“Every country rocks in its own particular way.”— Carl Bildt
Sweden beats most countries at many things. It is among the best countries to do business, it ranks highly on the Global Competitiveness Index, enjoys low corruption, high innovation, improvements in gender equality and is a great place to grow old.
But it wasn’t always like this. About 100 years ago, Sweden was one of the poorest countries in Europe. People were dying of hunger; many were forced to emigrate. So how did it go from abject poverty to becoming one of the richest nations in the world?
One person who might be able to tell us is Carl Bildt, the former Swedish Prime Minister who also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs until 2014. In a live video interview with the World Economic Forum, he offered five factors he believes may be behind the country’s success.
1. It has a peaceful history: “Sweden was fortunate to stay out of the first and second world wars,” Bildt said. “This allowed the country to avoid the loss of life and infrastructure that other countries suffered.”
2. It’s open to the world: “Do not close yourself in,” Bildt emphasised. Build on the traditions that are yours and use your strengths and your curiosity to engage with the rest of the world. “Success comes from integrating to the world. There is much to learn and so much that you can share with the world; and this does not happen when you live behind walls.”
3. It’s the right size: Sweden is not too small that it can be considered irrelevant. At the same time, “Sweden is not so big that it can talk itself into believing that it is more important than other countries.” You get the point: if you are not the right size, adopt the mentality that comes with being the right size.
4. It spent wisely: Once several elements are working in your favour and that bank balance is growing, then it is important to spend wisely. In Sweden’s case, the country, “invested in social welfare and the education system among other things.”
5. It fights corruption: “Corruption is not a genetic defect and no one is immune to it,” it is a question of how you organise your society. “Rigorous law enforcement, transparency and consistency are key elements in the fight against corruption.” According to Bildt: even if outsiders try to corrupt your society, if you are well structured, then they will soon give up.