverty will visit Western Carolina University on Wednesday, Sept. 7, to inform campus and surrounding community members about the issues and inspire them to take action.

Hugh Evans of the Global Poverty Project will present an interactive multimedia presentation called “1.4 Billion Reasons” at 7 p.m. in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. The event, which kicks off a yearlong, poverty-focused interdisciplinary learning and service initiative at WCU, is free and open to the public.

“Extreme poverty means living on less than U.S. $1.25 per day,” said Evans in a video about the presentation. “This is a challenge currently felt by 1.4 billion people in our world. This gives us 1.4 billion reasons to respond immediately. Let’s make a legacy of ending extreme poverty.”

In the presentation, Evans will discuss simple, everyday changes community members can make in what they learn, say, buy, give and do to be part of the solution. He will explore five questions: What is extreme poverty? Can we do anything about it? What are the barriers to ending extreme poverty? Why should we care? What can I do?

“We’re looking forward to a dynamic presentation on a compelling topic,” said Jennifer Cooper, interim director of the WCU Center for Service Learning. “Poverty is an important issue in the developing world, but it also affects many in our region. It’s something that we’re all exposed to, particularly in the current economic climate. We hope that the people who attend this presentation will gain a better understanding of poverty-related issues, globally and locally, and that they will feel empowered to take action.”

Evans traces his interest in combating extreme poverty to age 14 when he went on a trip to The Philippines sponsored by World Vision, living with a host family in a tent in a slum built on a garbage dump. When he was 15, he spent a year in India. He later served as World Vision’s inaugural youth ambassador to South Africa in 2002.

As a result, Evans was inspired to set up the Oaktree Foundation, Australia’s first youth-run aid organization with a mission of young people working together to end global poverty. The organization has funded development projects in The Philippines, Papua New Guinea, India, Ghana and East Timor that have provided educational opportunities to more than 40,000 young people. Evans also was a leader in the 2005 Make Poverty History campaign.

He was named the Young Australian of the Year in 2004 and Junior Chamber International Young Person of the World in 2005.

Evans’ latest endeavor, the Global Poverty Project, was started in 2008 with a $60,000 grant from the United Nations and a $350,000 AusAid grant. The mission is to increase the number and effectiveness of people taking action to see an end to extreme poverty.

Evans’ presentation kicks off a yearlong interdisciplinary learning and service initiative called the WCU Poverty Project. Throughout the 2011-12 academic year, students, faculty and staff from across campus will take part in engaged teaching, learning, service, and creative and scholarly opportunities focused on poverty, locally and globally.

“What we’re hoping is that our students will not only develop a better understanding of the root causes and consequences of poverty, but what they can actually do about it,” said John F. Whitmire Jr., associate professor of philosophy and religion. “It’s a chance for all of us – students, faculty, staff and community partners – to think together about an enormously complex problem in an interdisciplinary way, and also to place it in the more specific context of our own individual lives and vocations or majors. We like to say that Western Carolina is a place for students who want to make a difference in their world, and this is an opportunity to do just that – to clarify what our values actually are with respect to poverty and associated issues, and to practice the kind of responsible civic engagement that is consistent with those values.”

Whitmire and Cooper are co-chairing the WCU Poverty Project Steering Committee, which is made up of faculty and staff from all six of WCU’s teaching colleges and schools, as well as the Honors College, Graduate School, Hunter Library, Undergraduate Studies and other campus constituencies including the Division of Student Affairs, International Programs and Services, Center for Service Learning, Career Services, student leaders and representatives of WCU’s community partners.