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EP30 Welcome to The Good Country with Simon Anholt and Madeline Hung
Diana Klatt: Hello. You're listening to the I AM GPH podcast. I am Diana Klatt, and today we will be talking with Simon Anholt and Madeline Hung, founders of The Good Country. Simon is an independent policy advisor, researcher and author that has worked in developing and implementing strategies for enhanced economic, political and cultural engagement. He has worked with the heads of state and heads of government of 53 nations. He has also worked with international institutions, some of which include the UN, the World Economic Forum, the World Bank, NATO and the European Union. Madeline is a graduate of Harvard University and a Humanity In Action Senior Fellows alum. She has worked with organizations like Oxfam America and Health Leads USA in conducting research, data analysis and business development for multi-stakeholder initiatives for the advancement of human rights. The Good Country, which just launched earlier this fall in September, aims to act as an invisible nation comprised of a global population, to drive the change we all want to see. Let's find out how Simon and Madeline developed The Good Country and what they envision for the future of this nation. Welcome guys. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We really appreciate it. Can you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds, and what brought you here to be doing this work?
Madeline Hung: Yeah. My background has mostly been in business and human rights, specifically looking at issues around corporate accountability. That was connected to my long-time interest in global challenges and global governance of all sorts. That's really what brought me to this project. I was one of the original 5 million who watched Simon's TED Talk back in 2014, and a lot of those ideas stayed with me. About a year and a half ago, I was interested in applying to a competition, which was to design a new global governance system for the world, a kind of UN 2.0, and that was the original impetus for me to reach out to Simon, and we were going to work on the competition together. A couple of months into that, decided that we didn't want to pursue the competition and were going to focus our energies on The Good Country project instead. That's when we decided we wanted to turn The Good Country philosophy into a reality and create a new country.
Simon Anholt: My background is slightly different, a good bit longer. I've been an independent policy advisor for about 20 years, working mostly with presidents and prime ministers in 50-odd countries, trying to help them and their countries engage more productively in the international system, and largely failed to do that. That was the point where I started coming to the conclusion that countries were always going to be obstructed by their national interest when it came to trying to make the world work better. As Madeline just said, we met through this competition, and it became pretty clear that there was an opportunity to do something really brave, really courageous, really audacious here. Part of the stimulus of that came from the TED Talk that I gave which Madeline mentioned. It wasn't anything very special, but it got a very special response, enormous numbers of people writing from all over the world and saying that they agreed with this model and this philosophy. There was so many of them that it seemed worthy of a bit of analysis. We did some analysis. We discovered that this particular psychological profile which you might call natural cosmopolitans, people who really do feel that they're human beings first and citizens of their own nations second or third, those were 10% of the world's population, and 10% of the world's population is three-quarters of a billion people, which if it were a country, would be the third-largest country on earth, so we decided we'd make that happen.
Diana Klatt: Great. Okay. What exactly is The Good Country?
Simon Anholt: It's a country, to all intents and purposes. It's a very modern kind of country. It's a country that could only really exist in the 21st century, because the first remarkable thing about it is that it has no territory. At first sight, that may seem to be a disadvantage. Actually it's a huge advantage. Territory is a nuisance. If you have territory, you need to have an army to defend it from other countries who want to steal your territory. If you have territory, you have to maintain it, and it's very expensive. It is a virtual country. It's a notion more than a nation, but it does have citizens in the real sense of the word. Ultimately within the next few years, we hope to collect pretty much all of those 760 million people who we know share its values, because they want to belong to it. They just don't know it exists yet. It's a country that's designed to do more than just house a large number of citizens. It's a country designed with a purpose in mind. The purpose of The Good Country is to make the world work better. It's based on the very, very simple observation, that Madeline and I have both arrived at independently over the years, that the reason why humanity is not making sufficient progress at the global challenges, like climate change and pandemics and terrorism and so on and so forth, is because there's not enough collaboration. All of those issues could be tackled more effectively if the collective resources of the planet were brought to bear on them, but they never are, because countries have it programmed deep into their DNA that they compete against each other instead of collaborating. They collaborate, sure, from time to time, but it's never persistent enough or consistent enough for it to really start to impact things. The Good Country is an effort to fix that, the underlying culture of the international system, the underlying culture of governance, which prizes competition and winning more than it prizes collaboration and long-term problem-solving. Madeline I sat down and we asked ourselves, "What instrument on earth could be potent enough to change the culture of governance worldwide?" Because that's a hell of a big ask. We came to the conclusion that it would have to be something as powerful as a sovereign nation, but very different from the traditional sovereign nation, and perhaps the most significant difference of all being that it doesn't have a national interest, or if it does, its national interest is the international interest.
Diana Klatt: Registration for The Good Country and citizenship just opened in September. The principle, as you just explained, is to create a nation that is globally representative of, well, the entire globe. How are you planning to create a hierarchy of actually implementing different types of policies? What is that form of democracy?
Madeline Hung: Yeah. Another way in which The Good Country is an unusual country is that we have no traditional government bureaucracy. As much as possible, we've designed The Good Country's decision-making process, decisions around what issues the country will tackle and ultimately what actions it performs, to put those decisions in the hands of citizens. We'll have a multistage process through which citizens ... and also bringing on experts and implementers where appropriate ... which determines what issues we address and what actions we perform. That process starts with a distribution of information about various global challenges as they arise. Those issue briefs, if you will ... briefs about climate change, about migration, about cybersecurity ... importantly are written through The Good Country lens. That means not just how that issue affects an individual country or a handful of countries, but how it affects the community of nations. Country-neutral reporting on global events, if you will. After citizens have gotten the download on various global challenges in that way, then we come together as a community and have a big conversation about what issues we want to focus on in that month or in this year. That conversation is enabled by an AI software technology. We have a very important technology partner called Remesh who developed that software, and what the software allows us to do is essentially conduct a large-scale opinion poll on The Good Country's population. The opinion poll actually lets citizens contribute, in natural language, their detailed thoughts and feelings about various issues, instead of limiting them to a binary vote on what challenge they want to work on right now. Instead of saying, "Is it climate change or is it migration this month," we can say, "What aspects of climate change are of most concern to you? What kinds of actions do you think The Good Country would be best positioned to perform on that issue?" Really have, like I said, a collective conversation around what issues we wanted to tackle. From there, we do rely on a network of experts to help us draft policies or solutions to those problems. Citizens can also develop their own policy solutions if they wish. We're going to, through 2019, be building an infrastructure to support citizens who want to develop their own policies, so mentors and resources, et cetera. Then once we have a collection of potential policies for a given issue, we assemble an evaluation panel. That evaluation panel is composed, again, of citizens, experts and The Good Country's foreign service, so people who will be implementing those policies. That evaluation panel determines which of the policies that have been developed through that process are up for implementation. Is it one policy? Is it a combination? Are we not going to implement any of them, because the issue has changed dramatically since we first decided that we wanted to tackle that issue a couple months ago? The evaluation panel is where we decide what actions actually get funded and actually get implemented. That's probably the decision-making process. Citizens will have opportunities to decide and steer the direction of The Good Country's actions at multiple stages along the way. As much as possible, like I said, that's without mediation. It's direct democracy wherever possible.
Diana Klatt: Once a concept hits the evaluation stage, how do you see the funding and actual implementation of some form of initiative actually being played out in any specific topic or country?
Madeline Hung: Yeah. Implementation will really vary on what the policy proposal is. We use the term "policy" in a really broad sense. Policy doesn't mean just a written law or an act. We think that The Good Country will be able to act in a wide range of ways. For example, it can be an educator, educating world leaders on the benefits of collaborative and cooperative problem-solving. It can be an educator to citizens around the world on a specific issue, or on how we can all be developing skills to be better citizens in the age of globalization. Beyond education, we can use our tax revenue as an instrument of hard power, so actually driving other actors to the negotiating table. We can obviously also perform soft power, and that means negotiation and diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, so inspiring other actors to do the right thing or to participate in our proposed interventions or actions. We can build new systems or structures in the international system if necessary. We can conduct foreign policy. There's a lot of different ways in which we can act, and implementation will largely depend on what mode of action we're choosing. If it's educating citizens individually, a lot of implementation will be up to citizens of The Good Country themselves, probably learning a certain skill set or distributing that to their communities on a local level. If it's foreign policy, we may be relying on diplomats in our foreign service to lead negotiation in a certain circumstance. It really just depends.
Diana Klatt: Since this is a virtual nation and your goal is to gain 10% of the global population, not everywhere in the world has access to internet or an ability to join a virtual nation. How do you propose to gain access to that population and have them equally represented?
Simon Anholt: Well, it's very important for us to reach those people, and as soon as possible. We don't want to leave it for too many years before we start reaching those people because their voice is critical, particularly critical because it's the voice that so often unheard in traditional policy circles. There are a number of points to be made here. The first one is that quite a lot of the technology that we use, the technology that makes The Good Country possible, is technology that will work on a non-smart phone. As we know, there are vast tracts of Africa which may be unreachable by a smartphone or by high speed internet, but where mobile telephony is already the primary means of banking, of communication, and all kinds of other social communication. The areas of the world and the segments of the global population who are unreachable by electronic means is actually quite small these days, a great deal smaller than it was ten or even five years ago, and that continues. We're in close touch with one or two organizations that are right at the cutting edge of that field and looking for developments. It's a cost/benefit analysis in the end, because the cost of reaching those individuals rises sharply. The other thing that's important to say is that although we've described The Good Country as a digital nation or a virtual nation, and it is that, it isn't only that. It's extremely important for us that we make use of this extraordinary resource that we have, of all of these people who are also citizens of another country, the country that they were born in, and they take The Good Country and The Good Country's processes and learnings and community home, and act them out in a physical way in their own neighborhoods and beyond. Everything from your predictable town hall meeting, right the way through to political action on the streets at home, if that's how they choose to interpret The Good Country's mandate. All of that is very, very important. Of course, in that context, we don't need to worry about internet reach, because people can meet physically wherever they want. One of the things that we're looking at very closely at the moment is how we actually set up our diplomatic service. One of the things we certainly don't want to copy from traditional nations is the idea of having a very expensive white stucco palace in the ritziest neighborhood of every capital city on earth. That wouldn't serve our purpose and it wouldn't suit us at all, and it's a terrible waste of money. There are many, many interesting ways in which these traditional systems and structures of international relations can at this point in history be totally reinvented, the whole model of cultural relations, of diplomatic relations, of foreign policy, of representation of states abroad. It's a moment in history where we can tear up that rule book and throw it out of the window, and we're taking full advantage of that.
Diana Klatt: Basically the world is full of all of these complex problems, and it's just such a vast world to go into. All of these students are graduating now. Is there any particular piece of advice you'd give to these students and just anyone in general, going out into the world and trying to figure out how to address these problems?
Simon Anholt: You mean apart from becoming a citizen of The Good Country? Which is a very good piece of advice.
Diana Klatt: Yes, or rather in addition to becoming a citizen of The Good Country?
Madeline Hung: Yeah. I mean, I think, without shamelessly promoting The Good Country ... no. One thing that is really important obviously to The Good Country project overall is education, and we mean education in a lot of different ways, so educating yourself about the nature of global challenges. We think it's really important to consider how those challenges affect not just the one community where they might have started or the one that gets the most coverage in the news, but how it affects everyone. We can all learn from challenges, even if they affect a community halfway across the world, because history repeats itself and there's no need to reinvent the wheel every time. Certainly we would encourage graduating students to inform themselves about the world and world events in that way. I think another really important part of education for The Good Country is, I think as I mentioned earlier, building up skills to be better citizens of the world in the age of globalization. We absolutely encourage curiosity amongst good country citizens, understanding cultures and religions and political systems and other value sets other than your own. Whether it's curiosity or active listening, or how to moderate and defuse political tensions in your own community, those are all skills that we would really encourage graduating students to invest in, because we think it's what's going to make us a more resilient global community as globalization continues to unfold in the next hundred years.
Simon Anholt: There's something I'd add to that as well. I mean, if it's about giving advice to young people going out into the world, don't be afraid to be ambitious. I think that there are an awful lot of forces out there which tend to crush the ambitious spirit and make you think, "It's little old me versus great big world. What can I possibly do?" Increasingly at the moment, we find there's a loss of faith, a loss of confidence in the traditional methods of attacking these big problems. The activist organizations, which people in their minds often bundle in quite unfairly with charities, who do a lot of good work. Because the charities, several of them, are disgracing themselves fairly regularly at the moment, I think there's a sense of hopelessness beginning to set in quite widely, even amongst very highly motivated and highly educated people. They begin to think to themselves, "What can I do?" They mustn't, because this is an area where ambition is not only reasonable, feasible, it's also necessary. If we don't have people who are sufficiently ambitious, who really believe that they, little old them, can make a difference in great big world, well, we're in trouble if people don't think that. Patently we think that, otherwise we wouldn't be doing this extremely audacious project. Anybody can think that. Anybody can do it, because we're lucky enough to live in an age where crazy things happen every single day, and partly because of the miracles of technology, but it's not only that. The world is connected as it's never been connected before, and surprising effects can follow from really quite small beginnings. People should, in a sense, as well as joining The Good Country, they should also follow our example, which is an example of sheer audaciousness. If you think there's something wrong with the world, figure out some way of fixing it and go and try.
Diana Klatt: That's great advice. Just to wrap up with one last question, and going off of your talking of motivation, what is it that drives you guys to do this work day after day, and really motivates you to continuously do this work?
Madeline Hung: Oh, my gosh. What a hard question. For me, I was telling the story the other day about how as a young person I was searching for my cause. I looked to other people in my family and at school, my friends, who seemed to have figured out their passion project, and I was jealous because I never felt like I had found that one cause that lit me up and drove me to get out of bed every day. I kind of cause-hopped. First I did climate change work and then I did public health work and then I did women's rights work, and hopped and hopped and hopped, waiting to find that one passion and cause. It took me a little while to realize that actually I didn't have to commit to any one of those causes, and that the way in which I could contribute most was thinking about the overarching system that produced all of those interconnected problems and challenges. That got me really, really excited. I think what excites me about The Good Country project is thinking about this opportunity to work on an issue, in our opinion, the root cause of so many of our global challenges, our inability to work together sufficiently as an international community. For me, that is absolutely now what gets me out of bed every day, because I see how changing that culture over time really can just be a catalyst for change in so many of those individual issue areas.
Simon Anholt: Obviously I share that completely with Madeline. We've both arrived at this via that same realization, that you can if you really want to. You can tackle all the problems in the world at the same time as long as you dig deep enough, and that's in effect my rational motivation. My personal or emotional motivation is really very simple. Like pretty much everybody I've ever met in the whole of my life, I suffer from a simple love of humanity. I like people. I've always liked people, and I find that most people like people. I have a particular angle on that, and that is that I like people who are different. I grew up with the fixation that people who lived in other countries were bound to be more interesting than the people who lived in my country, and that other people's countries were bound to be more interesting than my country. I assumed that everybody was like that. I discovered painfully over the years that actually it's really not true. In that respect, it's quite a small minority of us. In a sense, I suppose it's that that's driven me towards this turning point in my career, the decision that I really, really want to do something to express my love of humanity in all of its diversity and to do something for it, because it's my friend and I like it, and that people who feel this way are needed because they're small in number.
Madeline Hung: I'll say just one more thing about I think what motivates both of us. This project has just been incredible and so much fun to build. Simon always says just because this stuff is serious doesn't mean it has to be boring, which is really a motto that we try to live by and work by every day. I think the opportunity to make these issues, although they are serious, fun and interesting and engaging, and lit up by culture and art, is also something that drives us every day.
Simon Anholt: You might as well have fun, as we sometimes say when nobody's listening at all, since we're probably going to fail. We're joking of course. We might as well enjoy doing it.
Madeline Hung: Exactly. Go big.
Diana Klatt: Well, thank you guys so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it, and really looking forward to becoming a citizen of The Good Country. Yeah.
Simon Anholt: Thanks, Diana.
Madeline Hung: Thanks so much.