Whenever we welcome visitors from larger countries such as Germany, the US, and Japan at the Briefing Centre, the following question seems almost inevitable: “Interesting digital solutions, but how is your experience relevant to us? You’re such a small country….”
In response, we go to great lengths to explain that while, indeed, Estonia only has a population of 1.3m, there are plenty of lessons to be learnt: Whether we’re talking about the digital services themselves, the budgeting, the training, or the creation of new legal frameworks, there was always this spirit of pragmatism, creativity, and determination to be better. But I digress.
Even though some people in Estonia, including myself, are tired of this question about the relevance of Estonia’s experience because of its size, apparently that does not mean that it shields us from making the same mistake with other, even smaller entities. Cue: Mittweida.
Some time ago, we were contacted by people from this town of around 16,000 inhabitants about whether we’d be open to the idea of having a “little sister” showroom in Mittweida. This was, quite frankly, not an idea that we had given a lot of thought overall until then, but soon after, our gut feeling kicked in: “Mittweida? Isn’t that a bit small? Why not Berlin, or Hamburg, or Munich? How could we possibly benefit from this? And, equally, how could their investments in this idea possibly pay dividends for them?”
Sometimes you just have to say, “Screw it, let’s give it a shot!”
Fast forward to this week. An Estonian delegation comprising representatives from the private sector, Enterprise Estonia, and the Estonian Ambassador to Germany, H.E. Alar Streimann, are chatting to the Prime Minister of Saxony, heads of the regional banks, and local start-up founders. Right in between two days of rain and thunderstorms, the weather is phenomenal, and people have gathered outside eating ice cream and exchanging not just pleasantries but, crucially, contacts.
It’s the opening of Werkbank 32, a small campus packed with co-working spaces, start-up offices, business experts, and, yes, the D(e)-Estonia Showroom. The Showroom gives visitors the chance to experience what it means to live in a digital society, but there is also a link with the Briefing Centre in Tallinn because we want to help establish all the necessary connections for German regions and businesses to build their own e-government ecosystems.
Mittweida is admirably reclaiming its future – and that’s a good sign for all of us
In hindsight, I know exactly why I reacted rather cautiously to the idea of having a little sister showroom in a more rural setting. Coming from an equally small town in northern Germany, I thought I knew all about those sleepy suburbs where life is comfortable, but nothing life-changing ever happens. I was wrong not to follow the same maxim that I frequently preach at the e-Estonia Briefing Centre.
Jobs don’t create themselves. Inventions don’t come about magically. It is up to the people to decide whether they are content with a kiosk-and-pub-based economy or an appetite for something more. You can be small but think big. As it goes for Estonia, so it goes for Mittweida.