As president of Estonia from 2006 to 2016, Toomas Hendrik Ilves pushed for digital transformation, ultimately leading Forbes to label him “the architect of the most digitally savvy country on earth”.
Every day, e-Estonia allows citizens to interact with the state via the internet. Here, Ilves discusses why other governments might be slower with such developments, and ponders how things can improve further in the future.
Estonia had a rapid ascent to becoming a leading digital country, how did you push for this as a diplomat in the 90s?
Estonia became independent in ’91, and everyone was trying to figure out what we should do – we were in terrible shape economically and completely in disaster. Different people had different ideas. My thinking was basically that no matter what, we would always be behind.
In ’93, Mosaic (The web browser that popularised the World Wide Web) came out, which I immediately got. You had to buy it at the time. I looked at this, and it just struck me that, ‘Wow, this is something where we could start out on a level playing field, no worse off than anyone else’.
For that, we had to get a population that really is interested in this stuff, so I came up with this idea – which later carried the name of Tiger’s Leap – which was to computerise all the schools, get computers in all the schools and connect them up. It met with huge opposition, but the government finally agreed to it. By 1998, all Estonian schools were online.
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