Facing the High-tech in Rural Areas of Estonia
The CoSIE pilot in the Estonian Võru county is looking for innovative ways on how to effectively and sustainably combine the modern digital solutions with the existing strong but small communities and their cultural heritage to provide better services. We believe that community based services are best planned in collaboration with target groups (in this pilot the disabled people), community and local government. By following this path, we can build sustainable solutions and enhance better life for the disabled people through involvement.
We have launched the preparations for the CoSIE pilot project in Võrumaa (Estonia) with a kick-off start. During the first months of the CoSIE project, the project team has communicated with several community leaders around Võrumaa. The main aim of these meetings has been to introduce the plans of the project but also to gain information about the current situation of the communities; needs and plans for the future.
In the meetings, the introduction of the social hackathon method as a tool for development and cooperation has created positive excitement. Active participation in pre-events definitely shows strong commitment and interest to be part of the cooperation and hackathons. Although it is not labeled as social services, people are already providing help and support to their elderly neighbors and in organizing transportation. It is evident, that there is a strong basis for community-based welfare services in Võrumaa that need to be strengthened and further developed during the CoSIE project. So far, being a strong player in the social field has not been very common in the communities and they need to be made aware of the existing opportunities.
Remote and Rural Võrumaa
Võrumaa (Võru county) is a rural area in Estonia with approximately 35.000 inhabitants in total. Population density is about five people per square kilometer and the number of inhabitants is rapidly decreasing due to aging and emigration. The small population is scattered around the rural county. Võru is the largest town in the area with approximately 12.000 inhabitants.
“The cultural identity of our region is very strong. Many activities in Võrumaa are still very strongly community based. Living in small villages far away from cities makes people more responsible for their own life and wellbeing. It has been like that for centuries. Of course, nowadays people also rely on the state and local government, but the village culture is still there in our communities”, Kadri Kangro from the Estonian CoSIE team explains.
At the same time, Estonia is well known as eEstonia and famous for its digital solutions. Digital services and expertise are well developed at the national level, but there is still a long road to go in local and community level services. People are used to file their submission of income tax returns in 5 minutes with their smart phone. There is a growing demand for the possibility to manage services at every level and in every field of life with the same rapid easiness.
Community Centers are the Hearts for the Region
Many of the preparatory meetings took place in local community centers. Community centers in Võrumaa are mostly established in old houses – manors and schoolhouses. They are locations that do not serve in their original purpose anymore but have found a new purpose in their existence. These places have long history behind them and they are like landmarks between forests and meadows to show the strong cultural identity in Võrumaa region.
The CoSIE team will engage these kind of community centers and their leaders with target group representatives and municipalities to the activities of the pilot. Involving them in hackathon events will be the key to reach the goals of the pilot; finding more focused services to the disabled people that could be offered through community centers.
Even the Võrumaa CoSIE team often works in Viitina Community Center, which is an old manor house. Today the old manor is full of life: small kindergarten, library, youth center, rooms for local start-up companies and remote-workers.