Since my arrival in Estonia nearly a year ago, I have made support for innovation in collaboration between my country and Estonia a signature theme. I have visited long-established, as well as new, entrepreneurs to learn of their ideas and projects, their successes and their challenges. From mobile law enforcement drug testing devices to new e-governance tools; from business management software to high-tech fabrics sewn into safety clothing articles; Estonia is an obvious partner for equally inventive Americans seeking to build better “mouse traps.” Technology, by itself, tends to be neutral. New things will be invented as long as humans walk the earth. But what use we put technology to is anything but neutral. We can use it well, or we can use it to devastating effect.
In Estonia and in the United States information and communications technology and the use of cyber space are among the hottest fields of research and development. A few weeks ago I spoke to an audience at Tallinn’s IT College about cyber security, including the cyber attack Estonia has had to suffer several years ago. Today I wrote an op-ed about the recent highly dangerous and irresponsible breach of communications security of purported U.S. diplomatic reporting. Unfortunately, modern technology has aided in this dispicable act. Those responsible claim they seek to inform, but instead are causing serious harm to individuals and to a good nation, whose representatives are working hard around the world to keep its citizens and its friends — sometimes even its adversaries — safe. Bottom line: technology puts amazing new tools into our hands that can make our lives better, longer, more exciting, and to protect us from harm. But in those same hands, technology can also be misused to hurt. Harnessing innovations and technology only for doing good and defending ourselves effectively from their misuse still often illudes us.
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.
Neither the setting nor the atmosphere could have been any better last week: both between the United States and Estonia, and among all the NATO allies. April 2010 in Tallinn was another milestone in reaffirming the U.S.-European community of values and action. Secretary of State Clinton summed it up with the words “Estonia’s experience, and all that it contributes to our Alliance, is a testament to the value that new members add to NATO as a whole.” The Secretary’s conversations with her Estonian interlocutors reaffirmed our joint commitment in Afghanistan, humanitarian work in Haiti, the centrality of Article 5 as the principal purpose of NATO, and agreement on Estonia’s role in helping countries realize the benifts of information technology in good governance.
The NATO meeting was equally substantive, asserting the commitment of the Alliance in training and equipping Afghan security forces, preparing the way for a new Strategic Concept at the November NATO Summit, highlightng work on positive relations with Russia, and signaling the Alliance’s open door policy by granting a Membership Action Plan to Bosnia. In all, a most successful meeting hosted by a most impressive member country.
In real estate, value is consistently determined by the words “location, location, loaction,” referring to higher price for equal types of homes in different neighborhoods. Estonia is in the high rent district of transatlantic foreign policy discussion. The country’s government and the people set the scene with a clear focus and strong determination on issues ranging from security policy to combatting terrorism to modern governance and enterpreneurial innovation. With the gradual unfreezing of public and private sector resources as our respective economies recover, we can now restock our joint “to do” list of action items in all these areas. Watch this blog for further details.
Good, modern, and efficient e-governance is routine in Estonia. So is the use of the latest technology for everything from internet voting to buying movie tickets. U.S. Secretary of State Clinton, in a speech she delivered on Internet Freedom this past January, called for using modern information technology to empower citizens and circumventing politically motiovated censorship. As an example, Secretary Clinton challenged innovators to build “a mobile phone application that would allow people to rate government ministries, including ours, on their responsiveness and efficiency and also to ferret out and report corruption.” What about it, Estonian innovators? Your country is already working on democratic society development in many places. This could be another important contribution from E-stonia.
I am going to Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia, on March 16 and 17, to meet among many others, students and faculty at the University of Tartu. At the University, I will speak to the issue of innovation as part of the answer to one of the most painful problems besetting people around the globe – unemployment. No single proposed solution can hope to “fix” too few jobs in the United States, in Estonia, or anywhere else. But creative and energetic private sectors, supported by sound government policies, must be one of the components of healthy new job markets. The fields where we need the next leaps in technology and knowledge have been much talked about: renewable energy, information technology and infrastructure security, food security, and global health. There are many more. Education and research are at the base of all future advances. That is why I will also be meeting with Estonia’s Minister of Education and Research and using Tartu University as a platform to address these issues. No country is too small to innovate and no country is too large to unravel the complexities of its economy and society. Estonia and the U.S. must join in the next innovation revolution.