A traveling fisherman

International Public Relations

Updating Underdeveloped Nations’ Categorization
via Identity Narrative to Promote Foreign Investment


     Our unique human capacity for discourse and visionary planning enables a level of collaboration that has the power to transform the world. The acceleration of technologies spurred by the industrial revolution has produced a global economy, where the exchange of goods, energy and ideas continue to drive growth. Such exponential growth, however, has also produced negative externalities: Development in the name of prosperity has simultaneously created degrading imbalances.

     Over the past several decades, coral reef habits continue to die; rain forests shrink; and biodiversity, air, and water quality are all in states of crisis. While the wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population are observed producing 50 percent of carbon emissions, vulnerable populations and ecosystems are exposed to disruption and chemical risk. These trends drive climate change and scientists warn the global community of increasing droughts, floods, and heatwaves everywhere. Climate change impacts everyone, but especially problematic are populations with the fewest resources to adapt.

     Over the past half-century, world leaders’ efforts to address these global crises and inequities have brought about a series of international meetings. In 2016, world leaders reaffirmed partnership through the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): A “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity” (UNDP 2018). Meeting this call will require a significant increase in international collaboration (OECD). Particularly, more collaboration and support from that richest 10 percent will be crucial to funding responsible infrastructure to help ensure the fulfillment of these goals. While some developed countries meet their commitments to invest in underdeveloped nations, notably Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom, the rest of the global community falls behind.

     A key barrier to positive donation intention toward underdeveloped nations is developed countries’ pre-existing evaluations of those underdeveloped nations. This paper seeks to understand the role of national categorization by developed nations towards underdeveloped nations, and develop theory on how underdeveloped nations can seek to overcome already formed categories using elements of identity narrative appeals.

     After a brief historical overview, the literature review below explicates the significance of the human tendency toward categorization, social identity and narrative. Further, it explores how strategic digital communications can modify categorizations via identity narrative appeals. This discussion thus hypothesizes potential message design considerations and recommendations for national image communications efforts that may enhance developed nations’ behavioral intention toward donation. 


     The current international aid system can be traced back to post-World War II recovery efforts. After World War II, the European Recovery Program provided funds to help rebuild devastated European economies between 1948 and 1952, with a focus on removing trade barriers, modernizing industry, and, not incidentally, preventing the spread of Soviet communism. When the program officially ended in 1952, the economy of every participant state had surpassed pre-war levels.

     However, with the onset of the Cold War and tensions between the Soviet Union and Western capitalist countries, politics dominated development aid decisions, including which countries would receive aid and for what purposes. The ways in which developed nations categorize underdeveloped nations can inform attitudes towards and thus behavioral intentions for aid allocation.

     There is a lingering perception that if underdeveloped countries are given aid money, it will be misspent because of government corruption or inefficiency. The history of aid from the 60’s and 70’s shows that underdeveloped countries frequently mismanaged aid money. Many reports in the 1980s and 1990s about failed development projects gave rise to humanitarian aid criticism and the claim that development work was wasteful and useless — a claim that was commonly used as an excuse for not engaging in development aid. According to nation branding consultants, problems of underdevelopment and global inequality are, to a significant extent, a product of the negative images peddled by charities and the broader development industry. While such images secure donations, it is argued they deter more sustainable investments and further perpetuate the image of underdeveloped nations as victims needing direction by developed national saviors. This power relation often leads to either a lack of investment due to a lack of confidence in the underdeveloped nation’s efficacy to develop, or forms of tied aid which make certain demands of the underdeveloped nation in order to receive the aid. This allows developed nations to exploit the perceived weaknesses of the underdeveloped nations. This pattern in which foreign aid has served the interests of donor countries, has resulted in a further imbalance of international power by wealthier donor countries over underdeveloped nations. While these patterns continue to receive criticism today, international movements have sought to address the issue, by focusing on how international aid can more effectively improve independence and resilience abroad.

These insights inform the first two research questions:

RQ1) How do developed nations categorize underdeveloped nations?

RQ 2) Which categories will describe national reputation toward underdeveloped nations among developed nations?

     In 2000, the Millennium Summit of United Nations resulted in all 191 United Nations member states at the time and at least 22 international organizations committing to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals. The goals were: 1) To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, 2) To achieve universal primary education, 3) To promote gender equality and empower women, 4) To reduce child mortality, 5) To improve maternal health, 6) To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, 7) To ensure environmental sustainability, and 8) To develop a global partnership for development.

     Goal 8 specifically focused on the collaboration needed to achieve these goals. Each economically advanced participating country committed to: “progressively increase its official development assistance to the developing countries and will exert its best efforts to reach a minimum net amount of 0.7 percent of its gross national product at market prices by the middle of the decade” (UNDP). Today, the 0.7 percent of GNP is used as a UN target for Official Development Assistance (ODA) by the international community. 

     In 2005, more than 100 developed and underdeveloped countries met to discuss the impacts of foreign aid. This meeting resulted in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, which lays out a “practical, action-orientated roadmap to improve the quality of aid and its impact on development” (OECD). Five principles underpin 56 partnership commitments. These principles are reflected in Figure 1 below.

Paris Declaration
Figure 1. “The Paris Declaration contains 56 partnership commitments organized around five principles that make aid more effective” (OECD). 1. Ownership (Developing countries set their own development strategies, improve their institutions and tackle corruption.) 2. Alignment (Donor countries and organisations bring their support in line with these strategies and use local systems.) 3. Harmonization (Donor countries and organisations coordinate their actions, simplify procedures and share information to avoid duplication.) 4. Managing for Results (Developing countries and donors focus on producing – and measuring – results.) 5. Mutual Accountability (Donors and developing countries are accountable for development results.)”

     The Paris Declaration essentially provides guidance on how international aid should be implemented in order to advance the goals set out in the Millennium Development Goals, and now in the Sustainable Development Goals.

     Since world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, how to finance the 2030 Agenda at the country level has been a key issue. SDG 17 addresses this, stating the goal to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development” (UNDP). SDG 17 necessitates that countries “strengthen domestic resource mobilization, meet aid commitments and mobilize additional financial resources for development from multiple sources” (UNDP).

Sustainable Development Goals
Figure 2. Sustainable Development Goals

ODA       In 2016, six countries met the United Nations international target for Official Development Assistance (ODA) at or above 0.7 percent of gross national income. In 2017, Germany slipped under the threshold, leaving only five DAC members meeting the target – Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

     Survey data and political rhetoric suggest that foreign aid policies are highly divisive ideologically. Noting that aid accounts for only a small fraction of developed nations’ budgets and that implications of foreign aid policy for voters is likely to be limited, Brech states that “donor country governments may thus indulge their ideological preferences regarding foreign aid” (Brech 2014:15).

     In light of this disparity in aid intentions and national preferences, three additional research questions emerge:

RQ3) How does identity/reputation of developed nations affect behavioral intentions for altruistic humanitarian aid?

RQ4) How does identity/reputation of underdeveloped nations affect receiving aid/ investment?

RQ5) How can underdeveloped nations update these categories via identity narrative?

     These questions necessitate a closer look at the need for and process of categorization, narrative, identity and, in today’s globalized world, national branding as a relation between developed donor nations and underdeveloped nations.



     Categorization is a “joint process of abstraction and generalization,” in which categories are formed in the mind and objects/subjects are placed into these categories, lending to quicker assumptions about shared qualities in future encounters (Jaffe and Nebenzahl, 2006).  By categorizing, humans draw conclusions and guess at how a situation is likely to unfold. Categories allow us “to bypass the need for direct observation,” and that “in order to perceive the world around us, we depend just as much on categorization and analogy as we do on our eyes and ears” (Hofstadter & Sander, 2013). It therefore becomes apparent that communication is more than a unidirectional message; it is the interaction of a message within the mind of the receiver and their existing categories.

     Considering this reality, Anholt defines brand image as “the context in which messages are received… not the messages themselves” (Anholt 2006: 5). Recognizing that existing categories and stereotypes — the reputations of countries — seldom reflect the current reality of the place, Anholt asserts that the disconnect between image and reality can be simply explained by time. Even as a nation changes quickly, its image can lag because people are so attached to existing beliefs. Anholt adds that “we carry on believing the same things we’ve always believed about places” and since there is something comforting about those simple narratives, something has to “change quite dramatically in the real world before we are prepared to alter those stories or replace them with new ones” (Anholt 2006: 27).

     It is thus clear that categorical generalizations may not hold true for every member of a category. Furthermore, existing categorization can create biases and an “othering” effect. In the international relations context, this othering effect can impede collaboration and aid by creating a sense of separation between those with more power and those with less power. Biases may manifest in seeing underdeveloped nations as incapable of self-organization and progress, and this categorical view can be negatively associated with behavioral intentions to invest in underdeveloped nations. These biases can also promote patterns of power and control by developed nations over underdeveloped nations. When developed nations see themselves as superior and others as lacking, they may attempt to replicate their own definitions of progress abroad (i.e. through tied aid). This micro-management of internal affairs from the distant external nations can impede the agency of those underdeveloped nations.

     Addressing how one nation’s inhabitants categorizes another is crucial to understanding how to change perceptions of the “other” and thus encourage greater investment in underdeveloped nations’ self-organization. Communicating underdeveloped nations’ agency for progress is necessary for updating these categories. In addressing how humans categorize foreign countries, Suman Lee asserts that “once prioritized (or primary) categories about a country are formed, the new pieces of information can be easily integrated into the old categorical judgment unless the new information is powerful enough to overturn the old perception in a long-term repetitive process” (Lee 2008: 276). Therefore, information that fails to overturn old perceptions will be framed by those old perceptions, and if contradicting those perceptions, will likely be easily forgotten in favor of the familiar category. Overturning old perceptions requires identification of those primary categories, which Lee asserts “is crucial not only in evaluating the current status of national reputation, but also in strategizing the future courses of action for managing and changing it” (Lee 2008: 276).

     Given our reliance on categories to create a relatively stable perception of reality, updating details about one’s already categorized concepts can be difficult. Research into messaging strategies that change attitudes and/or behaviors has been undertaken especially by the field of persuasive communications, and a few relevant tools have emerged. Of particular interest to international communications is: The importance of familiarity, the need for narrative coherence, and the role of identity.

     To further understand the power of familiarity in perpetuating existing categories, let us consider the challenge of correcting misinformation. Research demonstrates that even when a source of information is later retracted, people often continue to rely on that information stored in their mental models to complete their narratives. This is due to the mind’s tendency toward cognitive shortcuts, accepting what is familiar as true. This phenomenon — the persistence of misinformation — can be further understood by noting how retractions, particularly those absent of alternative information for sense-making purposes, often create gaps in the mental model. When a palpable alternative to such a gap is not provided, the retracted information may still be automatically retrieved to fill that gap. In one experiment by Ross, Lepper, and Hubbard (1975), subjects were provided with false feedback on their performance in “an ability-linked task (namely, the discrimination of actual from bogus suicide notes) (Ross et al 1975: 5).” When researchers later admitted to subjects that the feedback given was bogus and had no connection to their actual performance, subjects continued to believe in the false feedback, which had become embedded in their mental models, providing a familiar narrative for sense-making.

     Reliance on established models, even if possibly false, may be necessary for individuals to have a sense of ‘existence’ in a time-based, linear world — noting that we exist in a world that is the sum of a chronological / coherent narrative. Humans depend on coherent narratives to not only make sense of reality, but to act on that reality. The sacredness of narrative is crucial to maintaining a coherent sense of reality and thus an identity that can live in that reality.

     Studies have shown that “misinformation can exert an influence by increasing the perceived familiarity and coherence of related material encountered later in time. As a result, retractions may fail, or even backfire (i.e., by entrenching the initial misinformation), if they directly or indirectly repeat false information in order to correct it, thus further enhancing its familiarity” (Schwarz et al., 2007). Thus, while a gut instinct in many international communications cases may be to refer to old perceptions in order to correct them, communications efforts to overturn old perceptions could be helped by avoiding repetition of negative categories/perceptions.  Instead, the new/desired perception or categorization should be the focus of the communications effort. Simply offering a new idea as an alternative to a past one is not enough. The new category or model of reality must provide the narrative coherence necessary for acceptance.

     If positive associations exist, however, communicators can work to increase the salience of those specific perceptions.  This affirmative approach relies on one’s familiarity of a category to work with the audience in strengthening specific attitudes. Doing so will help those categories compete in the mind for recall when new information is encountered. This groundwork can then increase acceptance of relevant, new information, as it has an appropriate category to go into and aids in the formation of a coherent narrative.


     As social creatures, humans understand the world through the lens of storytelling, depending upon not only experience but also communication to make meaningful connections and categorizations. Fisher’s narrative paradigm views narrative as humans’ fundamental mode of understanding the world around us. He defines narrative as “a theory of symbolic actions (words and/or deeds) that have sequence and meaning for those who live, create, and interpret them” (Fisher 1984).  The paradigm includes two principles for effective narrative: coherence and fidelity. Coherence refers to the extent to which a story makes sense based on internal consistency. Fidelity refers to the credibility or reliability of the story, based on the audience’s prior understanding. Together, these principles influence whether a story adequately creates a perception of reality that audience members can accept.

     The evolution of our propensity for storytelling has had clear survival advantages. Through storytelling, humans were able to warn each other of nearby dangers, to categorize what made something dangerous in order to understand what other things could be dangerous in new situations, to share ideas on how to make life easier, healthier, more fruitful, and to discuss plans for finding food, growing crops, raising families and forming societies. Today, humans still learn through stories, relating ideas to one another to build mental models of reality. These models serve as the figurative landscape within which humans continue to process the relationships between things and their categories, and what gives each thing its specific, contextually-based meaning.

     Due to the mind’s dependence upon narrative for coherence, public relations efforts have begun to incorporate theoretical and methodological elements of narrative persuasion (Johnson Laird, 2012; Pennington & Hastie, 1993). Research suggests that people cognitively process stories differently than they do non-narrative messages: When humans experience “narrative transport”, disbelief is suspended and the tendency to “counter-argue” is reduced, thus leaving the individual more open to persuasive messages contained in the narrative (Green & Brock 2000, Slater & Rouner 2002). Narrative transport has therefore to persuade audience members toward behavioral changes they may have otherwise been defensive about when confronted directly.

     By effectively providing an identity narrative, underdeveloped nations may be able to influence not only the ways in which developed nations think about people and events far removed from their everyday life, but also their perception of self-image within that narrative. Once this narrative model has been established, creating a coherent category and potential for relations between the underdeveloped and developed nation, additional facts and arguments may be introduced to expand those models in meaningful ways.


     The role of identity has also been investigated for its power in public relations and narrative persuasion. Drawing from social identity theory, people often derive self-value from group identification, and therefore strive to maintain the positive image of their social group. While threats to one’s social identity can cause rejection of a message and its source, communications that affirm aspects of that social identity can cause audience members to become less guarded and more open to ideas presented. Making audiences feel comfortable about their social identity can increase receptivity to a message, as it affirms them and thus reduces cognitive dissonance. Appeals to social identity qualities may include one’s sense of altruism, empathy, commitment to democracy or progress, and values for equity. Highlighting opportunities for a developed nation to affirm these qualities may help increase acceptance of a message and increase willingness to enter into the “experience” of a communications effort.

     Gregory J. Shepherd asserts that communication is the “process of always-becoming who you are,” allowing “for the continual making, or building, of self” and “always providing an expanded sense of self” (Shepherd 2006: 7). Shepherd describes the concept of communication as an interaction of selves, saying that it is “not ‘meaning’ that we technically share with others when we interact… but rather… the significance of the experience of one another that we share—each of us becoming more, not by our actions alone, but because of our interaction.” Thus, not only is identity always in a state of becoming more, but it depends upon its interactions, or relations, with others. 

International Relations in a Global Economy: The identity-branding imperative and its opportunity for identity relationships

‘‘If voluntary efforts are to have major impacts, they will require cooperation across national boundaries, suggesting the development of international associations’’ (Young 1992: 9).

     Economic globalization has transformed the nature of international relations. As Jansen puts it, “in the master narrative of globalization… ‘market’ replaced ‘war’ as the foundation metaphor… a nation’s power and prestige would, in theory, is judged by its performance in the marketplace rather than on the battlefield [and] positive national identities attract investments…” (Jansen 2008: 125). The emergence of a ‘postmodern world of images and influence’, as van Ham describes, is set to replace and ’emasculate power-oriented geopolitics’ (van Ham 2002: 252). National security is no longer focused on military leadership but instead requires national ‘brand managers’ whose primary task is to ‘manage, and leverage their [national] brand equity’ (Anholt 2010: 14; van Ham 2002: 254). 

     Browning describes how a strong brand may also enhance a state’s soft power and therefore various nations have “placed ‘peace’ (e.g. Finland, South Africa), or ‘progress and democracy’ (e.g. Sweden) at the heart of their national branding campaigns in the hope this might help carve out an international identity and provide them with the basis for a voice on the international stage on particular issues,” meanwhile enhancing solidarity and the collective sense of national self-esteem (van Ham 2002: 253; Browning 2016).

     National self-image and self-esteem have indeed been linked to altruistic behaviors. In the case of Norway, one of the countries meeting the 0.7 percent GNI aid goal, humanitarian aid is a significant part of the Norwegian self-image. A Norwegian government report from 2003, describes humanitarian aid as a national symbol: “this image of Norway as an idealistic regime of goodness has become a new national symbol, shaping Norwegians’ self-image and national identity” (Engelstad et al. 2003: 52). In support of this, nine out of ten Norwegians were found to be in favor of Norway giving assistance and money to underdeveloped nations in a survey done by Statistics Norway (Utenriksdepartementet 2007). Frøjd asserts that Norwegians “feel privileged and like to consider themselves as generous. Giving humanitarian aid makes Norwegians feel fortunate, and vice versa” (Frøjd 2017: 1).

     There is of course plenty of evidence that people who care more about others are typically happier than those who care more about themselves. But does that mean that altruism increases happiness in a causal sense? Evidence on volunteering and on giving money suggests that it does. (Layard, Clark, and Senik 201: 72) Through various national humanitarian campaigns, often involving schools and communities, Norwegians are brought up to participate in the Norwegian humanitarian discourse practices. It is a part of their upbringing and education to become good Norwegian world citizens. An underlying argument is that Norwegian youths are especially privileged and should learn to give to the less fortunate.

     An analysis of communications in Norway that serve to increase altruism reveals a few key identity-oriented messages. First, aid is emphasized not as charity, but as a solidarity action. This appeals to a shared identity/relationship between the developed nation with the underdeveloped nation, promoting the idea of shared responsibility for efficacy. Second, communications in Norway demonstrate theories on how humanitarian aid communications have developed over time, shifting from victim-oriented appeals to a post humanitarian style of appealing — specifically, focusing on the subject position. In this shift, there has been a disengagement from pity and instead engagement with the reflexivity of the spectator — in other words, the spectator is asked to reflect on self-identity, attitudes and behavior (Chouliaraki 2010: 115). 

     Studying humanitarian communication in terms of aesthetic properties, Lilie Chouliaraki “emphasizes the role of humanitarian communication as ‘moral education’: as a series of subtle proposals of how we should feel and act towards suffering” (2010: 110). She asserts that humanitarian communication traditionally employs two types of emotional appeals: the “shock effect” and “positive image”. The “shock effect” appeals are victim oriented, focusing “on the distant sufferer as the object of our contemplation” (2010: 110). This social relationship of distance, produced by the contrast between spectator and suffering other is associated with the affective properties of guilt, shame and indignation. (2010: 110-1) Conversely, the “positive image” appeals focus on the sufferer’s agency and dignity. Citing Luc Boltanski (1999), Chouliaraki writes: “The moralizing function of this affective regime relies on ‘sympathetic equilibrium,’ a logic of representation that orients the appeal towards a responsive balance of emotions between the sufferer and the spectator as potential benefactor. Due to the “positive images” appeal to emotions of gratitude and empathy, audiences are more likely to be empowered, visualizing how positive actions may lead to change” (Boltanski 1999, 39; Chouliaraki 2010, 112). This appeal also recalls the developed nations’ desire for a positive self-image, one which can be strengthened through collaborative efficacy to help improve conditions abroad.

     While humanitarian communications in Norway have utilized both traditional appeals, there has been a significant move toward the post-humanitarian style of appealing over the past few decades, engaging directly with the audience’s identity. Communications in Norway seek to avoid an “us/them” dichotomy when highlighting the need for humanitarian aid. For instance, for more than 50 years the humanitarian campaign carried out in Norwegian schools “Operation Day’s Work” (ODW) has sought to encourage middle school and high school students to engage in humanitarian efforts by emphasizing shared responsibility. ODW’s 2001 publication entitled “Youth Regardless” explores how “we really aren’t that different-we are all young people with dreams for our future and the right to be treated equally” (Kristoffersen 2001, 14). ODW campaigns focus on positively oriented themes, shifting the motivations to help, away from “pity” and toward equal opportunity. At the ODW-Day, young people worked with youths in the South to give them the access to education that Norwegians have, “not because one has a guilty conscience, but because one has gained an understanding of others’ right to an education” (ODW 2001: 15) Further, ODW involves the underdeveloped nations in these communications efforts. Trips to the receiving countries are made annually by the head of the ODW committee to discuss how they wish to be portrayed, with recipients sometimes contributing directly to the design of the material.

     Thus, the successful motivation of humanitarian aid by Norway suggests the need to appeal to developed nations’ own self-image as having the privilege to be in a position to help. Meanwhile, there is a strength in categorizing underdeveloped nations not as the victim ‘other,’ but rather a partner in development, deserving of equal access to such benefits associated with development, i.e. education and health. By including positive image appeals with an engagement of subject reflexivity, communications may help create the perception of a shared efficacy for both the recipients and the donors to meet development goals via collaboration. This presents the opportunity for the developed nation to further its positive self-image and brand itself as having privilege and altruism. Indeed, nation branding is just as important for the developed nation as the underdeveloped nation when seeking to improve behavioral intentions toward humanitarian aid. Nation branding “can provide a renewed sense of belonging that responds to both individual and social needs, thereby helping citizens feel good about themselves” (Freire 2005; van Ham 2005: 123; Jansen 2008: 126; York 2011). Thus, identity narratives to update categorization can be made more effective by considering both the projected identity, and the audience’s identity needs.

     According to Szondi, “adopting a PR-driven relationship building and engagement approach to nation branding can replace the image management perspective, which has so far dominated the field of nation branding” (Szondi, 2010). In the image management paradigm of nation branding, audiences are treated as passive receivers of nation brand messages, ignoring cultural characteristics of the receiving nations. Szondi asserts that relationship management should be adopted as the central concept in nation branding, leading to a characterization of mutual understanding and dialogue where engagement is of paramount importance. From this perspective, nation brands can thus be “contextualized as the manifestation of relationships that connect the communities from different nations who can mutually benefit from the relationship” (Szondi 2010). In the context of international relationships for aid, these benefits may include humanitarian aid to underdeveloped nations, and a positive self-image and reputation for developed nations.

     Anholt comments on the conditions that now make a “brand oriented approach to competitiveness not just desirable but necessary” (2006: 19). Of particular relevance to underdeveloped nations is his recognition of the “ever more tightly linked global economic system, and a limited pool of international investors” (2006: 20). For poor and developing places, the competition for international funds is especially intense, and “a well-defined sense of national economic, social and political purpose, and a degree of influence over national reputation” is essential (2006: 20).

     While it is now clear that nation branding for underdeveloped nations should appeal to the identity relationship of developed donor nations, the questions remains on how these underdeveloped nations should brand themselves, effectively updating existing categories to promote investment and aid. The World Bank’s official statement on the debt relief initiative is that in order to be eligible, countries have to show evidence of “sustained implementation of … economic reform programs.” More generally, the World Bank (1998 p. 13) notes that “There is no value in providing large amounts of money to a country with poor policies.” van Ham echoes this sentiment, asking why anyone would invest in or visit an unknown country, let alone pay any attention to its political or strategic demands; “if we have no clue what the country is all about […] why should we care?” (2008: 131).

     But visibility is not the end-all-be-all: communications that overly stress a country as belonging to the underdeveloped category, even if done so with the intention of attracting humanitarian aid, can backfire and even keep underdeveloped nations locked in poverty. Considering the case of African countries, there is an overwhelming categorization of poverty, corruption, war, famine and disease (Anholt 2006: 72; Versi 2009). Africa suffers from what Anholt terms a negative “continent brand effect” (75). These categorical images of African countries “create a perception of Africa as a continent that is beyond hope: too much poverty, too much death and an overwhelming sense of too many problems with too few solutions” (Versi 2009). These ‘bad brand’ image stereotypes presented have caused the aid community to both question effectiveness and experience compassion fatigue, “actually encouraging a reduction in foreign direct investment” (Dambisa Moyo quoted in Brand Africa 2010: 10). Anholt thus argues that “branding for charity and branding for economic development are fundamentally incompatible” (2006: 76). Updating national image to increase humanitarian aid and investment therefore requires a careful consideration of how developed nations not only perceive the underdeveloped country categorically, but also the types of relationships donor countries want to engage.

     Based on the literature, Browning asserts there is some indication that the “solution to problems of African underdevelopment should lie in a concerted effort of national re-branding” (Browning 2016). The World Bank, WTO and UN agencies such as the World Intellectual Property Organization support this view, encouraging underdeveloped nations to brand themselves (Jansen 2008).  This suggests the possibility of an emancipatory effect; when underdeveloped nations take control of their national brands back from the developed world, they may amplify the importance of their own voice in shaping their destinies. Such intentional communication of identity is more likely to suggest efficacy and encourage a willingness by developed countries to engage in an international relation with a now “known” or “familiar” underdeveloped country.

     But narrative identity is only effective insofar as it reflects actual commitments to responsible development. According to Anholt, successful nation branding requires integrating the identity narrative into the development of public policy across the full range of political, social and economic activities (2006). Thus, as summarized by Browning, if a nation is troubled by “poverty, corruption and insecurity, branding it as transparent, open, secure and technologically advanced is unlikely to work unless fundamental changes are being introduced to bring this about” (Browning 2016).  In order for an underdeveloped nation to position its image as a global player ready to progress and form relationships, it must also demonstrate these positions through policy (i.e. a commitment to humanitarian principles, shared by the global community).

     Humans and thus nations are continuously scanning to detect other entities and then categorize foreign identities in ways that suggest an enemy, indifferent or friend relationship. Based on the categories formed, the nation will make adjustments to how it interacts. Underdeveloped nations seeking to form positive associations through categorization may benefit from projecting an identity that is within a master narrative of solidarity in the global community and that appeals to the developed nation’s own identity. By incorporating elements of both perspectives’ identity, a sense of co-opting value creation through the relationship may emerge. Meanwhile, the focus on relationship building as opposed to mere image maintenance may present new opportunities in terms of messaging. It can challenge norms for perceiving national identities as a collection of “others,” replacing these disparate identities with a new identity founded on relationships. These relationship identities can represent shared commitments to humanitarian progress and climate change mitigation. It is perhaps through the process of going beyond the singular identities of separate nations and invoking ideas of global identity sharing, that the world can become a better place for all people.


  • RQ1) How do developed nations categorize underdeveloped nations?
  • RQ 2) Which categories will describe national reputation toward underdeveloped nations among developed nations?
  • RQ3 a) How does identity/reputation of developed nations affect behavioral intentions for altruistic humanitarian aid?
    • RQ3 b) Do historical ties / colonial histories mediate these intentions?
  • RQ4 a) How does identity/reputation of underdeveloped nations affect receiving aid/ investment?
    • RQ4 b) Does communication of progress have a positive correlation with perceived national reputation?
    • RQ4 c) Does improved national reputation have a positive correlation with foreign aid intentions?
  • RQ5) How can underdeveloped nations update pre-existing categories via identity narrative?
  • RQ6) Can a new category be communicated without sacrificing authentic cultural identities / promoting globalization’s erosion of cultural nuance?


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