Over the last three years, Anett Numa and Florian Marcus have served as the e-Estonia Briefing Centre’s two Digital Transformation Advisers and hosted over 1,400 delegations between them. In this article, they look back on the emotions and experiences that came from an innumerable amount of handshakes.
What was your most memorable delegation visit?
Anett Numa: That’s a tricky question. Our job was to inspire delegations to build a better and more digital tomorrow, but I have to say, our visitors also inspired us. I had the chance to host and meet presidents, sheiks, prime ministers, and other ministers. But if I could bring out one of the visits that I still remember clearly, it would be the visit of the Foreign Minister of Spain. During the visit of H.E González Laya, our managing director Ave Lauringson and I were wearing air purifiers made by Estonian company Respiray that help protect against harmful viruses and bacteria. The delegation had a lot of questions about this product, too, and I decided to tweet the photo with the minister via my Twitter account. I would never have thought that this tweet would get as viral as it did. Many of the largest Spanish media portals used the photo, and Respiray’s air purifiers were very widely discussed even on live TV programmes in Spain. What’s more, I was even accidentally named as the Foreign Minister of Estonia. Who knows, maybe that day will come! 😉
Florian Marcus: Many of the most remarkable conversations that I’ve had in my three years at the Briefing Centre came courtesy of a programme that aimed to bring Estonian heritage youth from around the world and introduce them to their home. Being a foreigner – but feeling very much at home here – I was touched to have the chance to be the one to welcome them. From a more professional perspective, the visit of the Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdottír was among the most memorable. We discussed the ins and outs of the X-Road, societal implications of i-Voting, and much, much more. Today, Iceland is implementing its version of the X-Road alongside Estonia and Finland. I do not doubt that this has happened solely because of our conversation and nothing else. 😉
Which country have you visited the most for conferences?
Anett Numa: One essential part of our position was to deliver keynotes at different conferences across the globe. I was lucky enough to visit some extra cool destinations and events, from exotic Paraguay to the current home of the World Expo, the UAE, and tons of other destinations in Europe. Given my focus on cybersecurity, I surprisingly ended up visiting Poland the most; just in the last couple of months, there were several events covering the threats in cyberspace organised in Poland.
Another country near the top of my travel itinerary is Slovakia, which I visited several times for events organised by GLOBSEC- a global Think Thank – and it was wonderful to see that in 2021 more and more delegations visited us in return. Our focus on specific regions was very successful, and I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in other people’s cultures!
Florian Marcus: In a nutshell: Germany. Over the years, it has always been clear that the German struggle with digitalisation is particularly poignant. Throughout the history of the e-Estonia Briefing Centre, most delegations would always arrive from Germany. I had the pleasure of assisting a working group of the State Parliament of Lower Saxony in their quest to improve digital health capabilities. I also helped establish the D(e)-Estonia Showroom that acts as a sister institution to our Briefing Centre and gets people excited about e-government. The most rewarding thing for me is that I’ve been able to bring about change that I hope will accelerate e-government initiatives in the country in I was born.
What was your most significant achievement?
Anett Numa: Besides just inspiring our delegations with the magical digital story of Estonia, our goal is also to promote Estonian ICT sector players – the ones behind the development of many e-solutions used by our digital nation. Therefore, I would say my most significant achievements have been when, after a successful conference keynote, some of our brightest companies have taken a massive step closer to signing a deal with another state/enterprise. More personally speaking, I was also delighted to hear at the beginning of 2021 that the interview I gave to Sifted about our e-Health solutions made it into the Top 10 most read articles last year.
Florian Marcus: I think my top-rated achievement lies in the sum of things I have done. Our predecessors have stood on stage worldwide, and they have given interviews to all the prominent newspapers. I am proud of having shifted my job description from being a Presenter to being a Digital Transformation Adviser: I was the one who pushed for the creation of our top-rated Speakers’ Corner. I enjoyed the support of my e-Estonia family in my quest to establish our podcast called “The Art of Digitalisation.” I was honoured to visit around 50% of Guatemala’s ministries to share my insights and help them solve their challenges. It’s an incredible feeling to see the impact of your work.
What was your biggest challenge?
Anett Numa: As they say, one should never waste the opportunities with a good crisis. During the pandemic time, our job also changed a lot – from welcoming delegations in person, we had to switch to online formats and started practicing moderations. I have to say, it turned out to be much more fun than I expected, and hosting events from virtual studios gave me an extra boost of confidence and experience. There was just one thing I always struggled with. You might think a moderator has a hard time sticking to the time limit, etc., but as we have experts from many different nations on our panels, I got stressed when I had to pronounce their names. Luckily, everybody understood, and these minor mistakes will be remembered as extra funny stories.
Florian Marcus: Saying “No” to conference invitations and presentation bookings. In every group, in every audience, there would always be at least one person who makes your work worth it; one person whose anger at the pathetic status quo of e-government around the world you can fuel; one person whose passion for the topic you can grow so that at the next election they decide to vote not on foreign policy or taxes, but digitalisation. But our time is very limited and so having to reject invitations or bookings really sucked.
What will you do next?
Anett Numa: As I briefly mentioned before, I discovered that if there was one topic that consistently managed to get me excited, it was cybersecurity. Cyberattacks have become strong(er) weapons that can affect the entire world, so I wanted to make a bigger impact in influencing cyber policy and help Estonia stand out with great results in its fight against cyber crimes. So, it is very fitting that I will continue my career at the Ministry of Defence in the Cyber Policy Department.
Florian Marcus: The more I talked about our digital society, the more I wanted to get my hands dirty and help implement these different tools abroad. As a political scientist, it has always been fascinating to look at how other countries require different frameworks to make stuff happen. I will join Proud Engineers, the digital society consultancy firm founded by Estonia’s first CIO, Taavi Kotka – and as a Project Manager, I’ll get to do exactly what I’ve dreamt of!
What do you wish for the future of the e-Estonia Briefing Centre?
Anett Numa: Knowing that the team at e-Estonia is among the most hard-working and inspiring, I am sure they will keep on achieving everything they desire. I will be cheering for you until the end of the days and will try to contribute intensely to cyber policies so that you would have more stories to tell.
Florian Marcus: I wish everyone good health, both physical and mental so that they can put their brilliant minds to work. I am optimistic that the Briefing Centre will continue expanding its services to spread the message (and incredible power!) of digitalisation worldwide. I wish nothing but the best to our successors: ahead of you lies an adventure that very few people get to experience. Make the most of it. 🙂
Forever your e-Estonians,
Anett and Florian