e-Estonia

Estonia wants to export its digital know-how to Kenya

Estonia is looking to offer help to Kenya in digitalisation of its government and eliminating all governmental paperwork.

The Estonian honorary consul to Kenya, Kadri Humal Ayal, told the Kenyan senate committee on information and communication technology that Kenya only needed to express interest.

“I have the green light from Estonia, but not from Kenya,” Ayal said, according to the Standard Digital, a Kenyan newspaper. She also told the committee that embracing information technology had seen Estonia’s forest cover maintained by 60% by eliminating the demand for paper.

“Use of paper meant the trees were cut down. We advanced in technology so that trees could be spared,” she said, according to the newspaper.

The Standard Digital notes that Kenya is currently struggling to save its environment by protecting its forests.

“Already, thousands have been evicted from Mau Forest, the largest water tower in the country, in efforts to save the country from the severe effects of deforestation,” the newspaper says. “Kenya has not met its objective to increase forest cover to 10 per cent. It currently stands at seven per cent.”

Estonia, closest to becoming a digital society, according to the World Bank’s 2016 World Development Report, regularly offers its assistance to other countries in the field of digitalisation.

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Cover: Nairobi City Hall in Kenya (the image is illustrative/Wikimedia Commons).

Hop on a unicorn: a virtual reality journey through e-Estonia

The new state-of-the-art virtual reality solution of the e-Estonia Showroom makes the Estonian digital solutions approachable for everyone.

This article is commercial content.

In the last 20 years, Estonia has introduced so many digital solutions that it has become somewhat complicated for an outsider to grasp it all – especially if one happens to come from a country that is taking its first digital steps.

That’s where VR technology becomes handy. The Tallinn-based e-Estonia Showroom that since its start in 2009 has hosted over 3,000 delegations from 130 different countries, has just launched a brand-new virtual reality showcase to make it even easier to get an overview and understand Estonia’s achievements in the digital world.

360-degree videos

The VR solution – launched at the showroom, but also available on the online platform – consists of twelve video clips, each one-and-a-half to three minutes long, telling the story of digital Estonia: the country’s i-voting, the e-Health and the X-Road platforms, cyber security – you name it. The platform uses 360-degree videos, video-added graphics and gamification elements. According to Anna Piperal, the managing director of the e-Estonia Showroom, in future, the solution can also be used for live broadcasting of events and conferences, allowing interactions with the audience.

The innovative way of explaining and promoting the digital state is aimed for several target audiences, including international public sector decision-makers, business executives, investors and start-ups, as well as the media. Piperal said the VR solution will be soon also available at the Tallinn TV-tower and the Tallinn Airport.

Created by Estonia-based companies, Telia Estonia, Babahh Media and Idea media agency, the technology uses virtual reality headsets – although it’s possible to watch the clips also without – and combines mesmerising images of the forward-looking digital Estonia that is, at the same time, comfortable with its history, cultural roots and strong identity. The user is in control and gets to choose what to pick and see.

The viewers are first welcomed by the country’s first female president, Kersti Kaljulaid, followed by a greeting of the rather cheerful and colourful unicorn who’s happy to take everyone for a “ride” and introduce the country’s digital achievements in a very realistically Estonian environment – that includes, of course, conducting business in a sauna or getting your transactions done online in the middle of a wintry forest. There’s plenty of action, too – for example, a cyber-attack is played out in a control centre room, to be overwhelmed and won by those Estonian cyber security experts, naturally.

A picture says more than a thousand words

According to Piperal, the VR solution is a way to reach to an ever-increasing number of people. “The number of visitors to the e-Estonia Showroom has increased by about 25% each year. The VR technology gives us the opportunity to reach to more people than ever. There are already 171 million VR users in the world, so this is potentially a very good marketing tool for e-Estonia,” she noted. “Besides, a picture says more than a thousand words.”

The new VR solution is also very flexible and enables other platforms to add content – for example, private companies could highlight their solutions. It is also easily adaptable for viewers; every company or institution can use the solution – rent the VR headsets and use it at events, for example.

As Joao Rei, a digital strategist from the Idea, put it: “Even if you see the clips briefly in a crowded public place, hopefully it will inspire you to go home and see more. It is a showcase for Estonian digital solutions.”

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Cover: A VR handset at the e-Estonia Showroom. Read also: Behind the scenes: a visit to the e-Estonia Showroom.

A new 5G network to be launched at the TalTech university campus

A new fifth-generation mobile network is to be launched at the campus of the Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) at the end of 2018 to help companies and startups develop new services and business models.

The network will be launched by the university; the Nordic telecommunications corporation, Telia; and Ericsson, a telecom hardware provider, Telia announced in a statement.

The network will provide lightning fast mobile data for the whole university campus, which enables the development of innovative new services and solutions.

Self-driving car communicating with the help of 5G

The TalTech has built a self-driving car named Iseauto, which will become one of the first cooperation projects within the new 5G network’s scope. The next milestone will come in 2019, when the project partners will showcase Iseauto driving around and communicating with the surrounding infrastructure with the help of 5G, the telecom company said.

Earlier in 2018, the mobile operator, Elisa – a competitor of Telia – opened its 5G cell network in Tallinn and in the Finnish town of Tampere. The network was launched in Tallinn’s Rotermann Quarter, a hip area between the Old Town and the city centre, home to several restaurants and shops.

5G is the next generation wireless network technology that enables clients to use speeds ten times faster than the current 4G technology. 5G networks will also reduce to virtually zero the lag time between devices and the servers they communicate with.

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Cover: The library of the Tallinn University of Technology (photo by Murileer/Wikipedia Commons/the image is illustrative).

Behind the scenes: a visit to the e-Estonia Showroom

Anna Piperal, the managing director of the e-Estonia Showroom, is helping inspire digital societies, one delegation at a time.

This article is commercial content.

When something becomes so ingrained in daily life, it’s hard to imagine what it was like before. Think about life before Facebook, life before smartphones and life before e-Estonia. Estonians have become so accustomed to the many e-services available to them that it’s easy to forget that the majority of the world still runs on paper.

“We have built a digital society, and so can you” is the motto of the e-Estonia Showroom. Since its start in 2009, the showroom has hosted over 3,000 delegations from 130 different countries, making that a total of 49,500 people who have walked through its doors. This year alone, the showroom has welcomed 563 delegations to e-Estonia.

Tailoring each visit to the needs of the visitor

The e-Estonia Showroom introduces delegations to Estonia’s e-story and gives real life examples of how e-solutions can be implemented in both the public and private sectors. “The Showroom started as the ICT Demo Centre,” Piperal, the managing director of the showroom, says. “It was a way for Estonian ICT companies to showcase their services for export to foreign markets. In 2014, due to the growing demand, the centre expanded and moved to its current location at Lõõtsa 2A, thanks to Enterprise Estonia.”

The showroom hosts public and private sector decision makers, investors and the media. Among its more influential visitors have been the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and king Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, as well as delegations from as far away as Japan and Australia. “We tailor each visit to the needs of the visitor. For example, Australia is implementing an e-health solution where users can opt-out of the online data registry. Japan has implemented its own personal ID code system called My Number,” Piperal notes.

Not everyone is so quick to implement e-services, however. According to Piperal, it can take years to realise change, which depends on a nation’s government, the complexity of its legal system and the willingness of its citizens to adopt change. “Paper doesn’t ensure privacy and security, but it’s difficult to create positive experiences with e-solutions, if there is no way to experience it. That’s where the showroom and the Estonian e-story come in. Estonia is a comprehensive model for a functioning e-society.”

Courage to try something new

Estonia makes it all seem so easy. The first e-service was implemented in 2000, which was the e-Tax board, and now 95% of all tax declarations are filed online. “It’s the government’s duty is to provide convenient and secure solutions for government services and that’s online.”

“The key to Estonia’s success was the courage to try something new,” Piperal asserts. “When Estonia regained its independence, the government had to be built from the ground up. We could not afford to build a system based on the classic model, like that of the UK or the US, so we decided to innovate and put things online.”

Estonia can’t take credit for inventing the digital ID. This was inspired by Finland, who created a non-compulsory ID card with a cost-per-use for digital signature. When Estonia implemented the ID card system, the government decided to subsidise the use of the digital signature, for which companies would later cover the costs. But it was truly the added services of the ID card – like the electronic ticket for public transport and online banking – that got people onboard.

No slowing down for e-Estonia

The e-Estonia Showroom has already exceeded its intended target for delegation visits this year and with such steady growth comes the need for expansion. At the beginning of 2019, the new showroom will open its doors about 400 metres (0.25 miles) away from its current location in Ülemiste City. The new showroom plans on a simplified and automated booking system and a new VR solution, in addition to its larger size of 500 square metres (5,382 sq ft). Ülemiste has generously agreed to lease the space to the showroom at no cost for five years.

There’s no slowing down for e-Estonia; being innovative and effective requires continuous experimentation. The e-residency programme is proof of this. Estonia now has over 45,000 e-residents who have set up over 4,500 companies from abroad.

But it doesn’t stop there. e-Estonia has an ambitious future. Things like cross-border data exchange, intelligent transportation, personalised healthcare and digital transformation in education are among some of the areas already being implemented and tested. There’s no telling where this digital journey will lead.

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Cover: The e-Estonia Showroom in Tallinn. Images courtesy of the e-Estonia Showroom.

Estonia’s Siim Sikkut one of the most influential people in digital government – policy platform

According to Apolitical, a global policy platform that works with governments and public servants, Siim Sikkut, the chief information officer of the government of Estonia, is one of the most influential people in the sphere of digital government.

The organisation put Sikkut, who’s been the government CIO since March 2017, in the top 20 of digital government influencers in the world.

Sikkut “previously worked as a digital policy adviser to the government for five years, where he was one of the founders of the flagship e-residency programme and helped to author the Estonian Digital Agenda 2020. Sikkut has also been an adviser on e-government for Jersey (an English Channel island – editor) and a member of the digital government advisory group at the Inter-American Development Bank,” the organisation said.

Another Estonian on the list, under the subsection “politicians”, is Andrus Ansip, the former prime minister and the current European Commissioner for the digital single market. Ansip oversees EU efforts to improve access to online products and services and grow the digital economy, including the abolition of mobile data roaming charges, Apolitical noted.

Under the same subsection, the policy platform also highlights Taavi Kotka, the former CIO of the Estonian government, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia.

The first of its kind

Apolitical’s 2018 list of the world’s 100 most influential people in digital government is “the first of its kind to show the international spread of the field, and includes individuals from every continent”, the organisation said.

“We drew on nominations from over 100 expert contributors to make the list, including digital government experts, academics and public servants. While the list includes well-known leaders, whose every blog post finds a global readership, we have also attempted to highlight the unsung heroes who are quietly and tenaciously updating the machinery of government. The first selection was generated by peer and expert nominations and the final selection has been reviewed by independent experts around the world.”

Apolitical is a “global network for government, helping public servants find the ideas, people and partners they need to solve the hardest challenges facing our societies”, it says of itself. Its “mission is to make government great for citizens everywhere”.

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Cover: Siim Sikkut.

Estonia answers Plato: e-democracy!

In 380 BCE, Plato, transfixed with horror over the instability of democracy, proposed the “philosopher kings” as an antidote; Estonia has dispensed with all that and is taking us toward a new horizon in the sphere of government, Gilbert Morris writes.

Democracy is under threat across the world, both in the old democracies established since 1945 and in the new democracies that emerged after 1989; the citizen seems exhausted with every type of government, whether it’s liberal, conservative or neo-liberal.

Advanced technologies offer the option of putting the citizen in charge through real time participation. Yet, that too is fraught with questions.

We all know of and marvel at Estonia’s advancement since 1990, to its present situation, as probably the most ICT-rich nation on earth. The question is, what can it mean for the world?

The philosophical meaning of Estonia’s e-government

Here it is not my aim to address the specific components of Estonia’s e-governing infrastructure. I will not explain its processes for elections – which are now also held online – or the health records initiative on the blockchain, or its innovative e-residency programme. Instead, I wish to set a pre-text for these developments in the context and as a species of political science by means of situating Estonia’s accomplishments by means of the central questions of the history of political philosophy.

Some may say that Estonia’s approach was not philosophical; that it’s the practical realities of the collapse of the Soviet Union that drove Estonia’s self-effacing strategies. But all organising actions have philosophical foundations. Here I have the assistance of the world’s third most famous – after Adam Smith and Karl Marx – but perhaps most effective and widely practiced economist: John Maynard Keynes.

Keynes said – in the last paragraph of his “Theory of Money” – of those who imagined their practical actions as being disconnected from the flow of the history of philosophy: “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

There are no truer words: It suggests that every organising human action is already scripted in the history of ideas; and any success in the organisation of human society – although not final and always in need of further continued innovation – answers many imperceptible questions while raising yet more intractable ones.

Estonia’s e-governing solutions are solution for populism?

Across the theatre of world politics today, populism is not merely on the rise. Rather it has had an impact on the recent characterisation of national politics from the US, to Brexit in the UK, to autocracy in Turkey and the Philippines; where the lurch toward autocracy has emerged as a reaction to frustration with democratic systems. The late American philosopher, Richard Rorty, forecasted this problem in a forgotten book – “Achieving Our Country” – that was nonetheless prescient:

“Members of labour unions, and unorganised unskilled workers, will sooner or later realise that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realise that suburban white-collar workers – themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else. At that point, something will crack. The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.”

Something has, indeed, “cracked”. People seem to have lost belief in representative democracy – believing that no matter the party ideology or the personal integrity of the new “strong man”, he has become a necessary evil because the system of representative government itself is unresponsive, diseased and incapable of reform.

People seem to have concluded that anyone – no matter their character – who can attack, destroy or disrupt the cosy presumptions that generate exclusive conveniences in the system of representative government is fit for leadership.

Therefore, there is – mounting evidence and – a great risk that the people will be disappointed once again; as their lurch to the extremes in search of relief; in search of policies that return them to the possibility of belief, not merely in the political system, but in the prospects for their lives, is likely to prove unfruitful.

To my mind, as a general case, Estonia’s e-governing initiatives provide a rational basis for citizens to interact with government in such a manner and to such a degree that it appears to me to hold primacy in any antidote to populism.

In pursuit of efficiencies, openness and transparency both retail in accountability. Estonia’s e-governance platforms emerged and evolved toward these ends, motivated by crisis; which is to say: “Necessity was the mother of e-governance in Estonia.”

However, what was born of necessity has become a governing principle in Estonia; and by all accounts, the Estonian model is coming under pressure to enact a further evolution: to mature beyond e-governance into the full panoply of e-democracy.

This raises a fundamental question: is Estonia’s e-governing platforms significantly, but merely an “ICT-government” or is it e-democracy?

If the answer is the former, it means just that Estonia’s government has upgraded the technological mechanisms for interaction between citizens and government through advanced information and communicative technologies. If it is the latter – e-democracy – then, Estonia’s e-governance is an answer to longstanding questions with which philosophers have struggled for over 2,000 years. Questions which concern the political organisation of human societies.

I have come to believe that – despite whatever Estonia believes it is doing – it has in fact cultivated the threshold of a new advanced form of democracy, that is an answer to the despondency of democratic populations, exhausted by representative democracy.

Political philosophy and populism

Estonia’s citizen-centric model offers an alternative conceptualisation of political systemisation compared with what we have known in the past.

In “The Republic”, Plato calls for the “philosopher king”. It was not that Plato was exercising a mere fetish for monarchical powers. Rather, he was attempting to solve a problem – he recognised the destructive effects of populism (on which Edmund Burke would later expound in relation to the French Revolution), and that its inevitable failure could lead to an abject failure of a political system.

Invariably, all forms of populism – it could be said – from mere inward-looking and pseudo-nostalgic political rhetoric (as Adolph Hitler used) to full blown revolutionary rhetoric, they are more often genuine reactions to actual problems, whose populist solutions are almost guaranteed to fail.

The result of this failure – once the people have tried varieties of forms of governments or political parties and conclude they are much the same – is political apathy, factionalism (of which James Madison warned in Federalist No. 10, in the Federalist Papers), and finally a political tribalism, substituting the state for “strong man” personalities; the opposite of Plato’s philosopher king.

Plato, inspired by Egyptian caste systems, modified their structure to cultivate the idea of his philosopher kings: persons of special proven character. They were “wisdom-lovers who could be trained to manage the state”. This, to avoid the “politics of spoils”, in which the loudest, least educated classes of citizens in a democracy end up choosing one of themselves or anyone who promises them, what spoils the rich and powerful appear to have enjoyed to the exclusion of the languishing masses.

This approach, Plato thought, revealed the potentiality of the moral bankruptcy of the polis, as much as it could lead inexorably to the bankruptcy of the state; as in the age of the Greeks, making the state vulnerable to external forces. Factionalism did in the end riven the Greek political consensus. But it was the Roman Empire that became the prime example of Plato’s fears.

There, populism exploded into a bacchanalia of “bread and circuses”, all aimed at keeping the people amused amid their political emaciation; and more importantly, keeping those amusing them in power, even as the state and its state of affairs declined.

The beginning of any solution to these problems include transparency, accountability and efficiency in all government processes. The technology platform is merely the delivery mechanism, and a physical instantiation of a philosophical resolve.

Estonia’s e-government platform now presents this option in ways that are unprecedented in the modern world. It has managed to create a digitised polis, more democratic than Plato would have imagined, in which the digitised – e-governing – platforms establish a high benchmark for transparency and accountability.

Let’s take a simple example of Estonia’s e-elections suite of technologies. This alone would eliminate – largely – the costs and uncertainty of elections for over 150 nations in the world.

In regions like the Caribbean, the e-elections suite of technologies would generate a new integrity in elections – for the ease of voting, clarity of count and lower costs. Given the several archipelagos and broad communitarian arrangements – such as the Eastern Caribbean Economic Community and CARICOM – these constructs could also discover new relevancies in their operational aims and objectives; such as interoperability in cross-referencing databases.

I confess that my argument and intention here is even more ruthless than may at first appear: I am suggesting that Estonia’s achievements – even if they are short of e-democracy – are sufficiently disruptive of the old political arrangements, that we may now contemplate a wholesale rejection of the presumption of “representative democracy” as imagined in the Enlightenment. I assert further that such a rejection be enforced in preference for digital participatory democracy, as was imagined in concept by Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).

Rousseau’s concepts of participatory democracy were an attempt – if I may put it in terms of the history of ideas – to splice the ideas of Thomas Hobbes with those of Karl Marx.

That is a mouthful.

But here is the practical implication: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) thought the idea of the people governing and the government serving was naive to the point of foolishness. He thought that once government was instituted, it would make itself the priority – a Leviathan – and the citizens could survive only through obedience and feckless loyalty. On the other hand, Marx’s romanticism outlines the evolution of the state into a nirvana of political harmonies out of the decline of the power relations of capitalism into a proletarian paradise. Hobbes’ resigned, pliant citizen becomes Marx’s noble proletarian; who escapes Hobbes’ dictatorship through the proletarian paradise.

Rousseau rejected – implicitly – the ideas of Hobbes and Marx, and in the full disquisition of his matured political thought, he advocated the idea of full participation of people in their governance.

There is much to be explained in such a notion. However, I emphasise here – with laboursome petition – that Estonia’s e-governing platform is the first practical means we have in the world, already in various stages of execution, beyond old concepts of democracy, and even beyond mere “government-by-clicks”, to justify the rejection of nearly all political organising theses from Plato to the Enlightenment, capable of cultivating and ensuring a board realisation of participatory e-democracy.

The Estonian imperative

In the case of e-governance, there is both an “Orwellian” and a “Huxleyan” risk. George Orwell – the author of among other books, “1984” and “Animal Farm” – held a severe distrust of governments with technological advantages that exceeded the citizens access of ownership of the same. He imagined it would lead – inexorably – to government over-lordship, through technological dominance.

Adolphus Huxley thought differently: he imagined in “A Brave New World” that the risk in the new technological world was not an over-lording government, but – in an eerie forecast of social media, he thought people would give up their information willing, handing power over to the technological advanced state, for nothing.

It is right to ask in which direction is Estonia’s e-governance model leaning; with the understanding that different governments could drive the citizen experience in different ways.

There is a philosophical argument in Estonia itself concerning the meaning of its e-governance platform in political terms.

One argument is that Estonia’s chief accomplishment is efficient government services and nothing more. And whatever democratic characteristics are exhibited by or through the e-governance platforms, are and were already inherent in Estonian democracy.

The alternative argument says: the very launch, advancement and maintenance of an e-governance system implies the lets and fetters of democracy. Here it is argued that even if the Estonian e-governance model makes primary the delivery of efficient citizen services, already that is a re-balancing of the power relations between those who govern and those who are governed; since the system obliges the Estonian government to address the needs of its populace in real terms and real time, consistent with the capacities of the platform.

I surmise that Estonia must undertake a categorisation exercise.

First, it must make explicit the objective, method and pathway to e-democracy in an explicit manner, even if its aspirational. This categorisation must confirm by demonstration that its e-government platforms are not mere platforms for citizen services through ICT; showing instead  that the e-governance platform is characterised by and as pathmarks toward e-democracy, in which the weight of political power is transmuted from government to the citizen; so to the advantage of the governed, as it is reduced for those who govern.

Second, there are structural considerations. For instance, terms like transparency and accountability are used often in lists of administrative priorities, and often separately. But accountability and participation are the same mechanism. Platforms designed for greater participation are accountability platforms. Transparency and accountability are therefore active information exchange mechanisms aimed at lessening the advantage of the giver of information against the receiver of the same; devolving power to the receiver to both access and assess information.

The discordant manner in which the terms are referenced often is a measure of how little we have thought through the practical implications of a genuine participatory political system and the jobs such terms must do in defining such a system.

Conclusion

There is a further and crucial consideration: Estonia adopted many of its participatory democracy features as part of the “innovator’s imperative”; when – in its case – necessity mothered invention. They were not philosophising. That means, transparency and accountability were unavoidable tag-along and drag-along imperatives, implicit in Estonia’s innovator’s solution-building. Insofar as Estonia’s contacts with other nations is primarily the promotion of its platform, those nations may not be motivated optimally.

This questions whether the Estonian experience is transferable. Other nations seeking to import the Estonian successes would have to have to accept, deliberately and intentionally, the thesis put forward by Dr Liia Hänni: that greater democratisation is implicit in the Estonian e-government platforms. That is, governments that desire Estonia’s reputation as an e-governing centre, but do not wish to give up control, face transparency or deal with the political consequences of accountability, such governments will adopt these platforms and their suites of technologies as trophies rather than tools.

This tool imperative is central to Estonia’s citizen-focused, unperturbed extension of its e-governing technologies to every sphere of its national life.

Estonia’s achievement therefore not only addresses this two-millennia problem of human political organisation, it establishes a threshold in practical terms and now offers us the best chance to cultivate a new type of democracy, in which governments resolve to reduce their control and open themselves to the integrity which accountability brings; even as we develop a new narrative of political science both to describe, enhance and share it.

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The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover: An Estonian woman using her ID card (the image is illustrative).

The world’s first 5G phone call made in Tallinn

The world’s first 5G phone call was made in Tallinn on 27 June after the mobile operator, Elisa, opened its fifth-generation cell network in the city and in the Finnish town of Tampere.

The phone call was initiated by the Estonian minister of economy, Kadri Simson, who called her Finnish colleague, Anne Berner, in Tampere, Finland.

“The weather is nice and it’s an unbelievable opportunity to contact you like this,” were Simson’s first words over the 5G network.

The new cell network was opened in Tallinn’s Rotermann Quarter, a hip area between the Old Town and the city centre, home to several restaurants and shops.

Ten times faster

5G is the next generation wireless network technology that enables clients to use speeds ten times faster than the current 4G technology. 5G networks will also reduce to virtually zero the lag time between devices and the servers they communicate with.

A speed test at the 5G network in Tallinn showed the network’s speed as 2.2 Gbit/s, which is many times faster than any wireless or wired connection in the country.

Elisa said the network will remain open in the Rotermann Quarter, and its customers can use it if they have suitable 5G devices.

Rotermann, Tallinn. Soon enough, outdoor restaurants fall into desolation. Restless people proclaim to move to the Mediterranean – or Bali – and leave this upcoming hell for good. How could you survive seven months without sipping your morning coffee outside, on the balcony? No more shorts? Come on.

The world’s first GSM phone call was made on the network of Elisa’s predecessor, Radiolinja, on 27 March 1991. Radiolinja was also the network on which the world’s first world’s first person-to-person SMS text message was sent in 1993; the world’s first fixed-mobile service bundle launched in 1996; and the world’s first paid downloadable mobile content – a ringtone – was provided in 1998.

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Cover: The first phone call was initiated by the Estonian minister of economy, Kadri Simson, who called her Finnish colleague, Anne Berner, in Tampere, Finland (photo courtesy of Elisa). P.S. We wouldn’t be able to report these stories without your help – please see how you can support Estonian World, thank you!

Six myths keeping Estonian girls out of IT

E-stonia is running short of IT specialists, the demand for them is skyrocketing, and no miracle solution seems to come to anyone’s mind, except maybe for girl power. Women make up half of Estonia’s labour force, but only every fifth employee in the country’s information technology industry is female. How to develop this hugely needed potential and start closing the gender gap? *

This article was first published by UT Blog.

To get some feasible answers and directions, Skype Estonia teamed up with the University of Tartu’s faculty of economics to explore women’s role and potential in Estonia’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector. Researchers Eneli Kindsiko, Kulno Türk, and Mark Kantšukov surveyed approximately 300 high school students and about 100 IT students to gain an insight into their beliefs, motivation, and choices. In addition, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 18 female students, employees, and leaders in the ICT sector.

So what is keeping Estonian girls and women from choosing studies and careers in IT? To no one’s surprise, our choices are guided by cultural beliefs and gender-specific stereotypes. The researchers identified six wide-spread myths that keep IT out of the girls’ lists of dream careers.

IT is for long-haired geeks

“A guy with a ponytail” (in Estonian: ‘patsiga poiss‘) is still a strong stereotype of an IT person in Estonia. If ten years ago it could have been almost true, those times are long gone. Even if you happen to be that kind of introverted anti-social guy who spends all of his lonely time in a dark corner behind a computer, that’s a sure disadvantage.

Current ICT students and employees point out that social skills and openness, perhaps more typically associated with being a woman, are highly valued and sought for in these jobs.

IT people are anti-social and geeky

Pretty much along the same lines, many high school students believe that people working in the ICT sector lack communication skills and aren’t particularly social. In fact, a lot of ICT companies in Estonia have enriched their working environment with ping-pong and pool tables, sauna, or the like, which, in fact, makes it rather difficult and untempting for someone to maintain their anti-social behaviour.

IT work = programming or fixing computers

Doris, who works as an IT team leader, remembers that, especially at the time of her studies, she always got requests to fix someone’s computer. Hardware wasn’t her focus, so she felt a bit uneasy. It’s like approaching a cardiologist and asking them to cure your leg.

IT is a diverse field that is not limited to coding or fixing hardware. Testers, system analysts, release managers, and project and team leaders are all in high demand.

You must be a badass in maths and hold a diploma in IT

Fresh graduates who enter the IT business with little or no experience don’t grasp the big picture yet. It is not really just about coding something, but creating value for someone. The times are gone when a client would come and order what she wanted. She does not need to know such things. An IT company has to be able to understand the client’s business, define the client’s needs and provide an IT solution that would improve their business model. There is great demand for business technologists who understand both IT and business, and can connect them in meaningful and productive ways.

As for the maths, some positions in ICT indeed require a great deal of experimentation and trial and error, also needed to succeed in maths and sciences. The current education system, however, tends to reward girls for knowledge and correct solutions rather than for experimenting and dealing with challenges.

Many jobs in IT place high value on experience in other fields. You may have your primary expertise in health care or banking, and be exceptionally useful in related IT projects.

There are boys’ fields and girls’ fields

Kadri-Liis, who works as a software engineer, remembers when a classmate asked her about what she was going to study and the answer was IT, he laughed for a very long while and then asked: “Really?!”

How well women are represented in a field is very much guided by what is considered masculine and feminine in a given culture. The choice of a study field takes shape in school and depends on one’s attitude towards hard subjects like math, physics, and chemistry. This attitude in turn depends on what the school, parents, and the society expect from girls and boys. It has also been shown that boys tend to overestimate and girls underestimate their math skills, even when their skills are on the same level.

The gender pay gap, which is Europe’s highest in Estonia, also contributes to the problem.

Women have to “be helped” into IT

Katrin Loodus from TechSisters says that when they started in 2012 there was a need to show that ICT was not just for “guys with a ponytail”. Now there has been enough promotion of IT among girls, and doing more could be harmful.

Campaigns that are targeted at specific groups often have an unexpected reverse effect by picturing that group as being weaker and in need of aid. That’s why gender quotas may not work. Instead, girls and boys should get equal opportunities in school to get to know different disciplines and try them out. Also, it is viable for female ICT experts to get their fair part of representation in the media and elsewhere. Role models are extremely important for children in making career choices.

Looking at the share of women in the Estonian ICT sector, it is not much different from other countries. The question is rather how long IT companies in Estonia can afford to leave out a significant part of potential ICT specialists just because of some wide-spread myths and associated fears?

 

Cover: TechSisters in action (photo by FabianWeiss/courtesy of TechSisters). * This article was originally published on 25 August 2015; because the topic is still highly relevant, a lightly amended version was republished on 28 June 2018. Read also: New initiatives try to woo girls and young women into the ICT industry.

Canada and Estonia to foster digital cooperation

Canada and Estonia have signed a memorandum of understanding on digital cooperation, aiming to work together on joint projects.

The new partnership was signed during the Estonian prime minister, Jüri Ratas’s, visit to Ottawa on 28 May. Welcomed by his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, Ratas became the first Estonian prime minister to make an official visit to Canada.

Both countries already share a membership of Digital 7 – a network of leading digital governments, currently comprising Canada, Estonia, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea, United Kingdom and Uruguay. The group is seeking to harness digital technology and improve digital services for the benefit of its citizens.

Under the new cooperation agreement between Canada and Estonia, both countries will work together on joint projects, the exchange of experts and other ways to share good practices as well as concrete digital solutions to advance these priorities.

“Estonia has long been a global leader in digital governance, harnessing the latest technologies to better serve its citizens. We look forward to working more closely with Estonia on digital projects that will create good, middle class jobs and improve the lives of people in both our countries,” Trudeau said in a statement.

Ratas expressed hope that the digital cooperation agreement will bring the development of artificial intelligence to a new level. “Digital services are Estonia’s strength, but Canada is currently conducting strong research in the field of artificial intelligence, which is the most epochal technology,” Ratas said in a statement.

Historical relations

Canada never recognised the Soviet occupation of Estonia and was one of the first countries to recognise Estonia’s restored de facto independence in 1991. Canada was also the first country to ratify Estonia’s accession to NATO in 2004.

Post-1945, Canada accepted thousands of Estonian refugees. There are now approximately 24,000 Canadians of Estonian origin, representing one of the largest Estonian diasporas in the world. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “Canadians of Estonian origin are among the ethnic groups with the highest average educational levels and incomes. Estonians have contributed particularly to the development of amateur sports and, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver, to architecture and the construction industry.”

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Cover: Jüri Ratas and Justin Trudeau meeting in Ottawa (Triin Oppi).

The digital single market: What the UK could learn from Estonia

Estonia utilised its presidency of the European Union in 2017 to push for increased cyber norms and regulation; for the benefit of security and services, the UK would be well served to follow its example.

Estonia took over the presidency of the council of the European Union in 2017, a little earlier than expected, due to the Brexit vote. One of the four priorities identified during the Estonian presidency was the push for a digital Europe and the free movement of data.

Estonia has made its mark within the European Union and wider world for perceived excellence in the cyber realm, with its established and comprehensive e-governance system which has received international recognition, as well as the location of the NATO co-operative centre for cyber excellence being located in Tallinn, in itself recognition of Estonian excellence in this field.

Numerous cases for the digital single market

There are numerous cases for the digital single market. The ease of doing business across borders is one benefit, while the most notable and popular accomplishment might be the abolishment of roaming charges for mobile device uses, meaning users can use their mobile devices outside their home country across Europe without receiving additional, and often expensive charges, as was the norm previously. Another strong argument for the digital single market is security, and Estonia has been at the forefront of shaping some of security norms the digital market seeks to bring about.

It is worth acknowledging that it is impossible to completely secure cyberspace, but there are ways in which we can mitigate some of the risks involved. The most notable is through close co-operation and data sharing. We are more secure when we co-operate with others, and also we must also recognise that data is not fully sovereign; it inevitably crosses national borders, and thus the security response to these challenges must be multinational.

While our everyday lives become more reliant upon digital services, we too become reliant upon the security of these services. Over one fifth of all products or services purchased in Europe crosses a border. Through sharing processes, regulating our approaches and close collaboration, the digital single market has sought to address key cyber concerns of citizens and governments alike.

The Estonian approach to the digital age might be characterised through both transparency and accountability, something which is clearly sought to implement during its council presidency. Estonia was also hardened by the 2007 experience of hacking on a grand scale, which inconvenienced citizens through DDOS (direct denial of service) attacks on public services.

The key challenge going forward for Estonia and wider Europe is how to balance concerns of privacy and liberty with security concerns. Enhancing security practices and data sharing among member states, while remaining mindful of the concerns of data protection, are a vital challenge to our governments, as they are key concerns to ordinary citizens.

The UK can learn from the Estonian approach to cyber security and norms

Co-operation in the digital single market enhances the ability to regulate private companies and services, something which has clear value in light of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica revelations. A small nation such as Estonia alone would have very little hope of influencing or regulating a powerful, global company such as Facebook, but cooperation in the digital single market increases influence and capability.

Estonia has played a leading role in crafting the digital single market that will run in line with the implementation of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which introduces norms to make trade and the free movement of data easier, as well as protect citizens from companies exploiting their data by introducing regulation and penalties for companies and services which abuse this data.

While the UK is a much larger nation than Estonia, it can learn much from the Estonian approach to cyber security and norms. It is disappointing that Theresa May’s government has decided it will leave the digital single market post Brexit. Indeed, the UK must seek parity with the standards of the digital market and GDPR, and businesses will need to comply with them if they want to continue to provide digital goods and services seamlessly across Europe. Yet crucially, through leaving the digital single market, they are excluded from the shaping what compliance will look like, as well as the sharing and influencing the best practices in protecting citizens cyber security.

Estonia is at the forefront of forging what these laws and values will be. International co-operation in cyber security is crucial, and Estonia is leading the way. The UK may need to rethink.

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The opinions in this article are those of the author. The cover image is illustrative.

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