Estonia as trendsetter in the digital age (Prize from the Bertelsmann-Stiftung)

On June 29 in Gütersloh Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former president of Estonia, received our 2017 Reinhard Mohn Prize. The topic for the 2017 prize was “Smart Country – Connected. Intelligent. Digital.” Liz Mohn, vice-chair of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, presented the €200,000 award. “Digitalization must be actively managed every day,” she said. “This is a challenge that civil society and policymakers can meet only in dialogue with the business community. Ilves has done exactly that, making him a worthy recipient of the Reinhard Mohn Prize.”

We are also honoring Ilves as a politician who was quick to recognize the possibilities that came with digitalization. “With the Reinhard Mohn Prize, we recognize individuals who not only conceived of groundbreaking initiatives, but also implemented them. Toomas Hendrik Ilves is thus both a pioneering thinker and a driving force who has made Estonia a ‘Smart Country’ in the truest sense of the word,” said Aart De Geus, chair of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board.

Prize winner gives an impressive speech

Estonia is now recognized worldwide as a model digital nation. With his creative political drive, Ilves made a notable contribution to bundling the digitalization efforts of his countries ministries into a coherent national strategy. As a former satellite state under Soviet rule, Estonia also used early and consistent digitalization to curb corruption, promote the development of rural infrastructure and establish an open climate of free speech and freedom of opinion.

Ilves sees data privacy as a tool rather than a problem, and his concept enables all citizens to be master of their own data. “The fact is that security and freedom are not necessarily mutually exclusive,” said Ilves in his acceptance speech. “You can have both. Awareness of this is particularly important amid the flood of proposals throughout the democratic West that in the internet age, we must compromise freedom in order to guarantee security.”

For Estonians, internet access is a fundamental right. Since 2002, Estonian citizens have been able to process nearly all official transactions online with personal electronic ID cards, which include a digital signature. In the electronic identification system, each Estonian citizen receives a unique digital access card. The government merely guarantees service and security. Even foreigners can apply for a virtual identity, which they can use to establish companies or carry out banking transactions.