'The Good Country Equation': sage advice on how to win international friends and influence people
Queen Elizabeth II speaks at the formal opening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Buckingham Palace, 2018 | PA Images
A pioneer thinker on how the reputation of a country rises and falls, Simon Anholt’s book offers nuggets of wisdom for savvy nations
It’s regrettable that many parliamentary reports, from both Houses, end up on the shelf gathering dust. But this was certainly not so in the case of the 2014 Lords report on soft power, Power and Persuasion in the Modern World.
Building on the brilliant insights of the Harvard Professor Joe Nye – about the radically changing and subtly softening nature of national power and influence in modern international conditions – the report had immediate impact. It led straight to the setting up a new soft power unit in the (then) FCO. It also led to countless seminars and think-tank sessions not only in London but across the world, including in both Beijing and New York.
A key witness in the10-month inquiry preceding the report was Simon Anholt, founder of the Good Country Index and pioneer thinker on how the reputation of nations rises and falls – and with it their influence for good, their own fortunes, and their internal health and harmony.
His new book out now, The Good Country Equation, expands on his ideas, and on his experiences in advising a string of countries round the world on how to apply them. For a start he is deeply sceptical about national bragging and achievement-boasting as a means of winning friends and carrying serious weight in global affairs. This sort of international propaganda graffiti, he maintains, wastes millions, never works and is simply not the way through which others form their views of a particular country – or build up sympathy and support for it and its peoples.
Instead, goes his thesis, a nation gains friends, reputation, trust and influence by its own clear policies and by its actions, both internal and on the international stage. The inquiry fully agreed with him about this when he came before it, as did the subsequent report, in particular expressing unease about the chest-thumping tone of the ‘Britain is Great’ campaign at that time being promoted.
Countries, Anholt now reminds us, cannot just be marketed with slick advertising messages. Others will make their judgments from what they see, hear and learn of a country, by anecdotes and examples, form their own views, draw their conclusions and extend hands of friendship and cooperation accordingly.
He rightly concludes that the Commonwealth is potentially a gigantic force for progress
The author does not of course just focus on the British situation, although his lessons from elsewhere are highly relevant for us. Although his book is a bit of a Cook’s tour through all the countries he has advised – from Central Asia ,via Africa and Europe to the USA – the nuggets of wisdom and guidance about the new direction for savvy nations to take, in utterly changed world conditions, are all there.
Number One is that nothing improves a nation’s prosperity, attractiveness and pulling power more than working internationally, thinking internationally, even when dealing with domestic issues, and vigorously partnering other nations and organisations.
Number Two is that this means constant and agile international networking, which he calls entrepreneurial multilateralism. From this he rightly concludes, for example, that the Commonwealth is potentially ‘a gigantic force for progress’– a network for both sharing and drawing strength in difficult times.
Number Three (and there is many more) is that to get into The Good Country Equation nations need to act tellingly and do striking things which really resonate round the globe and stimulate interest and admiration.
Apply all this to a somewhat battered Britain as it sets sail into new waters and some priorities shout out. First is perhaps to show the world how a united kingdom can be held together and prosper in this age of fragmentation, hyper-localism and break-away identities. Is it time for national ingenuity to invent a new kind of binding federal framework in the digital and big data age, to replenish near-exhausted present political and constitutional structures?
And could this be Britain’s most important new message on the shifting world stage, along with playing the network game to the full, where the Commonwealth gives us such a head start?
Who knows? It cannot be done overnight. Anholt believes it will take both patience and a whole generation to get back on track. But his book is certainly a good starter manual.
Lord Howell of Guildford is a Conservative peer and former FCO Minister
The Good Country Equation is published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers