A country’s soft power is its ability to make friends and influence people not through military might, but through its most attractive assets, notably culture, education, language and values.

In short, it’s the things that make people love a country rather than fear it, things that are often the products of people, institutions and culture rather than governments.

1. The British Council was founded to create ‘a friendly knowledge and understanding’ between the people of the UK and the wider world.

2. The UK has unrivalled international networks and influence.

A friendly knowledge

  • We make a positive contribution to the countries we work with using the cultural resources of the UK such as art, sport, education, science, culture, language, innovation, creativity and the sharing of the UK’s values and ways of living.
  • By sharing the best of the UK’s cultural resources and values with other countries we increase levels of trust between the people of the UK and the people of other countries.
  • Trust is integral to the UK’s soft power success:
    • It increases UK prosperity by encouraging more trade, investment and tourism.
    • It helps to keep the UK safe and secure by reducing extremism and improving stability and security in strategically important countries; and
    • It also increases influence by growing the number of people who know and trust the UK.

Networks and influence

  • The UK has large and growing international professional, learner and social networks, running into the millions of learners, teachers, professionals, and the creatively minded.
  • The UK’s language, arts, education system and civil society are some of the major reasons for our international attractiveness. They also strengthen the UK’s reputation across the world as an open, vibrant country, with a thriving cultural scene and a world-class education sector.
  • Our work makes a lasting difference to the UK’s international standing by increasing the country’s influence and networks with key decision makers, influencers and the wider public globally.
  • The British Council makes a major contribution to the UK’s soft power by creating international opportunities in education, the arts and society, thereby building trust between people around the world.



  • Research by Chatham House found that the English language, education and culture are the top three factors in supporting the UK’s overseas reputation.
  • In 2014-15 we reached over 24.1million people face to face and through our events, and 647 million people online and via broadcasts and publications.
  • Research has shown a clear correlation between increased levels of trust in a country and an increase in a person’s inclination to do business with, study in or visit that country.
  • 1 in 7 world leaders have studied in the UK
  • In a study of 10 strategically important countries, the average level of trust in the UK was 16% higher amongst those who had participation in cultural relations activities than amongst those who had not.
  • Soft power is being prioritised as a foreign policy tool in other countries. China has opened over 300 Confucius Institutes since 2004 and aims to have 1,000 institutes in operation by 2020.
  • Many of the challenges facing today’s governments are transnational. Networks of people across nation states can build a platform on which collective action can be taken more effectively.
  • The UK is recognised as one of the world’s most adept soft-power states. In global rankings of soft power the UK is regularly in the top three countries.
  • Our work targets international leaders, influencers and aspirants. Their participation in British Council programmes gives them an instinctive understanding of the UK’s position on particular issues, and creates useful contacts, as well as a space for persuasion and influence.


  • William Hague, Foreign Secretary, says ‘Building stronger cultural and education links between nations has never been more important for our security and prosperity in a networked world. Britain has immense advantages: the English language, connecting us to billions of people; links to every nation on earth through our history and diverse society; skills in financial services, engineering, science and technology that are second to none. The British Council is doing excellent work worldwide to project and promote Britain’s strengths and our democratic values.’
  • Explaining the importance of soft power, the late Sir Anthony Parsons, British Diplomat, said: ‘It is really dazzlingly obvious … [i]f you are thoroughly familiar with someone else’s language and literature, if you know and love his country, its cities, its arts, its people, you will be instinctively disposed … to support him actively when you consider him right and to avoid punishing him too fiercely when you regard him as being wrong.’
  • Joseph Nye University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University said: ‘The concept is not new. It is human behaviour. … [T]he British Council discovered it and has been practising it effectively since 1934.’
  • Philip Seib, Director of Center on Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California, called the British Council ‘probably the world’s best cultural diplomacy agency.’