The Estonian Centre for International Development (ESTDEV) finances 22 projects in African countries. Estonian experts from non-profit organisations, private, and public sectors are involved, with the aim of sharing Estonia’s experience in the fields of digital technology, education, and business development.
“The charm and necessity of international development cooperation lies in the fact that it is beneficial for all parties. Sharing your own experience teaches and encourages you to develop yourself, because it allows you to see challenges from a new and somewhat different perspective. In this way, African countries offer Estonia exciting cooperation opportunities, and we, in turn, offer them opportunities and knowledge for a leap in development,” said Kristel Rillo, ESTDEV’s Program Manager for Digital Education.
Developing Digital Skills: A Prerequisite for Digital Innovation
Mondo, an Estonian NGO, has been active in African countries for a long time, focusing on the development of digital competencies in less developed regions of Kenya, Uganda, and Ghana. Mondo’s goal is to teach local residents the basics of using a computer and raise awareness of using digital tools and the internet. To this end, Mondo has created digital proficiency training with a curriculum adapted to the needs of the country and community. The development of digital skills also offers an opportunity for cooperation between Mondo and another Estonian company operating in Africa, eKool, which links the acquisition of digital skills with their web-based school’s information management system.
Both Kenya and Uganda want to update their national curr
iculums, and for this they are looking for solutions that would support an assessment system promoting student feedback. In Estonia, in cooperation with general education schools, eKool has been building and testing an e-service for this purpose for some time. “Actually, cooperation with Africa is not one-way at all, because there are several topics where Africa is ahead of us and where we can learn from them. By creating opportunities for African schools, we have identified ways to improve services for Estonian schools as well”, said Tanel Keres, CEO of eKool.
Digital Textbooks: A Necessary Improvement for Equitable Access to Education
In many developed countries, including Estonia, organising children’s learning activities during the COVID-19 pandemic was a monumental challenge for schools, requiring fast technological solutions so that learning activities would not stop and children’s learning gaps would be minimal.
In African countries, organising distance learning was even more difficult. In Uganda, schools were closed for almost two years. As a result, a large number of students, especially girls, never returned to school because they had already gone to work or started a family.
Educational technology offers one way to create equal learning opportunities for children. To this end, Estonian experts from StarCloud, known in Estonia as the Opiq digital textbook platform, are training Ugandan and Kenyan publishers in the creation of digital education content.
“With the help of digital textbooks, it is possible to make education more accessible and of a higher quality in African countries. StarCloud has taken on a difficult but rewarding task, because in both Kenya and Uganda, the availability of the internet, and consequently the digital skills of the population, is uneven,” explains Kristel Rillo.
According to StarCloud CEO Antti Rammo, cooperation with African countries has been successful. “We feel that we are trusted and that Estonia’s success story in the fields of e-services and education is inspiring for our cooperation partners. It is clear that achieving goals in African countries requires persistence and long-term cooperation with local organisations.” Rammo added that the development cooperation project is a very good platform for passing on knowledge and experience and creates prerequisites for long-term cooperation with local representatives from the field of education. “In any case, the activities so far have been effective, and this will soon be confirmed by teachers and students in Kenya and Uganda, in addition to local educational software producers,” added Rammo.
Digital Solutions for Business Development
In addition to education innovations, Estonian companies in Africa are also involved in boosting local entrepreneurship. The purpose of the Garage48 accelerator program is to encourage local entrepreneurs to find technological solutions to improve the life of their community and create new business-friendly opportunities. This empowers these entrepreneurs to use tech solutions to collectively solve burning local issues or create new opportunities to improve local business environments. Garage48 conducts 48-hour hackathons in Africa and offers in-depth mentorship involving both local and international experts in training and follow-up consulting.
The NGO Peipsi Koostöö Keskus creates new innovative opportunities for youth employment and entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector in Uganda. The aim of the cooperative is to improve the livelihood and well-being of Ugandans through environmentally friendly agricultural entrepreneurship.
According to Kristel Rillo, when cooperating with African countries, it is important to understand the local cultural space and principles of economic activity. “We have to bear in mind that in most cases it is not possible to simply imitate those approaches that work well in Estonia. Rather, it is important to adapt services and methods to local needs, or to support local partners in creating solutions suitable for them,” explains Rillo.
Cooperation with Africa Requires Cooperation Between Estonian Partners
As an aspect of development cooperation, ESTDEV organises a scholarship program with Estonian educational institutions. This program encourages the higher education of students from partner countries in Estonia, in specialties that are necessary for the implementation of the development plans of their home countries. A total of 300 students from Africa currently study in Estonia. Of these, there are 15 students with the ESTDEV scholarship who are studying subjects related to the operation of e-government and will return to their home country after the end of their studies. In the future, the goal of the scholarship program is to increase the number of students earning degrees related to education management.
In addition to training students from partner countries, ESTDEV also mediates the cooperation and exchange of experiences between state institutions and top specialists in the public sector.
“With inter-organisational cooperation, it is possible to increase the e-governance capacity of countries and also raise officials’ awareness of the possibilities and risks of using digital tools at the state management level,” explained Kristel Rillo.
According to Karin Maasel, head of ESTDEV’s Africa and Emerging Markets, ESTDEV’s biggest goal is to develop a more strategic and large-scale cooperation format than the current project-based approach with Estonian and African partners:
“In order for development cooperation in large and densely populated regions like Africa to be effective, it is important for Estonia, as a small country, to do things in a coordinated manner. To this end, we set common goals with our Estonian partners and also involve organisations and services from other countries with similar goals and values in our cooperation,” explained Karin Maasel.
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Estonian Centre for International Development is a government foundation that manages and implements Estonia’s participation in international development cooperation and humanitarian aid projects, with the aim of increasing Estonia’s contribution to global security and sustainable development.