Sun, Mar 01, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Estonians counting on ‘happiness bank’ to fight recession

AFP , TALLIN

In times of economic woe, Estonians are banking on ideas to lift their spirits above the gloom and doom of recession with an online “happiness bank” and forums on better governance.

“The main aim of the project ... is to use modern technology to create a ‘democracy machine’ that will help increase understanding among people, bring the state closer to citizens and force people to become actively involved in improving their lives instead of passively hoping that someone else will do it,” said Estonian Internet entrepreneur Rainer Nolvak, one of the main organizers of the project.

In the virtual “happiness bank,” people will be able to earn virtual money on their accounts by doing good deeds for those in need. Organizers hope it will give people the idea that doing good is as valuable as earning money.

“We think that especially with the entire world facing a recession, we also need a lot of thinking at the grass-roots level to figure what we all can do to fight the recession and make life better,” Nolvak added.

Organizers hope that as many as 100,000 Estonians in the tiny 1.3-million-strong Baltic EU state will attend 400 to 1,000 public “brain-storming” forums across Estonia on better governance that will be streamed live via the Internet on May 1.

Registration for the project is under way.

“The topics of the forums will tackle the most important problems at both local and national level. All forum group heads must select the topics from our Web site www.minueesti.ee (my Estonia) by April 20, 2009,” said Anneli Ohvril, head of the Communications Team for the “Let’s do it — let’s think” project.

“The forum participants will select best practice ideas that they will then start to implement,” Ohvril says.

Organizers expect to get at least 1,000 ideas for best practices that can be applied in everyday life. Later in December, people will be asked to vote on all the local and national best ideas to select the ones they support the most.

Nolvak says the success of a massive Internet-based national garbage collection campaign last year sparked the idea for the “democracy machine” and “happiness bank.”

“We started preparations last autumn, encouraged by the massive turnout last spring when we called people to clean up garbage across Estonia,” Nolvak said.

“The success of that campaign proved to us that people are ready to commit themselves for their country,” Nolvak said.

The one day “Let’s do it — let’s clean Estonia” campaign on May 3 last year saw 50,000 volunteers turn out to collect 10,000 tonnes of illegally dumped garbage.

The campaign organizers used special software based on Google Earth, positioning software for mobile phones and mobile phones with GPS to map and photograph 11,000 illegal garbage dumps across all 45,227km² of Estonia.

The organizers also hope that with the help of IT, the “democracy machine” campaign will help to get new people into Estonian politics where recent opinion polls show public confidence in politicians is waning.

Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 and joined the EU and NATO in 2004. It has become a powerhouse of IT innovation.

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