Country as a Service: world citizens of the future
In times of turmoil, globalization, digital disruption and now ‘fake news’, it’s perhaps natural for people to feel confused, uncertain about the future and concerned about where they stand in today’s society. What often feels much more certain is our heritage and our roots. And while the movement of people from country to country has been happening for centuries, people usually identify themselves as being a national, a citizen of a single country. But these times will soon be behind us.
A globalized world
These days, more and more people travel all over the globe, either for work or leisure. Shopping isn’t confined to the grocery store around the corner; it can be done online with Amazon in the US or Alibaba direct from China. Holidays are no longer limited to outdoor-camping in a neighboring country, but extend to survival-trekking through the jungle on another continent. Business can be done globally and transactions carried out virtually anywhere via international banks or even Bitcoin. Medical treatments can be sought over international borders: at dentists in Bulgaria, state-of-the-art hospitals in Thailand, and so on. Learning via massive open online courses (MOOCs) and international campuses bring new curricula and ideas right to students’ doorsteps.
‘Country as a Service’
What does this trend tell us when it comes to public services? Nation states traditionally deliver a range of necessary services to their citizens. In return for taxes, your government is contracted to provide you with a safe, secure, ordered environment in which justice prevails. Or at least that’s how it should be. Yet at same time, we see more and more citizens moving around and paying for services delivered from countries other than where they are based. Thanks to its superb digital infrastructure, Estonia was one of the first countries to offer its services to non-Estonians who become e-Residents. Unless they’re getting married or divorced, there is no need for these e-Residents to put one foot onto Estonian soil to still enjoy its range of services; all that’s needed is an authenticated ID to become an e-Estonian.
If one country can do that, so can others on the digital highway. All I will need to do as a World Citizen of the future is collect more country e-IDs and choose the services that best suit me from wherever I choose. As a World Citizen, I could be a Dutch citizen who owns a villa in the Netherlands, works for a global company based in France, studies contemporary art part-time at Harvard in the US, works on a project in the UK where I currently reside, while setting up a business in Estonia exporting timber furniture from land I own there, and importing fine red wine from the new vineyard I just bought in South Australia. I could do all this without physically landing in any of those countries, by using digital services and my e-Identity to carry out all my actions and transactions all over the world.
Breaking the monopoly
As well as the need for new services, this global citizenship indicates something else. In many of my discussions with state governments all over the world about their digital roadmaps, there is always the question about the true need for digitalization: why move to cloud? What is the urgency for governments? This stems from the fact that countries and governments have monopolies in the delivery of public services because people are confined to the country where they have citizenship. Naturally, this encourages no competition at state level and, in turn, creates no sense of urgency to innovate on the digital highway.
Here’s a wake-up call for governments: digital trends indicate that citizens can move around. So what if, in a few years’ time, the average World Citizen can choose for themselves which services they get from which country? Surely this suggests that if countries don’t speed up in delivering better, faster and cheaper services, they could become obsolete as citizens start to shop around. Countries such as Estonia are stealing the march and delivering digital services as an e-State, attracting new entrepreneurs, investors, patients, students, travelers and so on, in the face of competition for countries to grow their economies and increase their profile. And that is not fake news.