Foreign minister’s statement at SDG Digital event

SDG Digital event “The UN High Impact Initiative — Digital Public Infrastructure: Scaling Inclusive and Open Digital Ecosystems for the SDGs”

Statement delivered by H.E. Mr Margus Tsahkna, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia

17 September 2023, New York


Estonia’s story should inspire optimism. More than 30 years ago, after half a century of Soviet occupation, Estonia restored its independence. We had to rebuild everything from scratch. Digitalisation became a powerful engine to rebuild our economy and society. We did not have the resources to invent technologies, but we were bold enough to adopt emerging technologies.

Now, we rank no 1 in online public service index of the United Nations, no 3 in cybersecurity index of the International Telecommunication Union. The list could continue. But – it is not about technology nor about being the most digital nation. It has never been a goal in itself. 

Digitalisation is about people. People are living their lives online, so the state needs to be where the people are.

Digitalisation is about personalised state. This means taking the tools of the internet economy – such as data, personalization, design and automation – and based on that re-imagining how the government provides public goods. We believe we can do substantially more for less. So, it is also about effectiveness. Let me bring you two examples:

First, from healthcare.  Today, Estonians have fully digitized healthcare records and, for 10% of the population, a fully sequenced genome. We are using this to build personalized medicine for our whole country. From things as simple as a GP focusing extra attention to get those with higher specific cancer risks into screening, to tailor-made medicines and targeted nudging.

Second, from real-time economy. Today, we are working to bring the reporting burden for small enterprises in Estonia to zero. Payroll tax declarations, permitting, statistical reporting – this can all be automated and done through application programming interfaces, or APIs. This has resulted in a very open, resilient, flexible and dynamic business environment.

My dear friends and colleagues,

Unfortunately, digital technologies bring along also risks and not everyone wants to use the digital space for good purposes. Russian aggression is a reminder that we actively need to enforce a world where technology works for, not against, democratic societies and human rights. Disinformation, deep fakes erode the trust and functioning of free societies. Cyber attacks and information warfare have become parts of our everyday lives. In the last year, remarkable leaps in the capability of artificial intelligence have created a whole new set of risk scenarios.

Depsite all our efforts, digital divide has not decreased. Rather the opposite.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It is our common task to continue building a shared digital world that is open, free, and secure. This is why Estonia aspires to become the chair of the Freedom Online Coalition in the near future.

Estonia will also continue contributing to the development and spread of digital public infrastructure and digital public goods, nationally and globally.

We keep developing digital solutions for data sharing and services. These solutions have been implemented in more than 20 countries from Faroe Islands to Ukraine, from Caiman Islands to Benin. By the end of this year, open-source re-usable AI solutions/building blocks will be developed and made available as digital public goods with a total budget of 20 mln EUR.

We will continue contributing to a number of international initiatives, for example GovStack that is co-funded by ITU (International Telecommunication Union), Estonia, Germany and DIAL (Digital Impact Alliance) as well as the UN Digital Public Goods Alliance.

Thank you!