“I’m constantly impressed by Estonia,” says Robert C. Wolcott on Forbes. “Today, their collective response to the coronavirus crisis— both their government and tech community — has much to teach us.”
Estonia Leads A Digital Way
According to Forbes, building on its well-deserved brand as the “digital nation,” Estonia two days ago began organizing an online hackathon, “Hack the Crisis” (HtC), co-hosted by Garage48 and Accelerate Estonia.
“WE ARE ACCELERATING ESTONIA TO NEW HEIGHTS!… Now is the prime time to design, test and launch moonshot ideas that will… help tackle the crisis or position Estonia well for the aftermath,” announced the HtC team on their event site.
„We are looking for ideas that are prototypable in 48 hours and help solve the crisis and give Estonia the edge in the post-crisis words,” Garage48 explained the purpose of the hackathon.
“Note that almost all of the activity behind HtC is being done online. Estonia’s exceptional digital infrastructure provides a flexible, resilient platform through a pandemic where it becomes essential to limit human-to-human contact,” Robert C. Wolcott says.
“What is truly breathtaking is how fast everyone mobilized,” he notes and gives a timeline of how fast things went:
Within one week, Estonia went from patient zero to 135 confirmed cases. Thursday evening, March 12, the Minister for Foreign Trade and ICT, Kaimar Karu, shared a call to action: “Use this crisis to emerge stronger.”
The next morning at 9:30 am, the Estonian startup community suggested the HtC concept. By 10:00 AM Minister Karu endorsed the concept and set everyone to action. Accelerate Estonia selected partners and launched the hackathon at 4:30 pm. Within 90 minutes, over 650 people had posted 80 ideas for consideration. By Sunday— two days later— there were 1,000 people participating and 30 teams working on solutions.
Wolcott: What Can We Learn From Our Estonian Friends?
„My head is still spinning, I’m reflecting on what we can learn,” Wolcott admits and finds 6 lessons from Estonia’s coronavirus crisis response:
#1 Startup mindset
Technology already provides tools to help us thrive through this adversity. We should all start experimenting. This startup mindset is precisely what we need to turn challenge into opportunity.
#2 High-scale solutions & partners
Rapid experimentation alone isn’t enough. We require institutions with capabilities for scale: large corporations, NGOs and government. Facing high-scale challenges requires high-scale solutions, and partners ready and able to go big.
#3 People want to help
In times of crisis, people want to help. They’re often seeking ways to contribute their own personal gifts. A well-articulated, timely challenge can mobilize impressive resources and talent. The act of contributing provides individuals and organizations with a sense of progress and release from feeling helpless. While no one can control a pandemic, we can have collective impact.
#4 Estonia’s digital transformation
Estonia’s digital transformation of all government services over the past five years puts the country in a better position to navigate crises. As we grapple with disruptions of all in-person gatherings— from workplaces and conferences to performances and sporting events— other nations should take note. e-Estonia took time and commitment.
#5 Public-private sector engagement
We must enhance our public-private sector engagement and defend non-partisan mechanisms for national response. This will require recovering mutual respect between public and private institutions. We’ve lost this cross-sector respect over the past few decades. We must rebuild.
#6 Getting to work!
As Viljar Lubi, Estonia’s Undersecretary for Economic Development, stated: “We have two options: fight or flight. When there is nowhere to run and we have the tools to fight, let’s do it.”
“It is up to each of us how we respond to this crisis, individually and as communities, locally and worldwide,” Wolcott sums it up.
Accelerate Estonia will sponsor up to 5 best ideas with 5,000 euros for execution during the state of emergency and full support of the minister for ICT and Foreign Trade, Kaimar Karu will be provided.
The best ideas of „Hack the Crisis“
According to press release of Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol the winning projects of HtC were:
Zelos – connecting people at risk with volunteers via call centre + task dispatch app. The hardships of the most vulnerable people in the society, eg those who don’t have any family members or friends to help them, have been gravely exacerbated by the corona crisis. There are many people who would be willing to help, but currently, there is no good way to connect people in need with volunteers.
#2 Ventit Breathing apparatus
1% of people who get coronavirus develop Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and need a breathing machine to survive, called ventilators. In case of a pandemic, there aren’t enough to go around. For instance, in Italy their doctors have to choose who lives and who dies purely on the availability of such machines – no doctor should have to do this.
#3 Vanemuine – medical volunteer management database
Today we lack an organised and secure database to find people with suitable medical competences based on their location and call them to action. When in a crisis situation, there is a need for medical volunteer resources. Today’s situation is that volunteers information is kept in unsecure datasheets. It is very time-consuming to reach out and check the availability of volunteers.
#4 Share Force One
It is a workforce sharing platform that connects B2B sides for temporary workforce exchange. Due to the coronavirus crisis, a lot of companies and employees have been left to deal with the unknown – will they have jobs and salaries? Some companies are in need of additional workforce and others are facing the reality of not being able to offer jobs anymore. Although this problem has risen like a shooting star during the past couple of days, the excess of workforce and need of additional workforce are problems that companies have to deal with all the time.
#5 Corona-tracker by Velmio
There’s mounting pressure on the healthcare system and a lack of real-time data sources for individuals and governments to monitor the situation. The virus is very contagious and although most cases are mild, the illness is deadly for certain groups of people. There’s currently no way to self-monitor your risk or recovery from home in real-time, and it will become infeasible for all of us to bombard our doctors and hospitals constantly for advice.
A special price to StateBot
A team with members from – among others – the Invest in Estonia team was proud to be awarded a special prize. Several Estonian Investment Agency’s employees participated in the legendary hackathon within the team ‘StateBot’, headed by our Work in Estonia colleagues. An amazing team of volunteers gathered around Michaela Snopková, to create a chatbot that will be embedded into public web pages and will answer people’s questions related to the crisis, giving state-approved answers both in Estonian and English. The StateBot chatbot will be released as soon as possible – we will let our readers know about the latest developments.
The team behind StateBot is already experienced in creating and using automated tools for public use. While it includes several experienced bot-building professionals, Invest Estonia’s own team members have been developing and utilising their own ‘electronic investment advisor’ called Eia and can help with their experience. During the crisis, Eia helps our staff to provide high-quality digital services even when the whole staff is working from home office. During the current situation, it is important to notice that our robot colleague is not afraid of any microbes (and does not spread any, herself). At the same time, she is happy to help every potential investor in the time when coronavirus has made all of us avoid real-life contacts and work remotely.
Furthermore, don’t be surprised when our Estonian Investment Agency’s investment advisor will send you an invitation to arrange your pre-planned business lunches in a digital form. Invest Estonia has been developing a tool to enable to move forward with our tasks, giving us all an opportunity to work digitally and stay home.
Invest Estonia is working remotely from March 16 until further notice. We are open for communication by phone, email, our e-Consulting and Online Business Dinner solutions.
Stay safe, everyone! And let’s do our work digitally for a while. Want to do business or invest in Estonia? Our quick and free e-Consulting service is here to help you.