Estonia (e-Estonia) is the world’s only fully digitalized nation, where almost 100% percent of all public services are online, from IDs to education to healthcare. Previously, I wrote an article about how AI can actually sharpen inequality in the world unless developing nations implement the proper technological infrastructure to be able to adopt AI in the first place. Although this is a main area of concern, few governments are stepping in to address the issue. However, there is one country that is actually helping developing countries with digitalization: Estonia.
I recently came across a brilliant e-Governance Academy report called A Digital Decade in a Year, which outlined the accomplishments of Estonia's eGA in 2020/2021. For background knowledge, “the eGA is a non-profit foundation, founded in 2002 to assist public sector organisations make digital transformation happen. eGA’s mission is to increase the competitive- ness of societies through digital transformation, transparency, and openness. For this purpose, we analyse information, create knowledge about e-governance and digital transformation, and transfer Estonian and international best practices to governments and other stakeholders around the world.”
Moreover, in this report, the eGA mentioned how it aided developing nations like Benin, Uganda, and Djibouti, Tonga, Mongolia, Turkey, Moldova and Ukraine (among others) with implementing and accelerating digitalization agendas. For example, according to the report the eGA helped set up a data exchange platform and citizen portal for Benin, “The secure data exchange framework is based on the Estonian X-Road model with the Unified eXchange Platform (UXP) software.” In Tonga, they developed a civil registration and national ID system, “A modern e-society is based on the identities validated and verified by the government. The objective of the project “Tonga civil registration and national ID” is to modernise the identity management in the Kingdom of Tonga, by implementing the first aspects of e-governance and digital transformation.” As another example, the eGA is helping with Mongolia's e-governance development, and “provides to the Mongolian Government with the consultancy on the e-government related policy development and improvement of infrastructure, national cyber security and digital services provision.”
This is just a snapshot into the vast contributions of the little-known Baltic Nation of Estonia in helping developing countries with digitalization and preparing for the AI age. In my opinion, I am not surprised that Estonia stepped up to this specific challenge. For starters, the country is the only one in the world with a legitimate digitalization track record that dates back to 1994. Like a startup, the nation built itself into a digital giant from the ground up. Because of this, Estonia has the proper faculties and expertise to aid developing countries in becoming digitally mature.
Thanks to Estonia’s efforts, our world is becoming a more digitally mature place. One begs to ask the question, if not for the eGA, then who would step into address this challenge? So far, other countries have remained largely silent. Governments from around the world must take Estonia as a serious example, and help to level the playing field in technological and digital access. Otherwise, sharp inequality will arise in the AI age, and will take on a form unlike we’ve never witnessed before in modern human history.