September 14, 2018
Estonians jokingly refer to themselves as e-Estonians, says Siim Sikkut, Estonia’s Chief Information Officer. But if ever a nickname were spot on, this might be it. Almost anything can be done digitally, Sikkut says. “It has penetrated into nearly all aspects of life we lead: as a citizen, an entrepreneur, a government official,” he explains. In this podcast, Sikkut talks about Estonia’s road to becoming a digital nation.
It turns out, becoming e-Estonia was all about efficiency. Efficiency was the desire and has really been the fruitful outcome of this digitalization across all different fields of policy and sectors of life, Sikkut says. “We see the improvements it makes in terms of how much time you can save, how much money we can save if you do things the digital way,” he says.
This efficiency has helped boost Estonia’s reputation as a stalwart for start-ups. But Sikkut says it’s not that start-ups are attracted to Estonia but rather born in Estonia. He attributes this partly to the investment in science and research that has created a fertile ground for entrepreneurs. “There is also the simple fact that founding a company and running it is easy in terms of the business environment and bureaucracy,” he says.
Then there is the Skype effect. Skype was born in Estonia, and Sikkut says there are more and more entrepreneurs with experience from Skype who realize that one can really conquer the world—even from Estonia.
Each week we are getting more e-residents than there are babies being born.
It follows that when you have an e-country, there will be e-residents. Estonia has 35,000 now. “It doesn’t sound like much on a global level, but each week we are getting more e-residents than are babies being born,” Sikkut says. Anyone in the world can virtually become Estonian. “And it turned out that there’s a lot of interest—on our scale at least. And through that you get more jobs, and generate more revenue and growth into the country,” he says.
Cybersecurity is one of the biggest challenges for e-Estonia, Sikkut says. And while combatting hackers and thwarting viruses is a daily priority, Sikkut points out that trust is paramount. “Without trust, we won’t have the users, and we can’t build up the efficiency gains we have seen,” he says. And with the global trend moving toward a lack of trust in government, Sikkut believes the Estonian government’s success in delivering efficiency and cybersecurity has helped build Estonians’ faith in government.
“Why we’ve been able to build many things in Estonia, is that I think fundamentally there’s trust for the state, as an institution,” he says. “You may dislike the particular politicians and parties but ultimately, the government and the rule of law is there, and the government is ours. And that matters a lot to us.”