Digital Leadership: Estonian pioneers ranked in Apolitical’s top 100

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When Apolitical posted its ‘World’s 100 Most Influential People in Digital Government’ list this month, it quickly went viral on social media platforms. Among the distinguished world leaders who are blazing the digital path were four outstanding Estonians. Of course, it is only natural that a nation with a reputation as a leading digital society would have some of its pioneers and innovators highlighted.

The nominations for Apolitical’s 2018 list drew on the contributions of numerous academics, experts, and public servants to craft a holistic and diverse cast. The final selection — reviewed by independent experts from around the globe — includes four Estonians: former CIO Taavi Kotka, former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, European Commissioner for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip, and our dear CIO Siim Sikkut.

We are clearly very proud of their achievements and would like to highlight them in brief for you.

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves

When former President Ilves received the Mohn Prize in 2017, he said, “What Estonia has done in the past quarter century is the work of many people.

I did outline what at the time was considered a quirky and impossible vision, but so many smart people took to the idea that soon Estonia was racing ahead on its own.

It took a spark to light a torch that in turn was carried by many. Call it the Zeitgeist…”

It would be hard to overstate the contributions of the former president to state of Estonian’s ICT society today. During his tenure, President Ilves was appointed to several high ICT positions in the European Union: chairman of the EU Task Force on e-Health (2011-2012) and chairman of the European Cloud Partnership Steering Board (2012-2013). Additionally, President Ilves chaired ICANN’s Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms (2013), the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Cyber Security (2014), and the World Bank’s World Development Report on “Digital Dividends.” All while being an outstanding spokesman on the necessity of a robust digital infrastructure for Estonia.

Taavi Kotka

In an interview with Forbe’s former CIO Taavi Kotka said when joining the Estonian government

“I asked for the parking spot behind the government building, and I asked for full political support no matter how crazy my ideas were. I must admit that they fulfilled their promise, and it was harder to get the parking spot than support.”

You may know Kotka as the man who spearheaded the e-Residency program, which to-date has over 41,000 applicants from 161 countries, but he has played a vital role numerous other Estonian projects: data embassies, country in the cloud, VAT fraud detection, etc. Needless to say his ‘crazy ideas’ have contributed immensely to Estonia’s outstanding reputation.

Andrus Ansip

From mayor of Tartu to Prime Minister to the Vice President for the European Commission and European Commissioner for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip has always been closely associated with the digital revolution. His impressive resume distinguishes him as  a forerunner of e-Society and digital governance. It was Ansip who gave Estonia’s first Digital Signature.

Today, Ansip’s work with Digital Single Market is an ambitious attempt to unify the regulations and transactions of the internet companies across the EU; which has implication from everything from e-commerce to cyber security. In short, Ansip has taken on the monumental endeavor of tearing down regulatory walls to transition the EU’s Single market into the digital age.

Siim Sikkut

Last but not least, Siim Sikkut our current government CIO. Picking up where Kotka left off, Siim’s vision and policies steer the strategic initiatives for digital governmental development. As such, he was also one of the co-founders of the innovative e-Residency program.

Siim is shaping the status-quo in real time. He is clearly forward-thinking and future-focused; among his bold ventures is the introduction of autonomous vehicles for the purposes of assisting the elderly.


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