Estonia’s e-Residency has changed the way we define governance and even the very concept of nation states. In addition to launching the global spread of similar government initiatives, one of e-Residency’s biggest gifts to the world has arguably been the ripple effect caused by the programme’s alumni taking on other ambitious high-impact projects, whether it’s in the public or private sector.
Selling success stories abroad and building AI negotiations
Former government innovation catalyst Ott Vatter is a prime example. Having previously worked as the Managing Director of e-Residency, Ott now advises the next generation of success stories in e-governance. Headquartered in Estonia, his company Vertikal.digital is exporting the country’s knowledge and experience with e-governance as far afield as the Caribbean and Saudi Arabia.
Digging deeper into the early days of e-Residency, we find Kaspar Korjus, founding Managing Director of the programme. These days, Korjus is the Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Pactum AI, another tech trailblazer. Born from the pain of having to navigate the logistical and psychological minefield of complex business negotiations, Pactum is unique in the world in how it automates the process and allows companies to manage contract negotiations at scale.
Though the company itself is not in the e-governance business, having Korjus at the helm is not Pactum’s only connection to the innovative and entrepreneurial environment e-Residency has helped to create: Today, global giants like Maersk and Walmart — alongside other household names — use Pactum for autonomous negotiations with suppliers and vendors, but it was an Estonian e-Resident who was the first to try out the product for his limousine rental business.
The biggest impact of e-Residency is the freedom to be an entrepreneur
“The biggest impact of e-Residency is the freedom to be an entrepreneur,” says Korjus. “It opens up so many different verticals for a country.” Indeed, well over 20,000 companies have been established in Estonia by e-Residents and in 2021, companies started by e-Residents brought in €32.5 million in tax revenue. Ultimately, this points to a sea change in which we’re still only seeing the tip of a particularly intriguing iceberg: The success of a nation is no longer attached to the amount of land, people, or resources a country has. “The opportunities that e-Residency has opened up are just the ones that have been discovered in the last five years,” Korjus notes. “The possibilities are endless. It could be that Estonia becomes a hundred times richer than Switzerland. But we won’t see the end results for another twenty years. It’s a game-changer.”
What else is in the pipeline in the innovation factory that is Estonia? Ott Vatter has his fingers crossed for the country to revamp the digital identity — with an iris scan or fingerprint-based identification on every phone, perhaps, which would solidify Estonia’s role as a world hub for secure identity. His own goals are no less ambitious: “Our company hopes to be the innovation leader in e-governance development,” he says.
Kaspar Korjus also believes that Estonia is well on its way to establishing itself as a role model for the rest of the world as a digital-savvy, entrepreneurial nation state—particularly crucial traits in times of global turmoil and uncertainty. “The question is which nations will be nimble and agile enough to adapt to changes that happen in the world,” he says. “Technology is one thing that helps, but also policymaking. e-Residency is an example of that. Estonia’s combination of policy, entrepreneurial spirit, technology, and e-government will help the country become an example to the world when the next crisis hits.”
One such global crisis, of course, was the pandemic, which made the value of e-governance and digital identity painfully obvious even to those set in their analog ways. “COVID proved to governments that they are useless if people can’t actually go there,” Vatter says. “The European Commission came to us saying they had thousands of documents to sign but no one in the office. And we said, ‘We’ve been telling you about digital signatures for eight years.’”
Concept of e-Residency going mainstream
It’s perhaps safe to say at this point that the concept of e-Residency is going mainstream. “A lot of governments want e-Residency,” Vatter says. “But you can’t just have it on its own. You have to connect it to the rest of the ecosystem, and it all starts with a legally permissive environment—you have to have legislation. People think e-Residency is a software product but it’s actually much much more complex.”
The world would do well to turn to the Estonians, it seems, to make sense of this complexity. Because the potential payoff has already been shown to be immense. The rest, as they say, will be history.