Influencers | episode 338

Toomas Hendrick Ilves, Former President of Estonia

April 23, 2018

Among other topics, President Ilves discussed the following issues with Metis Strategy:

  • How President Ilves’ international upbringing shaped his worldview, including the influences of growing up bilingual, being a child of refugee parents, and learning to program at a young age
  • The role that President Ilves played in pushing the digitization narrative, both before he was President as part of the underground Communist resistance, as well as during his presidency
  • The impact that becoming a newly independent nation around the time that the internet was exploding had on Estonia’s ability to recognize the power of a digital society, and Estonia’s early digitization efforts such as e-identity and the X-Roads distributed architecture which was implemented in 2001
  • The collaboration required between the government, the private sector, and the public that was required to digitize the nation, why the private sector and general public have been more enthusiastic than the government due to the business efficiencies and personal conveniences, and how thee digital system is decoupled from politics in the mind of the Estonian people
  • Estonia’s cyber-war with Russia, which was the first of its kind, and how it resulted in the creation of the NATO Center for excellence in Cyber Security, which is located in Estonia
  • The features of Estonia’s e-residency program, such as being able to become an e-citizen and set up an online business registered in the European Union, and how that helps Estonia’s economy compensate despite its small geography and population
  • President Ilves’ focus since leaving office, including his academic focus on threats to democracy in the digital era, and work with other nations that are interesting in emulating Estonia’s digital society

President Ilves was the fourth President of Estonia, serving two consecutive terms between 2006 and 2016. During his time in office, he ushered in a number of changes that have led many to refer to Estonia as the most digitally savvy country on earth. He successfully defended his country in a cyberwar with Russia, introduced e-voting, digital health records, and e-residency programs to name just a few. Since his term ended, President Ilves has focused on issues related to e-government and cybersecurity as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, as the Bernard and Susan Liautaud Visiting Fellow at Stanford’s Freeman-Sprogli Institute for International Studies, and as the Co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on Blockchain. Ilves also works with nations looking to emulate Estonia’s digital society as the CEO of Ilves Consulting Group.

While President of Estonia, Ilves was appointed to several high positions in the field of information and communications technology in the European Union, including serving as the Chairman of the EU Task Force on eHealth, Chairman of the European Cloud Partnership Steering Board, Co-chair of the advisory panel of the World Bank’s Digital Dividends report, and Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Cyber Security.

Prior to serving as President, President Ilves was a member of the European Parliament, where he was Vice President of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Prior to this, he serves as a member of the Estonian Parliament. Before being elected to Parliament, President Ilves was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, and briefly served as a Chairman of the North Atlantic Institute. Prior to being appointed Minister, Ilves served as the Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia to the United States of America and Canada. During this time, he initiated a program to computerize and connect all Estonian schools, the countries first digital initiative. Before serving in the Estonian Government, President  Ilves worked at the office of Radio Free Europe in Germany, first as a research and foreign policy analysis, and later as the head of the Estonian Service.

President Ilves has written extensively on topics ranging from Estonian language to global foreign and security policy, and he has received numerous international awards and honorary degrees for his work.

President Ilves obtained a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from Columbia University, and a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.


The World Class IT principles in yellow were the focus of this interview

  • 01 1- People
  • 02 2- Infrastructure
  • 03 3- Project and Portfolio Management
  • 04 4- IT & Business Partnership
  • 05 5- External Partnerships

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