You’ve probably seen countries ranked by wealth, corruption and even happiness. But independent policy advisor Simon Anholt proposes a different yardstick: how much good a country does for humanity and the planet.

Anholt has spent the past two decades helping more than 50 nations develop economic, political and cultural strategies for engaging with the rest of the world. Through his Good Country Index, he encourages people to ask one big question: How do you deserve your space on the globe? He also asks, half-jokingly, “If the hand of God were to slip on the celestial keyboard at 3 AM tomorrow and accidentally hit ‘delete,’ and one country were accidentally removed, who would miss it and why?”

Anholt’s index is based on United Nations figures and breaks countries down by seven categories, including health, prosperity, climate, peace & security and culture.

Simon Anholt
Simon Anholt

In good countries, Anholt says leaders would sound different. “Instead of just saying ‘What’s in it for us?’ they’d be looking at what other countries have achieved in the past. They’d be looking more frequently at best practices. They’d be looking about for other places and other people that they could collaborate with in order to get things done.” He cites the European Union as a quintessential example of cross-border collaboration. In fact, the top ten countries in the Index are all in Western Europe. (CORRECTION: No they’re not! As Mike pointed out in the comments section, below, New Zealand made the Top Ten.)

Anholt praises good countries for giving to poor ones, but he also recognizes that international aid is a double-edged sword: developed countries give money to the poor ones but can also make recipients appear bleak and desperate. “If I believe that an African country is a basket case, I might give them charity, I might give them some of my spare money, but I’m never going to invest there because I’d lose my shirt. I’m never going on holiday there because I’ll get killed,” he says.

Despite Anholt’s attempts to change these perceptions, Kenya was the only African nation to make the top 30 on the Good Country Index. However, he says Kenya’s ranking proves a nation’s material wealth is not the only thing that matters. “That to me was a really valuable discovery because it shows one of things I really wanted to show: that this isn’t about how much money you’ve got. You’ve got countries like Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland that ranked right at the bottom of the Index on peace and security.” The United States ranks 21st overall.

Anholt says many other developing countries are doing well too, even though they’re not high on the overall gross ranking. “There are a lot of least developed countries that ranked very high on their environmental contribution, on their contribution to peace and security because they don’t export violence, and so forth. The fact that you may not be in the top 10 overall is not nearly as important as the individual scores in the seven categories.”