You might be surprised to hear it, but Estonia, yes Estonia, is arguably the most digitally advanced society of our time.
A ‘once only’ policy, decreeing that no piece of personal information should ever have to be entered into an electronic system twice throughout a person’s life, affects everything.
“Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories.” Taxes are completed in fewer than five minutes, people vote from the couch in their living rooms, and children are automatically enrolled in school based on birth date.
Among its formidable collection of digital achievements, in 2014, Estonia pioneered the concept of e-Residency, a program open to citizens of any country that expands opportunities for entrepreneurs and commercial groups interested in operating within the EU.
“The initial idea was to make the platform available to international business people and investors who were already doing business in Estonia, so they could register a business, log into a bank or pay taxes online.”
The program flourished in unexpected ways, transforming the country into a global leader in breaking down economic barriers. “[We discovered that] we could offer financial inclusion for third world citizens through Estonia,” the program’s Managing Director, Ott Vatter, remarked.
The target audience is those who “move around a lot, sell work overseas, can choose where to be legally resident for tax purposes, and want a straightforward, simple way to manage a business.”
In 2018, with 55,000 e-Residents and 7,000 businesses, the country managed to bring in $11 million in revenue. These profits emerge from things like the use of Estonian service providers for translation, book-keeping and legal services.
Public officials note that embracing a digital society means going above and beyond to tackle cyber security issues. In 2007, well into the years of its high-profile, domestic digital transformation, but prior to the initiation of the e-Residency program, the country contended with a massive cyber attack. As a direct result, the country became home to the NATO Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence, and copies of all government data are stored in a digital archive in Luxembourg. Rapid digitization need not come at the expense of robust security.
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