Modern American diplomats are generally allowed to be creative in the exercise of their duties. Unless an idea involves a significant amount of unallocated U.S. government resources, we are encouraged to think more like entrepreneurs and not like bureaucrats. I have long liked that aspect of my job, and it’s gotten to be even more fun as Ambassador. When I first stepped of the airplane at Lennart Meri Airport here in Tallinn, I told my staff and the assembled press “let’s get started!” This was as much a challenge to myself as it was to my Embassy and to the Estonian-American relationship.
So literally since last December, I have looked for opportunities in Estonia for the U.S. business, government, academic, NGO, science, technology, and service industry sectors. Some interesting possibilities have come to my attention via already existing Estonian – U.S. contacts: shale oil exploration, a tourism infrastructure project, infectious disease research and prevention, and IT infrastructure security, to name just a few. I have also started my own wholly unscientific and ad hoc list of interesting opportunities in various sectors looking around this country.
A fundamental question I have asked in conversations around the country and also hear asked of me in talking with other Americans is about Estonia’s entrepreneurial vision for the future. Where does Estonia want to be 5-10-20 years from now. What is next for the “Nordic Tiger,” especially after EURO accession next January? Given the amazing accomplishments of this country over the last 20 years, outsider expectations are high — justifyably so. Given the current state of the world economy, I have heard very cautious Estonian expressions of future plans and ambitions. Not surprising, since Estonian sobriety and responsibility have allowed the country to weather the past three years more successfully than virtually anyone else.
“Risk” may be a bit of a dirty word after recent business excesses around the globe, but entrepreneurial risk remains a basic tennent of our capitalist system. Therefore the question of “whither Estonia” in terms of its further development as a player on the global economic stage is a logical one. I throw it out there for comment/input/inspiration. Let me hear from you.