In the North of Europe, touching the magnificent Baltic sea, is a gorgeous and largely overlooked nation characterized by its medieval architecture and fairytale ambiance––Estonia. But Estonia is not solely neglected for its beauty; in fact, the nation is considered to be amongst the world’s top innovative hubs and digital epicenters, receiving the #1 spot in Europe for digital learning across industry reports. Moreover, the digital forwardness of Estonia, the small but bustling city vibe, and pioneering mindset, are factors that make Estonia stand out as the Gen Z of European countries.
Recently, I conducted an interview as Executive Producer of the Digital Pioneers Dialogue with my co-host, Mark Minevich, was with Vincenzo Aquaro, Chief of Digital Government at the United Nations, who told us that Estonia the “Gen Z” of European nations. Indeed, Mr. Aquaro was correct. The digital first mindset of Estonia is what stands out with regards to encapsulating Gen Z characteristics. Let’s look at some statistics:
“Estonia, the Netherlands and Finland respectively hold the first three places in the ranking. All have strong government policy encouraging digital learning and use, and highly computer literate populations. Estonia has especially eased administrative burdens, like tax and voting registration, through digital access. While the small Baltic nation can teach the rest of Europe a great deal, even Europe’s leader has room to grow.”
Estonia is remarkable for its comprehensive policy framework (Programme for Digital Focus in the Estonian Lifelong Learning Strategy 2020) incorporating digital learning tools into primary, secondary, higher and continuing education programmes.
Estonia takes a comprehensive approach to Digitalisation; 95% of teachers use digital technology daily in their courses and the use of digital technology beyond the classroom is encouraged through homework as well as in adult education.
"Estonia is a pioneer in digital initiatives. The Estonian government-initiated Artificial Intelligence strategy counts with over 20 machine learning-based solutions live in the Estonian public sector. In Estonia, citizens are always the owners of their own data. None of this comes as a surprise in a country which has been recognized as the most advanced digital society in the world by so many."
Let's aggregate the information from above and dissect it in order to come to the conclusion of Estonia as Europe's Gen Z nation. From the very beginning, Estonia evolved alongside digitalization of society, exactly parallel to the experience of Gen Z in the late 1990s and early 2000s. For example, in 1994, the nation established its first Principles of Estonian Information Policy, which established IT as an integral component of the new digital economy. This was followed by a 1996 campaign called the Tiger Leap Initiative, which worked to develop Estonia's IT infrastructure. It was from here that the concept of e-Estonia began, which refers to "... a movement by the government of Estonia to facilitate citizen interactions with the state through the use of electronic solutions."In other words, it was a time of great digital transformation, which brought about the following advancements:
1996: first e-banking service (Online banking solutions developed by private banks.)
2000: e-cabinet meeting (Database and scheduler for streamlining governmental decision-making processes.), e-tax board (Online tax declaration.), m-parking (A system that enables drivers to pay for city parking via mobile phone.)
2001: x-road (Distributed data exchange layer for registers and information systems.)
2002: e-id and digital signature (Digital identification based on the mandatory ID card.)
2005: i-voting (maximising accessibility to local and general elections.)
2007: cyber security
2008: blockchain technology, e-health (A nationwide system integrating data from Estonia’s healthcare providers)
2010: e-prescription (A centralized paperless system for issuing and handling medical prescriptions.)
2013: public services green paper (Mapping challenges and solutions for developing state e-services)
2014: road administration's e-portal (One-stop online service for drivers and owners of vehicles), e-residency (A borderless digital society for any global citizen to join.)
2015: world's first data embassy (Estonia green-lights plan to create the first data embassy outside its borders).
2017: NIIS X-road consortium (Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions (NIIS) ensures the development and strategic management of X-Road and other e-governance solutions).
2018: seamless services roadmap (Proactive government services that react to life events requiring minimal bureaucracy).
2019: Government AI strategy
*Information courtesy of e-Estonia
Ever since the late 1990s, like Gen Z, Estonia has been working towards a path towards complete digitalization and has achieved success like no other nation on Earth. It is the digital first mindset and entrepreneurial spirit that the nation exhibits which makes it a true Gen Z player not only in the EU, but globally.