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How Estonia nurtures a national digital identity

Estonia is the world’s most digitally enabled nation, offering a unique combination of talent, environment and innovation. Marten Kaevats, the country’s lead digital advisor, tells I-CIO about how Estonia became an e-state.

According to I-CIO, Estonia is the birthplace of industry-redefining apps such as Skype and TransferWise. A country where 7% of GDP is generated by a technology base of 3,700 firms and where 4% of the workforce is employed in start-ups — four of which were declared ‘unicorns’ (valued at more than $1 billion) in 2018.

“We want to show that human-centric governance is actually possible”

The government took a leadership position from the very beginning. To build up the state digital systems were seen as the only conceivable route to achieving that, particularly in a country with a strong educational heritage in math and computer science. „We want to show that human-centric governance is actually possible,” Kaevats tells to I-CIO.

All Estonian schools were online by 1999. Estonia has the world’s first e-government, with sessions averaging 15 minutes thanks to digital technology implemented in 2000. The public sector is paper-free already for 10 years, everything can be done online, except getting married or buying real estate. Paying taxes has been made easy for citizens with digitalization, which takes less than 1 minute per year. According to Kaevats, the effects of widespread digitalization are enormous. In 2018 alone, the X-Road system that links public and many private databases throughout the country saved about 2,400 person years.

Estonia has invested heavily in its digital infrastructure

According to BBC, Estonia has invested heavily in its digital infrastructure since 1991. The government-sponsored e-Estonia programme has introduced e-voting, e-health and e-banking programmes, and even e-residency, which allows even non-citizens to apply for a virtual residency that entitles them to benefits like an identity card, banking services, payment processing and the ability to form a company. The programme today is geared to appeal to digital nomads and foreign business people looking to start an EU-based company, which in turn brings new opportunities for the Estonian economy.

“It’s seen as a basic human right here in Estonia to have access to the internet. Even the remote Estonian islands, like beautiful Saaremaa, have internet access,” said Austrian entrepreneur Alexandra Nima, who currently lives in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, said to BBC.

Read more about the opportunities Estonia offers here or send us an e-consulting request to get more detailed information.

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