Formin bureau chief: Estonia and global challenges – what can we do?

Kadi Metsandi.
Kadi Metsandi. Source: Private collection

It is always necessary to decide when helping other countries whether mutual aid is in order or whether a financial contribution through the UN and other international organizations would be more expedient, Kadi Metsandi writes.

Estonia has been involved in development cooperation and humanitarian aid for over 20 years. Compared to a person's life cycle, our system is about to graduate from college and strike out on its own on the labor market. We are making preparations for this new chapter at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by thoroughly updating our development cooperation.

Why help others?

Development cooperation and humanitarian aid have been a priority in Estonian foreign policy for years. Estonians have also been on the receiving end of aid, for example, in the context of World War II and when restoring our statehood in the 1990s. By helping others, we can be sure to receive aid when the need arises.

We have made efforts for years to pay forward our experience with reforms and help partners hit sustainable development goals. The most important thing in humanitarian aid is to save lives and lessen human suffering.

Development cooperation and humanitarian aid efforts allow us to support our country's security by helping to solve problems where they are created so people would not be forced to leave their home country.

Estonia's current status as an elected member of the UN Security Council helps us have a say in important matters like humanitarian aid access, protection of civilians and compliance with international humanitarian law. For the first time in UN history, digital and cybersecurity topics have reached the Security Council.

COVID-19 challenges require innovative solutions

The world being locked down during the coronavirus pandemic this year highlighted even more sharply the need to change the recent work routine and do things a new way. That is why we have included more innovative Estonian private sector solutions in our projects, regarding such fields as e-health or e-education.

In a situation where air links were severed and road transport rendered near impossible due to border closures, we had to find a way to get humanitarian aid to those who needed it in Georgia, Ukraine, Montenegro and North Macedonia. Estonian private sector products, including disinfectants, bedding, blankets and pillows were precisely what Estonia was asked to provide in an official request for aid.

It is always necessary to decide whether mutual aid is in order or whether a financial contribution through the UN and other international organizations would be more expedient when helping other countries.

Estonia has pursued cooperation with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UNICEF, World Food Program, International Committee of the Red Cross et al. for years. These organizations are present where Estonia isn't and can therefore evaluate more successfully where our contribution is needed most.

Cooperation helps make Estonia's e-governance experience international

COVID-19 forced countries and international organizations to speed up efforts to digitize services and internal procedure rules and find other innovative solutions for realizing projects. It is a well-known fact that the digital turn and innovation help one do more and more effectively for less money.

The demand for corresponding experience Estonia has is growing and we are not stingy. We will be dispatching Estonian digital experts to help the UNHCR innovation unit develop a global digital refugee identity. We will also be dispatching a digital expert to the European Commission's development cooperation directorate to support the digital turn in Africa based on Estonia's experience.

Estonia recently launched cooperation with the World Health Organization for a digital immunization passport and with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) on a major e-governance project. The Ministry of Finance has an important role to play in project co-financing and project management.

Better aggregation of development cooperation and business diplomacy

Supporting innovation and the digital and green turns in partner countries is only possible with help from the private sector. This is another field where Estonia has practical experience. Let us take the example of Africa. Supporting the digital and green turns in African countries is a clear priority for the European Union. The appropriate budget lines have been agreed on in the new EU budget.

The Estonian private sector (IT) is also increasingly looking at Africa as there is considerable demand for experience and several ways to develop cooperation are perceived.

One keyword is young people. Africa has the world's youngest and fastest growing middle class. Members of diasporas who have obtained higher education in other countries are coming home and want to contribute to the development of their home countries. This means that young people, making up a large part of the population in Africa, have the opportunity to change the continent's political, economic and social outlook.

African countries are playing an increasingly active and self-conscious role in international relations. To support innovation and young people, an EU-African hackathon will be held in December, with initiative and co-financing from Estonia. The aim of the initiative is to create joint European-African teams made up of young people and develop new solutions for coping with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Estonia is also working with the European Union. We are a member of the EU Digital4Development initiative core group with France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. This group of states is the so-called right hand of the European Commission for the digital turn in Africa.

Participation in the initiative is also creating opportunities for the Estonian private sector. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is close to finishing its first universal strategy that sets concrete goals and a road map for closer cooperation with certain African countries.

The ministry's cooperation with other ministries, agencies, universities, civil society and the private sector is very important here. Only together, sporting a concrete plan and tying together different fields can we ensure the best possible result.

Need for an application unit

In order for us to create more effective projects and map different avenues of cooperation with other states and organizations as a small country, we need to develop a more professional and efficient capacity for administering development cooperation projects.

The ongoing reform will see us create a new development cooperation center tasked with ensuring effective project management and better international cooperation with other donors. The ministry will remain in charge of policymaking, strategic planning and mapping out new partners and opportunities on the international arena.

The new unit will map leading experts in their fields and help other ministries administer and steer development cooperation projects. A more concrete distribution of roles for policymaking and application will allow Estonia to share its public and private sector expertise with the world even more successfully and boost foreign partners' co-funding for realizing projects.

Better awareness of Estonia's development cooperation efforts works to boost the international reputation of Estonia as a donor country and helps people in Estonia better understand why development cooperation and humanitarian aid make up an important part of foreign policy.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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