Estonia’s e-Residency programme is now being used by the United Nations (UN) to improve access to e-commerce and entrepreneurship in developing countries.
In 2000, Estonia became the first country to declare that internet access is a human right, a notion that was then backed by the UN and other countries around the world in various forms. As internet access increases rapidly around the world, Estonia is now leading again by ensuring that access to entrepreneurship online is also available to everyone through e-Residency. In recognition of the enormous potential of e-Residency to empower entrepreneurs who are currently held back by their location and circumstances, e-Residency has partnered with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to launch a groundbreaking new initiative called eTrade For All.
The goal of eTrade For All is to help unlock global growth by supporting developing countries as they empower their citizens to access e-commerce and entrepreneurship. The programme is supported by Jack Ma, the Founder and Chairperson of the Alibaba Group, which owns China’s largest online retailer. Jack Ma worked as a teacher before starting his first online business and didn’t acquire his first computer until the age of 33. He’s on a mission to spread the benefits of e-commerce and entrepreneurship to more people around the world so has joined UNCTAD as a Special Advisor. Jack Ma predicts that 90% of all business will be online in the next 30 years. At present, however, a large proportion of the world’s population is unable to benefit from that growth – often just because of where they live.
People in developing countries, women and other marginalized groups currently have the greatest challenges accessing e-commerce. In many circumstances, the financial and administrative barriers to establishing and managing a business may be too high, their business may not be trusted online or they may have difficulty accessing all the tools they need, such as international payment providers.
This is why Estonia’s e-Residency programme is crucial to helping unleash the world’s entrepreneurial potential. It means aspiring entrepreneurs can apply for a secure digital identity issued by the government of Estonia and then use it to establish and manage an EU company online with minimal bureaucracy. Such is the potential of this initiative to transform the world for the better that the G20 has now recommended that all its members actively support e-Trade For All and its key policy areas. One of the first examples of e-Residency’s work as a partner in e-Trade For All is now underway in Delhi, India, where women are being helped to start their online businesses through e-Residency of Estonia.
The Indian Institute of Technology Delhi has launched an initiative called Women Entrepreneurship and Empowerment (WEE), which is supported by the Indian government’s Department of Science and Technology. At present, women in developing countries are the least likely to benefit from internet access so WEE is helping the participants develop their business ideas and then turn them into a reality through e-Residency.
Riho Kruuv, Estonian Ambassador to India, explains that Estonia and WEE have a shared objective of empowering women entrepreneurs and helping them scale to international markets. ‘By eliminating physical borders, we can provide new opportunities that the digital world offers to people no matter where they were born,’ says Ambassador Kruuv. ‘By doing this, they will also become active players in the growth of their own country.’
Among the participants in the programme is Sakshi Gupta from Delhi who has always dreamt of running her own business, but says she lacked the knowledge and confidence until she discovered the WEE initiative. ‘The mentors are not just providing accurate guidance, but they also keep boosting our morale to achieve something big in life,’ says Gupta. ‘So, I would say that WEE is a life changer for me.’ As people in India increasingly live further apart from their elderly relatives, Sakshi saw the opportunity to establish an online business that could help them connect. She is building Zingobox so that young people can send a personalised box of gifts to older relatives, which is tailored to the time of year and each holiday season. Gupta proudly describes herself as a startup geek so already knew of Estonia as an advanced digital society and the birthplace of Skype, but never imagined she could be digitally part of the country herself until she joined the WEE programme. ‘In spite of the fact that I have not visited the country, the e-Residency programme is giving me an amazing opportunity. Being an e-resident, I can now easily access the digital benefits of a country that I have never visited.’
Speaking at the launch of the new eTrade For All platform in Geneva, e-Residency Programme Director Kaspar Korjus explained that e-Residency is not just a project for Estonia, but for the world, and is already empowering entrepreneurs in 138 countries. ‘Small businesses shouldn’t need to wait to integrate themselves into global trade. Why not support these entrepreneurs while at the same time helping entire countries overcome infrastructure deficiencies? says Korjus. ‘With an a-Residency platform already internationalized and in place, entire regions can immediately be empowered. Businesses, financial companies, governments and organisations in every part of the world can integrate themselves into this platform for the benefit of their own citizens and clients.’
By providing more people with the opportunity to start a business online, e-Residency wouldn’t just empower individual entrepreneurs to succeed, but also help their families, communities and countries benefit too. The Republic of Estonia has now begun its centenary celebrations, which will lead up to the 100 year anniversary of its founding in 2018. Estonians at home and around the world are being encouraged to offer their own ‘gift’ to the country to mark the occasion. At the same time, e-Residency – the opportunity for anyone, anywhere to succeed as an entrepreneur – will continue to be Estonia’s gift to the world.
This article was originally published on Life In Estonia n°46, 2/2017. Read the full interview and a number of other related articles on the latest issue of the magazine here.