"Switzerland is a very small country with a small population, and it actually has very few natural resources," said World Economic Forum Senior Director Saadia Zahidi. "The biggest resource it does have is people, and that's what it's been investing in for quite some time. It's led to an economy that is competitive, highly innovative, and has adopted technology fast."
The WEF report examined how countries invest in their people and how those investments are leveraged to influence economic productivity.
Countries were ranked according to four pillars: education; health and wellness; workforce and employment; and enabling environment.
"Countries that invest in human capital end up getting returns in terms of economic growth," says Zahidi. "And then countries that have that economic growth are able to reinvest further in human capital. So you have this virtuous cycle that's established."
The WEF hopes that other nations will begin to invest in human capital after they see how effective it has been for the Swiss.
"Each country's story is somewhat unique and there are learnings to be had across various countries," says Zahidi. "For us, the next step is going to be, can we try to have cross-country learning? Are there best practices in certain countries that can be transferred to others?"
For comparison, the U.S. ranked 16th in the world overall, though it ranked 43rd in the health and wellness category.