The Baltic View: What Canadian Governments Can Learn from Baltic Innovators
January 31, 2024
By Skaidra Puodžiūnas
CCI's Director of Ontario Affairs
When I worked for Ontario’s Digital Service, I often pondered the strategies employed by other nations in fostering innovation and establishing public-private partnerships to enhance the well-being of their citizens. With a Lithuanian heritage, I have closely followed the innovative efforts of the Baltic nations—Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—as they rebuilt themselves post the Soviet Union collapse.
When I learned of Canada's increased engagement with the Baltic region, I recognized it as an opportunity to glean insights from policymakers and technology-intensive companies, particularly those Canadian entities supported by Global Affairs Canada, expanding or considering expansion into the EU.
My recent travels and discussions across Tallinn and Tartu in Estonia, Riga in Latvia, and Vilnius in Lithuania have provided me with valuable reflections.
Foster Ongoing Public-Private Partnerships
Lithuania is a nation focused on fintech innovation. At our innovation dialogue in Vilnius, it was evident that public institutions such as Invest in Lithuania, the Bank of Lithuania, and the Ministry of Finance work collaboratively with fintech companies. While the Lithuanian government sets ambitious mandates for the sector, they actively seek constant feedback from the public sector and industry experiences.
Impressively, Estonia maintains a robust relationship with industry-led groups like the Estonian Founder's Society. Founded in 2009 to boost the local startup community, the society facilitates Cabinet and Presidential-level meetings bi-annually. Additionally, the Estonian government launched Accelerate Estonia, an agency aimed at removing regulatory barriers for entrepreneurs, striving to position Estonia as a "testbed of innovative technologies" globally.
Enabling Growth while Retaining Roots
During our innovation dialogue in Riga at the headquarters of Latvia's first unicorn technology company, Printful, discussions revolved around the company's rapid expansion and partnerships with Canadian vendors. However, it was emphasized how crucial it is for them to maintain their headquarters in Riga. Both government officials and entrepreneurs emphasized the strategic focus on balancing foreign direct investment with a sense of patriotism and passion for Latvia.
The Era of Intangible Trade Partnerships
Echoing CCI’s Chair Jim Balsillie's perspective on the knowledge-based and data-driven economy, observed gaps in the trade commissioner space highlight the growing importance of understanding the intersection of technology, diplomacy, and entrepreneurship. Partnerships like the EU-Canada Digital Partnership underscore the need for responsive standards and frameworks governing the intangible economy, supporting growth, and accelerating bilateral business relations.
My policy tour of the Baltic region revealed invaluable lessons for Canadian governments seeking to enhance innovation policies and cultivate resilient public-private partnerships. The Baltics, emerging from historical challenges, showcase a dynamic synergy between government institutions and technology-intensive companies, emphasizing the significance of continuous collaboration.
The emphasis on maintaining national identity while fostering global growth, as seen in Latvia, provides a strategic blueprint for balancing foreign investment with patriotic dedication. Moreover, the era of intangible trade partnerships underscores the urgency for standards and frameworks, particularly in navigating the intricate dynamics of the knowledge-based and data-driven economy.
As Canada strengthens its ties with the Baltic nations, there is a wealth of inspiration to draw from their experiences, offering a roadmap for sustained innovation and collaborative success.