How a young man from Manila inspired humanitarian Hugh Evans to change the world

  • Global Citizen founder Hugh Evans met Sonny Boy in the Philippines in 1998 when they were both teenagers
  • Staying the night in a Manila slum inspired Evans' work in development
  • Sonny Boy and Evans lost touch but reunited during filming of "The Brave Ones"
Hugh Evans (right), founder of Global Citizen, is reunited with Sonny Boy in Manila, the Philippines
CNBC
Hugh Evans (right), founder of Global Citizen, is reunited with Sonny Boy in Manila, the Philippines

Growing up in suburban Melbourne, Australia, humanitarian Hugh Evans knew he led a privileged life.

But that all changed almost 20 years ago on a trip to the Philippines Evans embarked on as a teenager, after he won a fundraising competition. In 1998 he stayed with a family that lived in a Manila slum, befriending Sonny Boy, a teen about his age.

"We went to his small shanty hut that was built on top of the rubbish dump (called) Smoky Mountain… and we went out exploring around just me and Sonny Boy. And everything looked gigantic to me. These houses were built on top of each other, it was a slum community that was cramped," Evans told CNBC's "The Brave Ones."

Evans spent the night with the Filipino family, where he and six others lay next to each other on a concrete slab.

Sonny Boy and Hugh Evans in Manila, the Philippines in 1998
Courtesy of Hugh Evans
Sonny Boy and Hugh Evans in Manila, the Philippines in 1998

"And just lying there that night, it struck me that it was pure chance that I was born in Australia and Sonny Boy was born there. We don't deserve or have no entitlement to the lottery of life that we have. And so it struck me that night that this was going to become much bigger and much more important for me. I had to do something."

Evans subsequently founded Global Citizen, an organization aiming to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. He lost touch with Sonny Boy after returning to Australia, but following a TED talk he gave in February 2016 mentioning his time in Manila, a local charity put the pair back in touch.

They met during filming of the latest episode of "The Brave Ones."

"It's funny how a moment, a night can have such a huge impact on your life. For me, that night in 1998 here in the Philippines, here in Manila was undoubtedly one of the most important moments of my whole life," he said.

Hugh Evans, founder of Global Citizen
CNBC
Hugh Evans, founder of Global Citizen

But Evans was dismayed to see that Sonny Boy was still living in poverty. "He works on a garbage truck — temp work — where he makes the equivalent of $5 a day which must support his wife, children, mum and siblings," he wrote in a Facebook post earlier this month.

He told "The Brave Ones" that the reunion made him resolve to do more. "Often we tell the story that in the last 30 years, extreme poverty has halved, but in some ways, I think that masks the present reality of suffering for so many people living in extreme poverty.

"Sonny Boy said for himself that he doesn't have hope for his own future. His hope is in his kids. It has made me stop for a second and say, you know what, I've got to double down."

Global Citizen is now planning to set up a program to support education in Sonny Boy's community, Evans wrote on Facebook.