Estonia is a small nation with a big impact. For a population of 1.3 million, they are the world’s only digital society, with 99% of Government services available online. This has led to a nation where technology is second nature. According to the e-Estonia website ‘There are 413 startups in Estonia. The number might seem small but compared to the population, it ends up as 31 startups per 100, 000 inhabitants. This places Estonia third in Europe regarding the number of startups per capita.’ Their advanced tech infrastructure and digital culture are infusing into the social enterprise industry.
I was lucky enough to meet with the CEO of Social Enterprise Estonia, Marge Maidla. A young gun, Marge has an impressive background and hasn’t even had her 30th birthday yet!
Marge has founded a green tea energy drink company as well as a school for young software engineers. She also worked at Transferwise, an Estonian startup, which allows cheaper and faster payments between countries. This led her to live and work in Singapore for a period before coming back to Estonia. She told me passionately about why she decided to come back to Estonia.
‘When social and environmental issues get so bad we need to act. My role is to begin the conversation early, so we don’t have to wait for it to get so bad before we act.’Marge Maidla, CEO of Social Enterprise Estonia
Her current role, as CEO of Social Enterprise Estonia, has the mission to increase the number, capacity and societal impact of social enterprises in Estonia. We discussed the social issues facing Estonia as well as the opportunities being the world’s only digital society!
We spent a lot of time discussing the intersection of technology and social enterprises as well as how to create an ecosystem of active players that can collectively solve social issues.
There were three things that led me to conclude that Estonia is the country to watch for the next global social enterprises:
1. Investment and Ecosystem Leadership
Social Enterprise Estonia was founded in 2012 and currently has 51 of the nation’s top social enterprises as their members and over 15 partners. They have invested almost 400 000 euros into building the enterprises and ecosystem. On top of investment, they are providing social enterprises with critical tools to help them track and manage their impact. The ‘World Movement Register’ allows social enterprises to set clear goals as well as evaluate and communicate their results. By supporting through partnerships and tools to help drive communication of goals and impact, Social Enterprise Estonia is creating a strong and dynamic network. Marge spoke about how this underlying foundation will help take the social enterprise market to the next level.
2. Focusing on the Next Generation
Social Enterprise Estonia has a range of programs aimed at young people. ‘I want to inspire the next generation to stay in Estonia and build businesses that solve our social and environmental issues.’ Marge understands the importance of having a young and dynamic population, with almost 1 in 5 Estonians over the age of 65 (World Bank data).
Their program, Changemakers Academy is a social entrepreneurship competition for 14-19-year-olds working with the British Council to raise awareness of social entrepreneurship, connect Estonian-Russian-speaking young people and to give young people the opportunity to take the first steps in the business world with the help of mentor and entrepreneur, to learn marketing. To date, almost 500 students have been involved in the program.
Marge shared that one of the previous students of the Changemakers Academy is now leading the Changemakers Academy program development now and has also worked on marketing for Social Enterprise Estonia.
They are providing new skills and pathways for young people to see opportunities to work in a purpose led environment and to see that they can make an impact at any age! You can see a great summary video of one of their Changemaker Academy cohorts here.
3. Estonia’s e-Residency
This is the truly exciting part and ‘secret ingredient’ of the social enterprise landscape in Estonia. The e-Residency allows digital entrepreneurs from around the world to start and manage an EU-based company online. Estonia is the first country to offer e-Residency, a government-issued digital identity and allows companies to trade in Europe with minimal corporate tax. It takes about 15 minutes to get set up and everything can be managed online. For social enterprises that want to set up their operations in Estonia, the process is super easy and cost-effective. You can read more about the benefits here. It is perfect for digital nomads and freelancers who want to have a presence in Europe, but it is also a great testing ground for tech-based social enterprises to have access to Europe as well as Estonia.
Case study: Estonia’s first social enterprise e-resident
In 2017, after great success in the UK, The Skill Mill decided to open up a new branch in Estonia.
The Skill Mill employs ex-offenders to clean up rivers and plant new landscapes. This not only improves the environment, but also significantly reduces rates of reoffending by ensuring people with troubled pasts can pursue a better future.
They set up their e-residency so they could start programs in Estonia and the Director, David Parks said “E-Residency was a complete revelation,” says Parks. “We were able to sign all the documents digitally and I didn’t even need to be in Tallinn. A lot of people I’ve mentioned it to now want a card themselves!” It has also unlocked funding in Estonia and was so easy to set up. (from Medium article by Adam Rang)
Estonia has an exciting period ahead, with new leadership from Marge to drive the social enterprise community to the next level. If you’re a business, charity or social enterprise and want to learn more about how you can start operations in Estonia, Social Enterprise Estonia would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org