Jobbatical start-up company in Estonia

E-stonia: digital nation


Estonia is pioneering a digital revolution, using technology to break down physical borders and create a world accessible to all

Karoli Hindriks was eight years old when Soviet tanks rolled through her hometown of Pärnu on Estonia's south-western coast in August 1991, signalling the end of 47 years of isolation behind the Iron Curtain.

'My childhood was a very different world from what Estonia is today,' she says from the office of her Tallinn-based start-up, Jobbatical. 'It opened my eyes, and for us as a nation, which is why I'm so passionate about building a borderless world where it doesn't matter where you come from.'

In Estonia's capital, the likes of Karoli are spearheading a technological revolution that may one day make the concept of a borderless world a reality. Driving in the Audi Q5 along Tallinn's snow-covered, ancient but beautifully preserved streets, it feels like an inspiring balance of old and new.

Estonian fuel train

Estonian commuter on her way to Jobbatical

Karoli Hindriks in her Jobbatical office

Estonia's most remarkable innovation is the government's pioneering e-Residency programme, launched in 2014, which provides a transnational digital identity to anyone in the world.

To become an e-Resident, all you need to do is apply online and have a short interview at the Estonian embassy. Being an e-Resident isn't the same as citizenship, although the government is currently looking at revising their visa stipulations, but it allows e-Estonians to take advantage of the country's fully digitised infrastructure.

Since the programme's 2014 launch, Estonia has gained 15,000 e-Residents from 135 different countries. The goal is to have 10 million digital residents by 2025.

Another of Estonia's most remarkable technology success stories is Skype, the communications platform that has helped make the world a whole lot smaller. Three of the original development team come from Estonia. Microsoft bought Skype in 2011 for $8.5bn and its unprecedented success has helped galvanise the country's fertile, innovative business scene.

According to Mari Vavulski, who heads up the government-run initiative Startup Estonia, there are currently more than 400 start-ups operating in Estonia, and more than 40 companies founded by ex-Skype employees.

Innovators in Estonia are famously co-operative, which Mari believes is another reason for the market's vitality. In fact, such is their predilection for looking out for each other that the country's start-ups have been nicknamed the Estonian Mafia.

Mari Vavulski of Startup Estonia

Estonian innovator

Outside Skype's headquarters in Tallinn

Karoli's company, Jobbatical, has a place on the Estonian Mafia's Wall of Fame – a shortlist that celebrates the most financially successful and innovative of the country's homegrown start-ups. She launched the company two years ago as an online marketplace that connects tech and business talent with mainly one- to two-year career opportunities across the globe.

'Our idea is to help distribute knowledge in a new way – career adventures that fulfil some kind of dream and help to build a more diverse and borderless world,' she says. 'I'm really proud of what we've achieved in such a short timeframe. In Estonia, if you're good and you work hard, you can become anyone.'

Written by Helene Dancer. Photographs by David Ryle.

 

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The Audi Q5 in Estonia

Workers in the Jobbatical office