This is the question we asked ourselves while refining the "GREAT Britain" campaign. Led by Government and supported by British companies, institutions and celebrities alike, the GREAT campaign showcases the UK overseas as a country worth visiting, a nation worth investment and a business community with exports worth buying. But what sets us apart from our many competitors?
I decided to put the same question to a group of future political and economic leaders from around the world, invited recently by the Foreign Secretary to the UK on the International Leaders Programme. We embarked upon a week long programme looking at both the successes and challenges of Britain in today's fast changing world. (The Foreign Secretary went on a similar trip to Japan as a young MP - an experience that left a deep bond, which shines through in the strength of our bilateral relations today.)
This group of talented individuals - from South Africa to Qatar to Argentina - came at the question from all angles. Indeed, was there really anything that truly made the UK unique nowadays? But from discussion, one thing came up again and again. Something that perhaps had been a little unexpected. And that was British openness - a desire to embrace the best from the rest of the world.
Their discussion made me reflect as well. The UK is of course my home, but a country from which, as a diplomat serving overseas, I myself have been an outsider for 10 of the last 14 years. And I could see their point. During our week, I too had been struck by how everywhere we went, global talent was integrated into the very heart of British success. From the British Museum to the BBC; Tottenham Hotspurs to BRE, a world-class research centre for building materials and techniques.
I began to wonder whether we weren't in some way cheating? Shouldn't I be showing this impressive bunch of foreign leaders something truly British?
But then I recalled an interview I saw shortly after the Olympics with an Australian recounting how many of the London 2012 senior advisors were fellow Aussies. Asked whether he was insinuating that London 2012 was a success only because of Australian talent, his reply was quick and sincere. No, London was a success because the Brits had been so very open to understanding the strengths of Sydney, Athens and Beijing. The team had blended ideas, added fresh thinking and come up with a formula that was not only unique, but undeniably British.
In a world of young people craving new ideas, it feels that openness to being a catalyst for creativity and innovation can give Britain a fantastic commercial edge. And in the spirit of this, the GREAT Campaign recently launched the GREAT Festivals of Creativity. A public-private partnership, the festivals aim to "inspire, stimulate and fascinate", creating a platform both for creative exchange and for business. To register your interest, please click here.