Last summer during Latvia’s 90th anniversary, the Latvian Institute asked young people in Latvia to tell us what kind of Latvia they wanted to see in 10 years.  We received over 500 responses from some very bright girls and boys. While talking about the project with a journalist, he asked me what my vision of Latvia in 10 years would be like.

I was taken by surprise. All year I had been asking the kids of Latvia how they would like to see this country, but what about me? Once I started to think of things, I realized my wish-list could go on forever. As a citizen, I wanted to see a country where people felt secure, happy and prosperous. As a parent, I wanted to see a country where my children and grandchildren would be glad to live.  As a diplomat, I wanted to see a state that was respected internationally and had good relations with the global community. As a person concerned about Latvia’s image in the world, I wanted to see a country that left a good impression on anyone who visited, and had a good reputation among those who hadn’t.

I want to see a Latvia that is admired by tourists, but not so popular that our streets are flooded by endless tour groups. I would like foreign investors to take a serious interest in Latvia, but not so much that they take control our economy. I want Latvia to be in the news, not for problems, crises or scandals, but because of successes, victories and achievements.

I’m sure that my wishes aren’t that different from those of most of the 2.3 million people who live in Latvia. The problem, as always, is how do you get there?

At the moment the government is focusing its efforts on strengthening the economy, streamlining the bureaucracy and cutting costs. As President Zatlers said in a recent speech, we have to learn from our mistakes and act decisively in implementing corrective measures, while simultaneously thinking about our long-term development.

Our politicians, business leaders and economic experts have acknowledged that short-term measures must be linked to long-term strategies, if we hope to make our economic recovery sustainable.

A while back the Latvian Institute conducted research on a potential brand strategy for Latvia. It concluded that Latvia’s reputation in the world could grow considerably, if we developed three specific areas of our national identity: 1) Our respect for knowledge, science and education, 2) Our love for nature, 3) Our rich and multi-faceted culture.

While our focus was on Latvia’s image, it appears now that these same factors play a key role in our long-term economic development as well. Interestingly enough, most of the 500 kids we surveyed last year agreed. They believe that brains, birch trees and song will be an essential part of the Latvia they want to live in when it celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2018.

It makes sense. If we can make our people even smarter, make our environment even greener and rely on our culture to make it all come together, Latvia will not only be better known around the world, it will also be a better place to live.