The Data Effect

The Little Country That's Gone Digital

Miro Cernetig

The Little Country That's Gone Digital

Interesting things come in small packages — and small countries.

In this case, it’s Estonia.  Existing on the border of Russia, with all the uncertainties that comes with Vladimir Putin's brutal expansionism and embrace of cyberwar, Estonia decided it needed to embrace the digital future. The New Yorker calls it the world’s “digital republic,” where 99 per cent of government services can be done online.

Here’s one of Estonia’s successes we can all learn from: The e-Citizen.

The idea is that you don’t have to be in a country, or even have the traditional rights of a passport-holding resident to take part in an economy or, in the case of Estonia, “digital society.” So, Estonia — the place you can incorporate a business in a blazing-fast 30 minutes — created the concept of the e-Estonian.

Here are Estonia’s results to date since 2014:

  •   91,406 new e-residents
  • 21,105 new Estonian businesses created by those e-residents

In March, the results have spiked, no doubt a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Citizens of both countries have taken an interest in Estonian e-residency over the years):

  •  1,154 applications for Estonian e-residency in March
  •  418 companies established in March

Not bad for a country of 1.4 million people. So why is this important?

It’s the sign of a global trend that’s likely to grow in what I like to call the MBC era (Metaverse, Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Era).

In the past, we heralded global entrepôts such as Singapore, Hong Kong and other small economies as the future because of their status as free-trading hubs in the global economy. Today, the next phase of going global — for countries and economies — is to embrace Estonia's approach, where entrepreneurs and foreign companies can establish themselves in a market without physically being there.

Estonia’s e-residents get to register for an Estonian ID, which provides access to its entire digital ecosystem, banking and the European market.  The advantages of that are obvious and, more importantly, the idea can be embraced and scaled by any person, business, country or small economy with the will to do so.

We’re going to be looking closely at the lessons from Estonia, and how they might apply to British Columbia and Canada, on June 3rd at The Data Effect in Vancouver. By the time it’s over, I just might end up become an e-Estonian, too.

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