What happens when business or, in this case, an entire country embraces digital disruption?
We get e-Estonia, a small country that sits on the edge of the Baltic Sea.
Since 2015, anyone in the world can apply to be an Estonian e-citizen even if they don’t live there. All they need to do is apply online with their passport or photo ID and then complete their application at an Estonian Embassy.
Until 1990, Estonia was still part of the Soviet Republic, but now it’s the most sophisticated digital society in the world.
It was motivated to go high-tech because it wanted to distance itself from its grey and somewhat stuffy Soviet aesthetic. So much so that it’s gone from a country where only half its population had a landline in 1991 to almost universal mobile phone coverage today.
What’s more, all cabinet meetings are paperless, every election is by e-vote and a free wifi network reaches most of the country’s populated areas.
Since 2018, Estonian citizens and e-citizens can access and manage just about nearly every government service online and they have complete control over their personal information.
A chip-and-pin identity card lets them conduct their affairs wherever there is wifi. What’s more, if they log-on and see something odd—like an accountant other than their own looking at their financial records—they can click to report it to the data ombudsman. A government employee then has to account for the encroachment.
Open for business
Estonia wants people’s business, so it will soon have its tax office connected to other tax offices around the world. This allows e-Estonians from other countries to oversee their own companies via the Estonian system, while Estonia itself ensures that the e-Estonian’s home country receives its taxes.
Estonia hopes this will encourage entrepreneurs to open a business in Estonia, using an Estonian bank and Estonian services.
Estonia is so far ahead of the pack that it no longer engages with certain foreign delegations.
Estonia’s e-residency is redefining what it means to be a country and what it means to have borders.
E-Estonia is digital disruption on a massive scale and it highlights what can happen when change is embraced rather than feared.