When Estonia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country embarked on a series of fast-track reforms to modernize the economy. From the start, it took a digital approach.
“Estonia was a relatively poor country,” Kaljulaid said. “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.”
A key initiative started in education as Estonia pledged to put computers in every classroom and by 2000, every school in the country was online. The government also offered free computer training to 10 percent of the adult population. The effort helped raise the percentage of Estonians who use the internet from 29 percent in 2000 to 91 percent in 2016.
In 2002, Estonia launched a high-tech national ID system. Physical ID cards are paired with digital signatures that Estonians use to pay taxes, vote, do online banking and access their health care records.