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Our newly-elected president: “I want to help Estonians change the world”

Change doesn’t happen in a blink of an eye. It takes time and strong managerial powers. This is true for every organization going through a period of change but is especially true when a government tries to do something earthshattering and completely new.

As such, the governmental leaders of Estonia have had an incremental role in the development of e-Estonia.

There have been many, many people involved with leading the various e-Estonia projects, the most famous of them perhaps being Mart Laar, Taavi Kotka, Andrus Ansip, Taavi Rõivas and Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Mart Laar created the groundwork for creating e-Estonia as we know it today. Andrus Ansip expanded the X-road to Europe and as a member of the European Commission, has shaped the European digital single market. Toomas Hendrik Ilves introduced the e-country idea to a broader, world-wide audience and focused heavily on cybersecurity. Taavi Rõivas has done extensive work to help local entrepreneurs export e-solutions. Taavi Kotka has introduced the e-residency worldwide and has expanded the potential market.

President Kersti Kaljulaid visiting the Estonian booth at Slush 2016 in Helsinki, Finland  © Aron Urb

Digital leadership shapes the country
All of the people above have played a crucial role in the development of e-Estonia and now there is someone new, whose efforts will shape the landscape of e-Estonia in the coming years, the newly-elected President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid.

„Real change in society, like Estonian adaption to digital environment, is usually a happy coincidence combined with skilful change management. Around the turn of the century, the Estonian government realised it needed to adapt to a digital environment in order to save costs and provide better services to its citizens. Everyone has heard of the sentence „the best taxman is the taxman you never see”. We took it seriously – the best public service centre is the one you do not need to visit,” said the President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid.

„Hence, we put people and businesses into the centre of the new communication model, trying to achieve that all public services where provided digitally as much as possible. But since the beginning, the aim was to bring private sector on board to make sure that not only public, but any service, could be offered via digital empowerment provided by the Estonian government. The rest is history.”

Reaching this goal has demanded a lot from the leaders of Estonia and it still does. When something isn’t being actively kept alive, it could soon perish. As such, the President of Estonia has a huge part to play in the development of e-Estonia.

E-governance is not a technical innovation

„E-governance is not a technical innovation. The services connecting people and businesses via the e-signature and e-contracting model, sometimes are; but more often these, too, are no cutting edge innovation. What is, is the societal change. My role is to try and help people around the world to recognise and understand this, in order to help them gain from the outbound services Estonia offers to the whole world,” said the president.

„We offer our e-residents the ease of running a business in the digitalised administrative environment, where geographical location plays no role. It is also a transparent business environment, where information exchange with authorities is more and more automatized, happens somewhere in the background. We also offer test site opportunities for companies who need to communicate with their clients and partners easily, but need safe identification and time-stamping services. I want to help all Estonians to change the world,” the head of state added.

Keeping social cohesion

„We have removed unnecessary physical interaction with governmental offices from people’s lives. At the same time, we in Estonia want the state to be present in our lives to support that we achieve our objectives, reach our full potential as individuals or groups of people. As people elsewhere do. My role is to remind e-Estonians the need to keep the social cohesion,” the president said.

The president added: „The next disruption for us must be seamlessly joining civil activism and public services. We are on our way already – many services related to offering cultural, sports, social, child development services are in Estonia offered tailor-made to small groups of people by volunteer groups of people, supported by public money. I hope that in five years time we have such a seamless society, where public support is provided wherever needed, in the form exactly needed and for the time duration what is practical. It would be a constantly automatically adapting seamless society. It would also be affordable at relatively modest tax burden. My strategic role is to promote this disruption in order to make it past the point of no return. It will help us to keep social cohesion between the regions taking different developmental turns and thus facing different challenges.”

Digital leadership evolves around integrating digital thinking into the everyday management of a country or a company. The former President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, succeeded in putting Estonia on the world map as a top digital country. It seems that Kersti Kaljulaid is ready to continue this work and for the next five years carry the important role of digital leader of this small nation.

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