Editorial: the all-things-possible Estonia

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Photo: Rene Suurkaev

Yesterday, Estonia’s Friends International Meeting kicked into gear again – a tradition to thank the entrepreneurs, politicians and cultural figures convening from world over, people in various ways meaningful to Estonia. The event carrying a double benefit, for us: whatever is well here, we soon will take for granted. Through kind-hearted onlooker eyes, things get back into perspective.  

Yes, we do have the e-state that other adopt as example, but more important than the outcome is the attitude that birthed it. Because achievements are never random, and can thus be repeated. Trying to summarise the attitude: trust, daring, and willingness to learn.

In hindsight: as a nation newly delivered and again independent, Estonia was nothing different from its peers. All lacked money, and the systems were either rickety or not working. Well we did have the education and the daring (at times daredevil) ideas. Main thing, the ideas of these initial IT-visionaries were trusted. In his interview to Postimees a few years ago, UK e-state builder Mike Bracken said it was the trust he admired most with Estonia. In two ways: first, the trust of the state towards the IT-community, helping to build the public systems while providing IT-community the chance to apply/enhance its skills. And secondly, the trust of the people towards the state that the latter will handle the data right and safe.

Thus, it was not so much the e-state but the approach that helped us along.

But being an example comes with dangers, the chief one being that the innovation based on trust and daring degenerates into a PR-project closed towards criticism. Therefore, criticism may never be repelled nor the critics rejected; rather, it must be considered and pondered with an eye for beneficial application. From friends, recognition and criticism are equally welcome.

A while ago, The Economist’s editor-in-chief John Micklethwait said that whenever they were discussing some near-impossible problem or vital update, there was always someone who said: what do you mean impossible – the Estonians did it. He called it freedom of thought, something that kept Estonia going.

So let this freedom of thought retain the daring, the trust, and the leaning towards learning.