Lauri Tammiste sees cooperation between SEI centres and partners as key to the success of SEI Tallinn as well as the global SEI network. 

Lauri Tammiste became Director of the SEI Tallinn Centre on 8 August, succeeding Tea Nõmmann, who will continue as Programme Director at SEI Tallinn while completing her PhD.

Lauri joins SEI Tallinn from the Estonian Environmental Investment Centre where for the past four years he was a member of the management board. Previously, he held several management positions at the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, gaining a broad interdisciplinary background. Lauri graduated in public administration from Tartu University in Estonia, and spent a semester at Maastricht University.

After his first month at work, Tammiste shares his ideas and insights for the future of the SEI Tallinn centre.

Q: You have extensive background working in public administration in Estonia. What was the focus of your previous work? 

LT: I had the pleasure of working at the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications for seven years, taking up four different positions during that time. It’s one of the big advantages of countries with a small administration like Estonia – you can do interdisciplinary work. And you really have to multitask; there is no other way. So in this sense I have been very lucky to work in several exciting fields.

I started out as an executive officer at the technology and innovation policy unit at the ministry and I dealt mostly with entrepreneurship, innovation, R&D, cooperation between universities and companies, and boosting private sector innovation. So that way I gained a fairly good understanding of challenges that universities or knowledge-intensive companies are facing.

After that I also headed the ministry’s economic analysis division for two years, which once again was a completely new learning opportunity for me. I got to work with a team of economists to support the policy analysis and decision-making at the ministry. What was exciting was that the unit supported all of the core policy areas. That meant transport, energy, the internal market, and so on. So we had questions from the management like should we invest in this given area, or what would be the impact if we adopt this or that amendment in law, or should the government privatize the Estonian post company, or what was the impact of the Russian sanctions on the Estonian economy. These were all different questions that were asked and we as an analytical unit had to answer. That again gave me a new perspective and experience.

Q: And at one point working for the ministry you discovered your true passion?

LT: Indeed. When I worked as the ministry’s director of the energy department, I was involved in all of the energy policy areas. That meant renewables, energy efficiency, the opening of the Estonian electricity market opening, liberalization of the heat market, how to push renewables in the transport sector, and so on. I felt that this was what excites me the most and what I am most passionate about. I see the energy sector as a cross-cutting area and, especially in the Estonian context, having a huge environmental impact. Estonia has the legacy of oil shale-based energy from the Soviet time. So the question of how to exit from that legacy, how to move towards more sustainable energy issues, has been very interesting and motivating for me to contribute to.

Q: What were you involved in prior to joining SEI Tallinn?

LT: Recently I worked for almost four years as a member of management board at the Estonian Environmental Investment Centre. It’s a government-owned foundation dedicated to financing all sorts of environmentally friendly projects. The range of topics we covered was very wide. We could finance a 500-Euro project for schoolchildren to go to an environmental exhibition, or a 30-million Euro water infrastructure project in the Estonian border town of Narva. So we had the mandate to finance anything within that range.

My responsibilities as one of the three members of the management board were strategy, development and communication. I was really happy that we were able to put the focus on environmental impact and contributing to positive changes in the environment.

Q: What was it about SEI that attracted you to join the organization?

LT: SEI’s global reach. The institute has established itself as a strong brand with strong experts in the areas that I care about and that interest me. SEI has very good people both globally and also in Tallinn doing exciting and important work. The opportunity to contribute to this mission, to help creating new insights and to boost the transfer of knowledge from academia to decision makers is what drives me. SEI’s success is based on partnerships – partnerships within the organization itself, with universities, with NGOs, knowledge leaders and decision makers.

Q: What do you see as the key challenges for SEI Tallinn, both locally and regionally?

LT: I would really like to help ensure that SEI is the first organization that comes to mind when people want to ask for advice and expertise in environmental and sustainability related issues, whether it’s the ministries or the business sector that need this support.

First and foremost, we need to define a clear profile for the Tallinn Centre: what are the areas that we want to be strong in and known for? Secondly, I would also like to help our centre to grow and to reach a critical mass of activities.

And thirdly, it seems to me that we have not yet exploited all the knowledge and capacities in our global network to its full potential. So in many cases, we might not need to take on board more people for our projects, but rather utilize the knowledge and skills already present in other centres.

Q: The Tallinn Centre will be hosting the SEI Board meeting in September, including a seminar that will look at practical steps to bridge science, policy and financing for a low-carbon energy system. What is the centre trying to highlight with the seminar?

LT: There are a number of objectives.

One is to showcase what SEI Tallinn and SEI have been doing in recent years and to highlight our areas of expertise. So this is a unique opportunity to invite partners and Estonian decision-makers to meet our global network.

I would also like to point toward new areas where SEI Tallinn has not yet been very active, but which are highly relevant and have the potential to grow. For example, green financing, where there are projects being developed by other centres and where I have experience and background.

I know that in Estonia, as well as in the Baltic area, in transition countries, in Eastern Europe, and actually everywhere globally, there’s a demand for advice and knowledge on new innovative financing solutions.

For example, on climate policy the key issue is how to move from political agreements and slogans into policies that would actually work, which can be financed not only with public funding, but attracting the private sector as well. So this is one of the key issues in terms of the success of transitioning to a low carbon economy in society and to sustainable solutions. All in all, we would like to introduce and shed more light on these topics.

Q: In 2017 the SEI Tallinn Centre will turn 25. It’s a time to reflect, set new goals, but also to celebrate. Does the centre have any plans yet for that?

LT: We have a lot of plans! We already organized a very nice brainstorming session with the SEI Tallinn team on green financing, and I was very happy to see so many good ideas coming in. So actually what we rather have to do is to digest and choose the ones we are confident that will work best.

We don’t want to only have one big celebration event, but rather use the anniversary to engage our partners and the wider public throughout the year through different events. Given that Estonia will take up the EU presidency in the second half of 2017 after the UK’s Brexit decision, I see this as a good opportunity to make our celebrations more international and get more momentum by linking them to the presidency.