Sweden makes its first entry into the top five of The Soft Power 30, jumping from 8th in 2018 to 4th in 2019. Like its neighbours, Sweden is known for its exemplary model of governance, with well-protected civil rights, high levels of human development, and low levels of income inequality. Abroad, Sweden continues to champion global causes including gender equality and combating climate change, which have had an outsized impact on the region and the world. Sweden became the first country to publicly adopt a “feminist foreign policy” in 2014, and has shown commitment to cutting its carbon emissions to net zero by 2045. When it comes to environmental sustainability, however, it is Swedish youth Greta Thunberg who has captured international attention, after publicly criticising global leaders at both Davos and the UN Climate Summit for lacking commitment to climate policies. Hailed the “Greta effect”, the #flygskam hashtag emerged, and her actions have inspired youth activists around the world. Over the past years, Sweden has also established itself as a world-leading tech hub, reflected in strong performances in the Enterprise sub-index. Stockholm produces the second-highest number of tech unicorns per capita in the world, which include Spotify, Skype, and gaming company King. Boosted by improved polling scores, Sweden earns its spot in the top five, as the world starts to recognise its unique soft power strengths.
Sweden posts an impressive performance in the Enterprise sub-index, overtaking Switzerland this year to come in 2nd. Welfare states are often met with concerns about productivity growth, but Sweden demonstrates its strengths in global innovation – consider household names such as H&M and IKEA, and more recently tech unicorns Spotify and Skype. Innovation-friendly policies and a culture of cross-sector collaboration have enabled Sweden to flourish as a world-leading tech hub, which should form an important component of its global soft power narrative.
Sweden lags behind in the Culture sub-index, due to middling performances across the art, tourism, and sports metrics. This is not to say that Sweden lacks in culture. It has a diverse music industry, produces moody Nordic Noir films and TV, and is widely recognised as a design industry powerhouse. However, its ability to appeal to global audiences through culture lags behind its immediate top soft power peers.
Sweden’s entry into the top five is testament to its growing soft power assets, particularly in the Government and Enterprise sub-indices. Sweden must stave off the tide of xenophobic, nationalist politics of the far right, and continue to position itself as an open, free society, and a global tech hub. As most of Sweden’s visitors are from neighbouring countries, Sweden should aim to shape a global cultural offering that can attract visitors from around the world. @sweden and “Call a Swede” were unique campaigns that caught international attention. Sweden should continue to leverage digital platforms to engage global audiences, particularly as it lacks the physical platforms of a large diplomatic footprint.