Defined by the World Bank as living on less than US $1.90 a day, extreme poverty encompasses conditions that prevent people from being able to make basic choices about how to lead their life – choices that a lot of us might take for granted.
It is this plight suffered by around 1 billion people across the world that sees Michael currently working for Global Citizen, an Australian-grown international advocacy group working to end extreme poverty by 2030.
Michael's focus is coordinating Global Citizen’s advocacy campaigns, which includes efforts to eradicate polio and promotion of universal access to sanitation and education. He also serves as Global Citizen's Main Representative to the United Nations, where he oversees the organisation's outreach to government representatives around the world.
The hallowed halls of New York's United Nations are miles away from his formative days at UWA (where he completed an Arts and Law double degree), but there are many times he looks back on those years for reflection – and a little helping hand.
"I work a lot with UN conventions and treaties in addition to ordinary statutory legislation and find myself relying on my research skills a lot to track things down quickly. I also rely on my contractual skills every now and again.
"Sometimes it’s the little things that count the most though. Believe it or not, I actually rely on the letter writing skills I learnt in Commercial Practice on an almost daily basis!"
“Ultimately though, the best way UWA helped prepare me for my current work was through the support given to me by my lecturers... without this support and understanding, it would have been difficult for me to flourish at this early stage in my career.”
While no day for Michael is typical – it could include anything from drafting his CEO's talking points for the Tonight Show, providing a Secret Service security brief, handing over petitions to UN Ambassadors and world leaders, or writing grants and reports – Michael has maintained a clear focus on the difficult task at hand.
"As citizens, humanity’s fate ultimately rests in our hands and our goal of a world without extreme poverty is only going to be realised through the constant drumbeat of citizen-led movements clambering for change."
- Michael Sheldrick
From his teachers at school, encouraging Michael to overcome learning difficulties that saw him then reach top of his class, to the guidance of lecturers at UWA who went out of their way to see him chase his dreams, there have been countless individuals who have paved the way to impossible.
"I began working at Global Citizen while still studying and the Arts Faculty in particular were very helpful in allowing me to work out of the Anthropology Common Room. Additionally, they were very flexible in accommodating my sporadic travel schedule to New York or India.
"Where I thought they would be hostile and rigid, many of them encouraged me to embrace these opportunities and allowed me to submit assignments online or from remote locations. On one occasion, one lecturer even allowed me to sit a supplementary exam."
Reflecting on his achievements so far, Michael says he and his team have changed a lot – but he's also consciously aware their work is just beginning. The fact that Global Citizen has helped catalyse a movement of millions of global citizens that provide support has been inspiring for him.
"Activists and volunteers are the real heroes behind the movement to end extreme poverty, and it has been a privilege to play just a small part in their efforts. Their heroism and courage constantly inspires me as an advocate and campaigner."
- Michael Sheldrick
"Another fond memory is waking up on a Saturday morning to a personal email from a European prime minister, which went something along the lines of 'I've gotten all of your tweets, emails, letters and so on. What about a phone call?' It is ultimately through this broad movement of global citizens from across the world that we seek to hold leaders accountable to their promise and ensure they deliver in the fight to end extreme poverty."
Taking on the struggles of mankind is a mammoth task that Michael's organisation faces.
When working on some campaign ideas with British filmmaker Richard Curtis, the Global Citizen team became overwhelmed by the uncertainty of their plans. Intervening, Richard gave the team some good advice – we may not know the overall plan, but what is the most immediate step we can take right now in pursuit of our overall goal?
"To that end, I am constantly telling my own team that even if we are unaware of what the final destination might look like lets not allow this uncertainty to become an excuse for inaction. Sometimes it is only through taking the first step, and generating some momentum, that the rest of the path will become clear."
Michael's constant emphasis is on the collective power of global citizens. He encourages us to go to globalcitizen.org to sign up and take action.
“We live in a democracy and all too often we choose not to use it, but when we do exercise our voice sometimes we might be a little surprised to discover just how powerful it really is.”
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