E-Estonia Leading in Digital Institutions: What We Can Learn

People queuing
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Have you ever lost 2 hours waiting in line at a government administrative building to get a single
piece of paper for your tax report? 

Or waited multiple months sending letters back and forth to try to obtain your driver’s license document?

Well, this is a situation some of us may have experienced in the past. It’s fair to say that it is pretty frustrating.

But all of this is about to change… 

While the pandemic is pushing more and more public and private services online because citizens cannot leave their home, a small country near the Baltic Sea is showing the world that it has a pandemic proof system that is already years ahead, with 99% of its administrative services online.

Determined to be the pioneer of all digitalized institutions and a European center for innovation, 
today we introduce: E-Estonia!

The most advanced digital society in Europe

During the past 30 years, Estonia went through outstanding changes. From being part of the USSR to joining the EU as an independent country, changing dramatically from a socialist economy to a full-force private sector economy,

Estonia also launched the most ambitious governmental digital project on the continent. It all started in 1994 with the publication of the “Principles of Estonian Information Policy”, a paper aimed at establishing precise goals for the management of Estonia’s information at scale.

This paper was fully approved in under 4 years by parliament and put into practice, allowing for continuous innovations in the digitalizing of Estonia’s institutions and government services, paving the way to the future.

Estonian Flag │ Source: Ville Säävuori

Tech-Savvy Presidential Stories

The digitalization of the country truly started with Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ initiative in 1995, called the Tiger Leap Program, which was “the springboard for a series of large-scale digital projects that aimed at developing the internet as the standard medium in all areas of society.” All this was built while he was serving as Estonia’s Ambassador in the USA.

He later became president in 2006, spent 10 years in office, and made a great deal of turning Estonia into a fully digitalized country while accelerating the process.

His government successfully pushed most of the traditional services we use every day such as banking, government services, healthcare and more online and created the very first “Paperless government” in the world.

In 2016, Kersti Kaljulaid was elected president of Estonia, marking the very first woman to lead in Estonia’s history. She has a wide background from the field of genetics, to Business Administration, and is considered a liberal, pushing for innovation. Kaljulaid is a supporter of a nonrestrictive legal space for the ongoing digitalization of economies and governments as well as an active promoter of sustainability and halting climate change.

President Kaljulaid portrait │ Source: president.ee

She even contributed to the launch of KrattAI, Estonia’s secret weapon for promoting the implementation of Artificial Intelligence solutions in both public and private sectors. 

The impact of these presidencies on citizens was remarkable, with the European Commission recognizing that Estonia scored the highest of all EU countries in indicators like: “percentage of individuals using the internet for interacting with public authorities”, “online services for business” and “eGovernment infrastructure”

E-Estonia’s advantage in Ease of Doing Business

Creating a strong and transparent economic platform made Estonia a preferred and stable place to do business.

With a high level of economic freedom, a simplified tax system (mostly using flat rates instead of complex percentages), and openness to foreign investment, Estonia managed to give birth to 4 unicorn companies with having only 1.3 million citizens.

With an environment inviting for new business, Estonia also launched the E-Residency program, allowing for foreign citizens and digital nomads to gain access to European markets easily.

Did I also tell you that free wifi is available all around the country?
Yes, in Estonia, access to the internet is a social right.

E-Estonia Showroom 2017 │ Source: Annika Haas

A special time to get your country involved

So why is Estonia’s example important, especially now?

With the pandemic gaining traction again in Europe, shutting down economies and threatening employment, Estonia found a unique way to keep its economy rolling during tough times. And this digitalized system could be beneficial to allof us. Not only as a way to keep our countries afloat, but also as a way to save time, as this is becoming the most precious resource we have in the 21st Century.

Should we learn from E-Estonia and finally give up on the piles of papers stacked on the dinner table? Do you dream of being able to fill your tax return in less than 5 minutes online? 

This dream is alive and well in E-Estonia.

And who likes queuing anyway? 

PS: We would love to hear from you! Have you heard of E-Estonia digital institutions? Are you an E-Resident? Share your experience with us in the comments section!

For more information on E-Estonia digital services and E-Residency, please visit: https://e-estonia.com

Read the latest Digital agenda 2020 for Estonia: here.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of SparkTogether or its members.