The NBA star is promoting the documentary “Louder Together” at an invite-only event in Toronto on Saturday, February 24. The doc is narrated by Hugh Jackman and shares a behind-the-scenes look at the epic Global Citizen Festival held in New York and Mumbai.
The 2016 events brought A-listers Rihanna, Jay-Z, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Kendrick Lamar, Demi Lovato, Metallica and the Raptor himself to the stage to champion social change and bring about an end to global poverty by 2030 – two concepts close to Ibaka’s heart.
“It was a great opportunity to get involved with an organization that is trying to change the world,” he tells ET Canada of his work with Global Citizen. “It was very motivating for me to be part of a movement that is inspiring so many people to take action on very important issues. Also to explore ways to collaborate with them regarding my Foundation.”
“I had very hard times as a kid, I had nothing. So I know how difficult it is to think about the future when you have nothing. This is why the goal is to help the youth,” he reveals.
Growing up in the Congo, Ibaka never imagined he’d one day realize his dreams to play in the NBA and he didn’t want his journey to end there, realizing he could use his celeb status to help motivate and inspire. Thus, the Serge Ibaka Foundation was born.
“When I got to the NBA I started thinking I needed to help other kids,” he says. “I needed to give opportunities to other kids in the Congo, not only to play basketball, but to have a better life and have a motivation, have hope. I wanted to use my story to motivate the youth of Congo and Africa. I came from nowhere and I made it.”
He continues: “This is why our motto is ‘Anything is possible’. We want to encourage them not to give up. On the other hand, because that is not enough, we want to use my position to partner with organizations and influential people that can help us improve the life of the youth of Congo.”
The Raptor admits taking the stage in front of 60,000 people at the 2016 Global Citizen Festival in New York was far more nerve-wracking than appearing on the basketball court as the clock ticks down on a close game. “I practice free throws every day, but I don’t talk in public every day! It was a great experience to see the amount of people willing to get involved with Global Citizen,” Ibaka says.
It’s celebs like Ibaka and Rihanna that are vital when it comes to social change, according to Global Citizen’s VP of Policy & Global Affairs Michael Sheldrick.
“Politicians have so many priorities,” he tells ET Canada, adding, “World leaders respond to pressure.” With social media, that power to change comes from celebs like Rihanna’s online followers – including nearly 60 million on Facebook – as Global Citizen “taps into celeb networks” as the stars involved in the organization use their voices to help spread the word about causes close to them, like education, access to sanitation and an end to poverty.
Part of that Global Citizen community is active in Toronto, Ibaka’s second home. “Toronto is home, now, and I wanted to establish a relationship with the community and communicate the charity work and my involvement with Global Citizen. Help them spread their messages and values,” he explains. “I think in Toronto and in Canada, in general, there is an open mind that allows Canadians to look at the rest of the world, and this is what Global Citizen does and what this film shows.”
Though the movement may be worldwide, Global Citizen has several big supporters in Canada – including Justin Trudeau, and musicians Metric and Sam Roberts.
“Canadians are amongst the most-engaged supporters around the world,” Sheldrick says of the organization which partnered with Trudeau in 2016. The Prime Minister has been a familiar face at the organization’s events, including the Global Citizen Festival in Germany where he and wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau took the opportunity to address gender equality.
Sheldrick believes Canada can be a leader and send a message to other G7 leaders by making a major step forward with a commitment to end poverty.
But it’s not just Global Citizen that is looking towards the future. Ibaka’s Foundation also has its sights set on some big goals. “Our current project is building our first health centre in Brazzaville, providing a good health service for pregnant women, moms and their children,” he says, praising the involvement of Canadians. “Toronto welcomed me very well last year and I’m excited to play for the Raptors, so I really appreciate the people here and would love to have as many Canadians involved as possible.”
Canadians can get involved with the movement by visiting globalcitizen.org which includes access to local invite-only events like Ibaka’s “Louder Together” screening this Saturday and shows how members can take action with their leaders, as well as joining the movement on social media. For more information on the Serge Ibaka Foundation, including how to get involved and details on future projects, visit sergeibakafoundation.com.