IT LESSONS FOR UKRAINE: How Estonia became a Nordic digital hub and top international e-government innovator

Estonia’s impressive e-revolution offers a wealth of inspiration and opportunities for Ukrainians

IT LESSONS FOR UKRAINE: How Estonia became a Nordic digital hub and top international e-government innovator
About the author: Ms Urve Palo is Estonian Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology
Urve Palo
Sunday, 11 December 2016 13:47

Twenty-five years ago, Ukraine and Estonia faced similar challenges and made fundamental decisions that are still shaping the two countries’ present-day life and future development. Estonians decided to reinvent our methods of governance completely in order to gain ultimate effectiveness and transparency. Together with the business sector, we decided to transform Estonia into a state based on digital solutions and services.

The fundamental starting point of this transformation was not a technological decision, but rather a political commitment that all people in Estonia should have a secure online identity and secure access to digital services – including the ability to sign anything digitally. These digital signatures would be equal to signatures on paper. As a result, Estonia is now one of the most developed digital societies in the world. It is a country where digital signatures are preferred to physical ones. A third of the population votes in parliamentary elections online. Companies are established and administered online. Almost all taxes are declared digitally.

Estonia’s digital advancement is unprecedented in the world. Technologically, most countries could theoretically follow our lead, but it is more difficult to reach the necessary political consensus that lays out a legal environment for a comprehensive and safe system of e-services enabling the creation of a truly digital society.


Supporting e-governance in Ukraine

Estonia’s digital story is already over 15 years old, and we are always ready to share our experience and knowledge. We would like to see cross-border digital services and data exchange happening across Europe and on a global scale. Estonia and Finland are currently pioneering this approach by connecting our systems and databases over the X-Road data exchange platform. This could then expand to X-Road Europe.

The Finnish-Estonian data exchange is the first time another country has based its full e-government infrastructure on a solution developed in Estonia, but it will not be the last. The Estonian-based e-Governance Academy has worked on a similar project entitled “e-Governance Support to Ukraine” together with a number of regional and local authorities in Western Ukraine that expressed their interest and support for the integration of ICTs in their governance. In parallel, the e-Governance Academy and experts from Estonia have been assisting the Ukrainian government in the development of e-governance policies and processes including legislation development, capacity building, communication activities, and online services development. This work continues. Estonian experts and companies are ready to share all our digital knowhow and help build solutions for the whole of Ukraine.


Entrepreneurs and e-Residency

One of the latest breakthrough initiatives in Estonia is e-Residency. It is an initiative that was born globally – a state-issued, secure digital identity for non-residents from around the world. E-Residency allows digital authentication and the digital signing of documents. It lets you open a company online as well as using all the other convenient digital services that were previously available exclusively to Estonian citizens. Following the project’s launch in December 2014, we now have more than 14,000 e-residents who have founded about 1000 new companies. Thanks to this innovation, Estonia has become the first digital society in the world. We are clearly moving towards the idea of a country without borders.

Entrepreneurship is deeply embedded in Estonia’s mindset. Skype was born here and it served as a role model to kick-start a generation of entrepreneurs whose aspirations do not end at the physical borders of their home country. Estonians are currently behind more start-up businesses per capita than any other nation in Europe – and second only to Israel globally.


Wanted: Ukrainian talent

This progress does not mean we can rest on our laurels. The Estonian economy is expected to grow 1.3% this year and 2.5% in 2017. We want it to grow faster. We are actively looking for resources to bolster our labour market. This means exploring how to attract more foreign talent, speed up the transition to a knowledge-based economy, and make our business environment even more attractive. That is why we are also eager to invite talented Ukrainians to join Estonian start-ups, tech companies and other industries via the Work in Estonia programme.

Estonia and Ukraine might not be particularly close geographically, but there are excellent bilateral relations including a deep connection between our people and a steady relationship economically. Estonia is a steadfast supporter of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We support Ukraine’s European integration efforts and reforms. Our countries see each other as reliable economic partners with good potential, both being gateways to significant resources and markets. As part of the EU, as well as the Nordic cultural and economic community, Estonia can also serve as an effective hub for Ukrainian entrepreneurs looking to the EU and Scandinavia.

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