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It was a large and enthusiastic crowd that filled the Roone Arledge Auditorium at Columbia University on Monday night, and anticipation crackled through the air like electricity. Over 1,300 students and members of the public packed the building, looking for a good time, an entertaining time, and an informative time.

“I know you all came here to hear me sing, right?” joked Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs as he took to the stage with Grammy Award winning recording artist John Legend.

But they weren’t. They were there to learn how they could change the world.

The event was part of the Poverty Action Tour, an initiative of Legend’s Show Me Campaign, an organization that encourages social, economic, personal, and educational growth. Legend organized the session to challenge people to support the fight against poverty, and promote the charities and groups that champion the cause.

The evening began with a video describing the campaign’s efforts to alleviate poverty around the world, especially with the Tanzanian Millennium Village in Mbola. Sachs and Legend then spoke on the theme of eradicating global poverty.

“Things that were thought to be impossible are going to be proved inevitable in the next few years,” said Sachs.

A 45 minute question and answer session followed, in which members of the audience discussed how they could get involved with the fight against poverty and make a difference. Questions ranged from queries about women’s reproductive health in Africa to holding individual governments accountable for crises in vulnerable countries. Legend described global poverty as the “defining cause of our generation”.

“I don’t want to be standing on the sidelines,” he told the audience. “I don’t want to just show up at a concert once in a while and say something nice – I want to be involved.”

Both Sachs and Legend condemned the U.S. government for providing insufficient aid to poverty-related causes.

“When we’re giving four cents of every $100 of our GNP to that cause, we’re not doing our job,” said Sachs.

He went on to say that the Pentagon spends $1.5 billion for the equivalent of 22 hours of work. He said roughly 3 million bed nets could be purchased with that amount of funding to save children in Africa from diseases such as malaria.

“[I’m trying] to get the Pentagon to take next Thursday off,” he joked.

Legend organized the Poverty Action Tour, which plans to take in several universities around America, after watching Sachs discuss his book, The End Of Poverty, on television.

“When [Hurricane] Katrina hit and there was all this discussion about what America does with our poor and does for our poor, I started thinking more broadly about the issue of poverty,” he told MTV News before the event. “Fortunately, at the time I was thinking about it, I saw Professor Sachs on television talking about his book, and it made me want to get his book right away, and I ordered it on Amazon. I read it while I was traveling, and I was excited by the idea that I could do something. I wanted to be involved. I actually talked about how it was my favorite book I had read recently in an article. And I think Dr. Sachs’ people saw me talking about it and reached out and said we should all get together and see what we could work on together.”

Following a meeting with Sachs, Legend traveled to Ghana to witness the poverty problem firsthand. He established the Show Me Campaign soon afterwards, and has since become involved in a number of initiatives in the fight to alleviate poverty.

“You see all these things that make you feel desperate or sad, but you realize changes can be made, and it doesn’t take a lot of money on our part to make a change in people’s lives.”

Both Sachs and Legend called on attendees to involve themselves with grassroots anti-poverty action.

“Connect with all your friends, connect with the other campuses, and get the message out,” said Sachs. “The time for change has arrived. The time for hope is here. The time for facing up to sustainable development is here.”

The evening concluded with a musical performance from Legend.

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