The Good Country Equation: Simon Anholt

Do you live in a good country?  Do you know of a good country or how good your own is compared to others?   Strange questions perhaps when views of countries and their governments are influenced by how they are responding, or not, to the pandemic. Or  the crushing of democracy in Belarus, Hong Kong and Trump’s ham-fisted attempts in USA?

Let’s put aside current concerns and see if we can explore, dispassionately and evidence-based, whether a country is “good”.  The first question is of course “good for whom?”.   Most governments of course seek to be good to their citizens, well many do.

But is your country good for the world? Does it contribute?  That is the focus of Simon Anholt’s new book “The Good Country Equation”.  Anholt is best known for the coining of the term “nation brand” which has launched hundreds of consultancies and even more articles and books (and misunderstandings).  In the first half of his new book we follow Simon through a 20 year worldwide journey as he advised national leaders on how they could improve their countries standing. His technique?  The Anholt Process: a series of conversazioni

An informal collegiate discussion about a nation’s future role in the international community.

In an entertaining roller coaster ride Simon gives examples from Croatia and Slovenia (I remember that one) to Afghanistan to Russia and many more countries. If you want to reconsider approaches to cultural relations/public diplomacy etc then the first half of the book is for you.

But there is more.  Simon notices from his work that people like good countries.  At the same time the world is facing global problems.

As I have learned in country after country, global problems need global solutions, and we need to work together as a species if we are going to solve and survive these challenges.

Simon argues that the nation state system on its own can’t meet those challenges.  Two quotes suffice

It’s a seventeenth century system trying desperately to confront twenty-first-century globalized chaos.

Nationalism isn’t merely damaging to individuals and society: its fatal to life on earth.

What to do?  Simon seeks a nudge approach to encourage countries to see their relationship with the world, not just their relationship with their own voters/vested interests. So the founder of the Nations Brand Index and the City Brands Index turns to the Index approach. Watch his TED talk.

In the Good Country Index Simon aims to use an evidence based picture of how good a country is in its relationship to others and to the planet: in short – what do they contribute? The Index has 35 criteria grouped in 7 categories, all seeking “Contributions to…”

  • Culture
  • Science and Technology
  • International Peace and Security
  • World Order
  • Planet and Climate
  • Prosperity and Climate
  • Health and Wellbeing

As with all such Indices there is a great temptation to quibble over the selection of criteria but that’s not really the point now.  The sources for the scoring are UN and international authorities and not based on perceptions or qualitative measures.

Spoiler alert!   Who comes top?  It doesn’t matter. This is one of those international tables where getting better every year counts as more important than “We won” or the jingoistic “We’re tops”.

The Index has had a few years operation by now and is starting to trigger more than academic interest. Governments are asking for advice to improve their rankings.  Simon has developed new themes “Good Leaders”, “Global Vote” and more. More tools to encourage change.  And that is the whole point of the new book.  To solve the world’s problems we need to change, to work cooperatively, one size does not fit all and we need multiple avenues.

Every page of the book prompts reflection, not always agreement, but always thought provoking. The sub title says it all: 

How We Can Repair the World in One Generation

Start now, listen to Simon and act . Buy the book first, available from all good bookstores and even Amazon. Audible version also available)