I have to admit when the locations for the international trip were announced, I had to go to a map and find Estonia. It wasn't on my team's short-list of places we'd like to go nor was it ever discussed as a potential destination. The second location that was a part of the trip, Finland, garnered initial excitement as somewhere we all would like to visit. But once we arrived in Tallinn, Estonia, our minds were forever changed.
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia located on the Baltic Sea. About 1/3 of Estonia's population of 1.3 million live in the capital. It's one of the oldest walled cities in Europe dating back to the 1300s. It's also a thriving city that has a rich history of technology and entrepreneurship. Some familiar names have come out of Estonia like Skype and Rovio- the makers of Angry Birds.
As part of the international experience, we had the opportunity to visit several companies and organizations who shared how they operate, gave us real-work experience into different industries, and provided perspective on the business practices from their unique cultures. Each day we visited up to three different locations, and were able to hear from experienced business people and get to interact with seasoned professionals in different industries.
One session that stood out to me was the e-Estonia Briefing Center. As it turns out, Estonia has made it their mission to build the most advanced digital society in the world. The session at the Briefing Center laid this out in detail. Essentially, the entire government system functions online via a system called the X-Road. Functions like voting, registering a car, paying taxes are all completed online. It was fascinating hearing how this works, but to learn more see https://e-estonia.com/.
The other innovative thing Estonia has done is to create a digital resident program called e-Residency. This allows citizens from anywhere in the world to create an Estonian ID, start a business in Estonia, and run that business from anywhere in the world. Today, e-Residents number over 35,000 from 130 countries.
After hearing how Estonia attracts entrepreneurs, my EMBA team discussed how we would consider the country to start a business, or if our own businesses could adapt to the country. This was a common theme after each visit we had on the trip; we'd discuss how to apply what we learned to our own businesses or careers. Connecting the sessions to our own lives made the content more vibrant and allowed us to use the knowledge we gained over the last 14 months of the program in a tangible way.
All-in-all the international business trip was an amazing experience and truly one that I consider life-changing.
Read more reflections and perspectives from the global study trip to Estonia and Finland:
- Zach Bensusan: Estonia and Findland - Digital Meets Design
- Matt Phillips: Estonia and Finland - The Alumni Experience