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Highlights from Latitude44: Canada, meet e-Estonia

Last week a significant step was taken in building a bridge between Canada and Estonia when it comes to everything digital. Latitude44 is a conference in Toronto that focuses on Estonian tech and hosts startup representatives and government officials from both sides of the Atlantic.

Panels touched upon topics from interoperability and smart cities to identity verification and cybersecurity. The close setting allowed participants to engage in a meaningful exchange of experiences and initiate partnerships to keep this exchange alive going forward. Viljar Lubi, Deputy Secretary General for Economic Development at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, in his opening speech brought to the spotlight the importance of startup communities and private-public cooperation in bringing about crucial innovation. Estonia and Canada have already historically had strong ties with the large Estonian diaspora. As a manifestation of community building, Latitude44 can nonetheless be seen as a starting point to expanding these ties to include Estonia’s latest technological achievements and aspirations.

Trust and transparency as foundations

Whether it comes to the government’s relationship with its citizens or the building of systems, trust and transparency came up in almost every discussion at Latitude44 as the foundations for any functioning digital system. Carl Pucci, Prinicpal at Ovela Group, reasoned that when it comes to Estonia, we can see “a really strong sense of social cohesion and the currency that underlies that is trust.” In terms of differences, the course of development for the Estonian state and its people has resulted in an unquestioned trust towards the government, whereas the same could not be said about Canada.

One of the ways of building trust was highlighted by Kaarel Kotkas, CEO and Founder of Veriff, who brought it down to the basics – open communication every step of the way. The same principles have proven to work in ensuring trust between the Estonian government and its citizens.

Exchanging mindsets

Just as the differences in trust colour the approach to solution implementation, the same applies to framing the challenges that are being addressed. When dealing with the business of exchanging experiences, understanding the cultural context and the nature of the challenge is key. As an example of a direct exchange between Canada and Estonia, Teresa D’Andrea, the Director GC Digital Exchange at Treasury Board of Canada, shared her experiences of implementing interoperability solutions in the federal government in Canada based on the example of Estonia’s X-Road. When asked what struck her the most during this process, she recalled the moment it became evident that this was not just a matter of technology. Rather, the primary challenge lies in the cultural and mindset changes that need to take place in order to build systems that embody principles that ensure their effective functioning.

The value of people and community

And none of the above is clearly possible without the people that make it all happen. How to address the issue of talent shortage? And how do we retain talent once we find it? These are questions that Estonia has been tackling in many fields, including AI. Triin Mahlakõiv, the Co-founder of North Star AI, outlined that when it comes to AI talent, Europe is significantly lagging behind North America and Asia. Through the efforts of trying to address this challenge, she has observed that “without community, it is rather impossible to retain talent in a country or company.” When it comes to building a strong community, Canada has seen immense success. As such, the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor can provide lessons for Estonia in terms of building strong ties between institutions that comprise a community which allows for talent to flourish and stay.

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