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What We Can Learn from the E-Saga of Estonia

Fortune has seen the future, and it is Estonia.

Or, as they like to call themselves, “e-Stonia.”

This tiny Baltic country, you see, has traveled the fascinating path from backward Soviet republic to bold digital leader, all in the span of its brief post-Cold War history. Fortune’s intrepid European correspondent Vivienne Walt, who has documented Amazon’s efforts in India and Unilever’s sojourn on planet Earth, traveled to Tallinn, the Estonian capital, and brought back a fascinating account of what the rest of us ought to be doing from an e-civics perspective.

Like African nations with poor analog phone systems that skipped right to mobile, Estonia had something of a blank slate when it set up its systems of governance. So the country of 1.3 million was able to start from scratch. Or, as Walt writes, the small nation, nestled between Latvia and Russia, is “a fast-forward example of extreme digital living.”

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In Estonia, e-signatures have equal weight to written ones. That means the country is able to eliminate mounds of paperwork. All citizens file their taxes online. No dog-eared Social Security cards for Estonians: They have digital ID cards, useful for things like keeping medical records in the cloud. Estonia even offers a form of e-residency for foreigners wanting to set up businesses there, not unlike Delaware’s incorporation benefits in the United States.

These examples are the tip of the iceberg of a great Fortune yarn. I can see it being the kind of story that business and government leaders look back on 20 years from now and say, ‘Remember how in that gripping Fortune story only little Estonia was doing the things we all do now?’ Please read it and share it to your e-heart’s delight.