e-Estonia live recap: Estonia’s e-state conquering the world

Marten Kaevats, State Chancellery

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Our latest e-Estonia live concentrated on a rather ambitious topic – how Estonia’s e-state is conquering the world. But there’s substance to that ambition: this little digital nation has embarked on two giant global initiatives with the WHO and the UN.  

The guest of our Digital Transformation Adviser Anett Numa during the live was Marten Kaevats, the Digital Adviser of the State Chancellery. Marten is also a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) Digital Health Technology Advisory Group, where he is responsible for leading the workstream on interoperability governance architecture.

Little Estonia to help the WHO and the UN

In October, the Head of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and the Prime Minister of Estonia Jüri Ratas signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for developing distributed digital infrastructure providing health solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Only a few weeks later Estonia also became the lead architect in global cooperation for creating digital building blocks for the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Marten Kaevats, the primary architect for these deals, shared light on how these world-changing collaborations came to life, what it means for Estonian IT-companies and what can the whole world benefit from it.

The global digital certificate for vaccinations

Kaevats has been working for the WHO Digital Health Technology Advisory Group for over a year now, mapping out different use-cases for interoperability. “Digitising the so-called Yellow Card was one of the preliminary use-cases. Then the pandemic hit. And the WHO and the Prime Minister of Estonia agreed that we should digitalise vaccination passports,” Kaevats said during our live.

The global digital certificate for vaccinations also has the potential to certificate antibody tests, he said, adding: “If we actually want to resume the world where travelling is safe and secure – this fundamental trust architecture that we are building will help make that happen.”

To give an example, this will allow a border guard in, say, Laos to trust info issued by a hospital in, say, Chile that has been inserted into a traveller’s Yellow Card.

Kaevats also sees a bigger picture for this. “If we succeed, this can contribute to the modernisation of any healthcare sector and that will help the whole world!”

An upside-down Corona-map 

Since there is news of several Corona-vaccines coming out soon, the digital certificate for vaccinations needs to be deployed quicker than expected. Kaevats, again, sees the bigger picture. “We could also use this system to monitor the deployment of different vaccines and turn this info into a sort of upside-down Corona-map – a map where we will start seeing countries emerging out of the pandemic!”

Kaevats told our Digital Transformation Adviser Anett Numa that if this curve of learning with the WHO will be a success, it will be a life-changing event for Estonian companies, too. “Today Estonian companies have to go around and explain distributed architecture to their potential clients. After this project, the Estonian digital experience could become a global de-facto standard. It is a unique opportunity.”

He estimated that by the end of May 2021 ca 20 countries will be participating in the pilots of this digital certificate.

Thou shall not build monoliths!

The second big global project Estonia is involved with is becoming the lead architect in global cooperation for creating digital building blocks for the achievement of the UN sustainable goals.

Marten Kaevats explained that the problem that most governments globally are facing when they are procuring large ICT projects is that it takes too long and once they start being implemented, 5-8 years have gone by and society’s expectations have already changed. Plus civil servants tend to build large-scale monolith architectures.

“What we will do is put together the know-how from India, the US, Germany and deploy it in low resource settings – countries that do not have an electronic identity, interoperability, baseline registries, etc.,” Kaevats explained and compared it to building a set of lego bricks that are very small and Estonia is responsible for designing how you put these bricks together. “And these bricks can interoperate with each other, so we can build a global architecture for digital governance.”

Timeline-wise Kaevats said they are hoping to show practical use-cases in Africa within a year.

For a more detailed overview of these exciting projects, you can watch the recording of the full discussion below:

Written by
Dea Paraskevopoulos

communications manager at the e-estonia briefing centre


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