As the first country to launch e-Residency, a government-issued digital identity, the Baltic nation of Estonia, home to just 1.3 million people, is leading the world in digital transformation.
Estonia’s digital development dates back to 1991 when the country regained independence from the Soviet Union and embarked on a series of fast-track reforms to modernise the economy. The first was a digital approach.
"Estonia was a relatively poor country," Estonia’s president Kersti Kaljulaid told CNBC in an interview in Tallinn. "Our public sector, our government and our civil servants wanted to offer our people good quality services. We did it straight away digitally because it was simply cheaper, easy."
This tactic led to technical infrastructure such as X-Road, the digital backbone connects the nation’s various public and private sector e-service information systems. In 2002, Estonia launched a high-tech national ID system, which pairs physical ID cards with digital signatures that Estonians use to pay taxes and vote, do online banking or access their health care records. Today, with the exception of marriage, divorce, and buying real estate, residents can access all government services online. Citizens can even e-sign documents through their mobile phone, which saves 2% GDP annually.
The UAE has also set its sights on transforming into one of the most digitally advanced nations, recently announcing the Virtual Company Licence, which will allow investors worldwide to do business in Dubai digitally without requiring residence. Virtual Company Licence owners can manage all their business-related activities, including document signing and submission digitally, and the signatures are legally binding in the UAE.
This initiative is aligned with the third Article of the 50-Year Charter of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, which aims to build a ‘Virtual Commercial City’ in Dubai.
As the UAE embarks on this exciting new digital challenge, Estonia can provide a blueprint on the building blocks towards a digitally invested society.