World Competitiveness Center

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EMBAs visit Estonia for deep dive into its digital supremacy 

A total of 83 EMBA participants led by IMD Professors Arturo Bris and Salvatore Cantale spent a week in Estonia, to learn first-hand from government and corporate entities about the country’s supremacy in digital transformation. Estonia is a global leader in the realms of digital ID and government e-services, i-voting, cybersecurity and data privacy technologies.  

The EMBA April and December 2022 cohorts engaged with leaders at Nortal, Guardtime, Starship, Bolt, Gridio, Helmes, Cybernetica, Codeborne and Technopol during company visits. Estonia has the most unicorns per capita and an endemic start-up culture, with 150 Estonian organizations supporting the government-led start-up ecosystem.  

“The success aura surrounding our unicorns is so big that our young people don’t want to work anywhere else,” said Marily Hendrikson, AI and Cybersecurity Expert at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications for Estonia.  

Participants discovered the details behind the country’s business model which benefits from facilitating companies starting life in Estonia and then moving abroad; Skype and Wise are key examples. Easily granted e-residency and start-up visas allow foreign entrepreneurs to inject their cash into the system, enjoying tax-free benefits when paying salaries or reinvesting. It takes 80 minutes to start a business online.  

A visit was made to the E-Estonia Briefing Center, where students heard how strong public-private partnerships, a generation of young politicians and a sense of community necessary to rebuild the country after independence have been instrumental to building the e-ecosystem. 

In Estonia, Digital ID is obligatory and given at birth; a tax declaration takes three minutes; and marriage and divorce are the only two public services unavailable online. Internet voting – considered the crown jewel of government digital services – and digitalized health are two further major assets of the system. 

The Baltic nation is trying to present the world with a new, human-centered governance model in which bureaucracy is automated. The participants learnt the intricacies behind how the Estonian government and corporates are engaging with their counterparts the world over, who come knocking on the door for advice with everything from digital ID and smart city planning, to forward-thinking blockchain and coding solutions. Just how long the small country can sustain its digital momentum could depend on whether it can grow its engineering talent, though.  

A visit from the Swiss Ambassador to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia Martin Michelet, and a tour of the Estonian Parliament with a talk from Hanno Pevkur, First Vice-President, completed the EMBAs’ discovery expedition. 


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