Founder and Publisher of the Nation Brand Index and Good Country Index, Simon Anholt discusses his latest project and his views on the future of international diplomacy with Mexico’s Ambassador Diego Pickering
D: What made you start thinking of the Good Country Index? Because this is ground-breaking: it’s a very interesting proposal that contravenes everything we’ve heard of in the last few years.
S: As I said in my TED talk in Berlin, my point of departure are the problems that we face in the world today. As a result of globalisation, almost all the serious problems we face are borderless ones. So it’s perfectly obvious that to tackle those problems – from climate change right down to children’s rights and landmines – we have to learn how to collaborate a lot more and compete a lot less.
Of course I’m not saying we should ban competition. Competition has been an extraordinarily powerful instrument; it’s lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and will continue to do so, but it needs to be radically tempered with in order to achieve better organised and more effective cooperation.
Culture of Governance and a Dual Mandate
With the Good Country project, I have an ambitious but very specific purpose in mind: I want to change the culture of governance worldwide, because I think it needs to change. I believe that this is the only way humanity will save itself. When I say governance, I mean all forms of governance, whether it’s national government, local government, corporate governance, right down to the way we organise the smallest units of humanity.
Up till now, all of those governments have operated according to a simple mandate: their ultimate responsibility is to their own people, and their own territory. My view is that we need to upgrade this to a Dual Mandate, so that all forms of government understand that they are responsible for their own people and for the rest of humanity; they are responsible for their own territory, and for the rest of the planet. Of course the priorities will be ever-changing: in most cases, the priority of government will be its own people and its own slice of the planet, but the Dual Mandate means that never again will it be acceptable for humanity and the planet to be left out of the equation.
Politicians are unlikely to accept this upgrade unless their people demand it of them, and that’s why I launched the Good Country Index. It’s basically an exercise in public diplomacy: it’s one of a series of initiatives I’ll be using over the coming years to encourage people to demand of their politicians that they recognise the existence of this Dual Mandate.
Dual Mandate Compatibility
D: It’s problematic for me to understand what the incentives are for people to be able to demand that Dual Mandate from their governments. This would be a 180-degree change in people’s mindsets from what they’ve always demanded: reforming the administration so that they can receive sufficient income, solving infrastructural issues, just giving an education to their children?
S: Your objection would be an overwhelming objection if it were true that the two parts of the Dual Mandate were incompatible – if it were really true, as many people seem to believe, that a country can only consider the rest of the world when it has acquired sufficient wealth and leisure to do so, and if the domestic and the international agenda were mutually exclusive. If that were true, then this idea wouldn’t work.
But it will work, because this incompatibility is a myth. At the very centre of the project is a firm belief, based on my own experience as a government adviser over the past 15 years in more than 50 countries, that even the most local of local issues, the most domestic of domestic challenges, can always be more effectively resolved by looking at them in the international context.
At the most basic level, it’s about collaborating effectively with the international community to solve national problems, but there are many more advanced, more productive and more imaginative ways of engaging internationally, many of which have never been tried before. When there’s a crisis overseas, a lot of countries do behave like good countries (as I explained in my TED talk, I use the word ‘good’ to mean the opposite of ‘selfish’, not the opposite of ‘bad’), but it’s in everyday domestic policy-making where it is all too easy for governments to forget about the rest of the world, and carry on behaving as if their own country inhabited its own private planet, disconnected from the rest of the world. This simply isn’t sustainable, because we operate in a closed system, where value cannot be created or destroyed, only redeployed: it’s truly a zero-sum game.
This is where change is most acutely needed, and where the Dual Mandate is critical: so that it simply becomes culturally unacceptable, a political faux pas of the worst kind, to leave the rest of the world out of the equation when formulating domestic policy, when electioneering, when debating in parliament, when lawmaking.
Money and the Good Country Index
A lot of people have looked at the Good Country Index and said, “Well, you’d expect all the rich countries to be at the top, wouldn’t you?” – but it’s not quite true. Kenya comes into the top 30: one single example which proves, at least for the purposes of my index, that you don’t have to spend a lot of money in order to be a socially responsible country. It’s actually got relatively little to do with money. I want to get across the message that this is about a mindset which, far from being incompatible with looking after your own citizens, will, if properly done, eventually lead to dealing with your domestic problems more effectively.
Now, your question is how can we persuade people to demand this Dual Mandate of their governments, when you claim they’re simply not interested in such things. Well, this for me is an article of faith: I believe we probably don’t have to persuade them, and I believe that the time has come when if we did ask, we would already find that a lot of people, in some societies perhaps even a majority, already do believe in this idea. It just hasn’t been crystallised for them in the right way.
Natural empathy and a world-view
This conforms with the notion of natural empathy, as espoused by Jeremy Rifkin and others. I think the evidence is very persuasive. My own research, the Nation Brands Index, which I’ve been running since 2005 and has now collected more than 200 billion data points, shows pretty convincingly that the kinds of countries which people like best are the countries that engage most with the international community.
For this reason and for many other reasons I think there is a proportion of the world’s population that naturally advocates this idea. They are already very happy to say to their politicians, and perhaps already do, “We want to engage more internationally. We want to be a good country, we want to feel proud of where we come from, we want to be active contributors to the international community. We feel more comfortable not being selfish.” These are the people I want to speak to first: because they have an unmet need.
I’ve heard from a good number of those people over the last few months: I’ve had literally hundreds of people emailing me from all over the world basically saying, “All my life I’ve been waiting for somebody to start saying these kinds of things – I want to vote human, I don’t want to vote left-wing or right-wing, I want to have a say in the way the world is organised, the direction that we are going, please tell me what to do.”
Now, there’s no point in me even trying to estimate what proportion this is, because obviously these emails are a non-representative sample. But if you put two and two together it looks as if there may be at least 300 million people in the world who are simply waiting for somebody to say “Let’s talk about the world.”
A lot of those people are frustrated because they care about international problems very deeply, but they don’t know what to do beyond caring. They can’t vote at the United Nations; they can and do contribute money to good causes, but the NGOs and charities are all focused on single issues. And there’s nowhere they can go beyond the single-issue organisations if they want to feel that they’re having some impact on the world they live in and their children are going to live in.
For such people, patriotism just doesn’t go far enough. Love of country is in some ways quite natural and quite touching, but it is never very far from becoming pathological. The human development theorists make a parallel between the way a child grows up and the way that humanity develops. As a baby, you only feel loyalty to yourself; you’re purely self-interested. Then you learn to transfer some of that loyalty to your mother, and then to your family and your extended family, and so forth. The point that humanity has reached in the 21st Century is that most of us have now learnt to feel loyalty towards that invention we call the nation-state. Over the generations we’ve been taught that loyalty because in a world of constant conflict, nation-states needed young men who would willingly die to enlarge or defend their territory, and a society that would reinforce the idea that such a death was noble and proper.
We are therefore living now through a very uncomfortable interregnum, a point of suspension between the natural blood loyalties of the simple human, and the necessary sense of cosmopolitan fraternity that we need to reach if the forces of globalisation aren’t to finish us off.
Most nationalism takes very little to make it belligerent; most nationalism is founded on this idea of the inferiority or the threat represented by others. This is very clear from the way most governments still talk about public diplomacy, cultural relations, soft power, and so on: none of this is really any different from hard power, it’s just another way of instrumentalising people in other countries. Those governments are fixed in a mind-set that considers all foreigners as either enemies or customers; either you fight them and take their lives or you try to sell them something and take their money.
Good Country Index Indicators
D: I’d like you to go through the indicators that you took into consideration for putting together the Good Country Index. What indicators did you look at?
S: There are 35 indicators in the Good Country Index, and the majority of these datasets come from the United Nations, the World Bank and other international agencies. To be included, these studies all had to satisfy a number of criteria. First of all, they had to cover all countries, although in the end we were only able to include 125 countries rather than all 196, simply because there are too many missing datasets in the remainder for me to be able to calculate a fair ranking for them (and this has caused a lot of annoyance to people living in the countries that aren’t included – they nearly all assume that the omission is deliberate on my part because I somehow don’t rank them as proper countries).
Secondly, the databases have to coincide at a single point in time. It’s a very obvious point that still needs to be explained: this is not a historical overview. This is a single snapshot in time, and the year that we ended up with was 2010. This was the last moment at which all of those 35 databases were most recently refreshed.
The data has to be robust and reliable, and finally it also has to be a true measurement of some impact that each country has outside its own borders.
There are probably only about 40 surveys in existence that meet all those criteria, because there just isn’t that much research of this scale and quality done every year – it’s too expensive. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to do this kind of research and only bodies like the United Nations and the World Bank have the resources to do it. Out of those 40 we chose 35 that seemed to be very good direct or indirect tokens of the kind of behaviour that we were looking for, and we merged them.
Some are more obvious than others. For example, the number of international treaties that a country ratifies is a fairly direct indicator of a socially responsible country, one that works with the multilateral system rather than obstructing it, whereas some of the others – like the number of Nobel prizes won by people from each country – is a rather indirect one, but you can see why it’s there. We wanted to get some sense of what countries contribute to the global store of knowledge and understanding, and Nobel prizes are one somewhat inadequate way of measuring that.
Diplomacy and a new international reality
D: Being a diplomat, of course it concerns me that you’re considering a completely new, completely different international reality. So what are the implications for Foreign Ministries around the world, and actually for the way diplomacy is done?
Implications for the Foreign Minister
S: One of the areas where I can foresee the most interesting change is specifically in the role of the Foreign Minister. You’ll forgive me if I’m caricaturing when I say this, but the traditional role of the Foreign Minister is that he’s the man (because of course it’s usually a man) who keeps the rest of the world at bay; he’s responsible for ensuring that foreigners don’t cause problems, and that they don’t interfere with the smooth running of the country.
This is the thing above all else which has to change. I think the Foreign Minister needs to become the man or woman who brings the world into everything a country does. I foresee a Foreign Ministry that connects directly with every other ministry, as well as with civil society and business of course, throwing windows open on the world, and bringing the spirit of cooperation and collaboration and sharing and mutual benefit into every operation of the country. I foresee a day when it would be perfectly normal and expected for the Foreign Minister to be present in meetings about the National Health Service or Pensions. Why not? Because the National Health Service and Pensions, just like anything else, are no longer domestic, they have huge international ramifications.
Diplomatic corps implications
The impact will of course be seen on the diplomatic corps too. Diplomats should never be the people who are sent out into the world to keep the foreigners away or to make money out of them: diplomats must become the people who feed the world back into the country and who maintain a constant two-way relationship between the country and the world, constantly making connections. The more of these connections there are, whether in trade or culture, whether in education or science, the harder it becomes for nations to fight.
D: Thank you Simon, it’s been great, and we could continue talking for hours. Good luck!