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‘Translators without Borders’: translators can save lives!

The organisation ‘Translators without Borders’ (TWB) supports humanitarian non-governmental organisations by providing translations. And sometimes, those translations can save lives. Dr Andrew Bredenkamp discusses TWB’s work with us.

For more than 20 years, ‘Translators without Borders’ (TWB) has been supporting humanitarian non-governmental organisations by providing translation services. Dr Andrew Bredenkamp, who sits on TWB’s Board, tells us what makes a good translation, why alumni make particularly good volunteer translators, and what they stand to gain personally from collaborating with TWB.

Dr Bredenkamp, you’ve got a lot on professionally, and running your own company must keep you busy. But for many years, you’ve also been working on a voluntary basis for ‘Translators without Borders’. Could you tell us why?

Andrew Bredenkamp: My job involves helping the world’s largest companies to improve the way they communicate with their customers – ultimately, to do better business. But Lori Thicke, who set up ‘Translators without Borders’, opened my eyes to the fact that successful communication can be about far more than just boosting a company’s bottom line and that I can – and should – be replicating what I do in my company for the benefit of victims in crisis regions around the world.

Take a very specific example, an epidemic like the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Combatting an epidemic of that kind means getting vital information to people in a form they can understand. And that’s where we can help. Good communications – easily understandable information in local languages – can help save lives! And that’s incredibly motivating!

TWB founder Lori Thicke on ‘Translators without Borders’

Who can ask ‘Translators without Borders’ for help?

Andrew Bredenkamp: We offer our services to any non-commercial organisation that does non-political or non-religious charity work. Most are emergency relief providers or focus on health or education.

‘Translators without Borders’ provides its services free of charge to humanitarian organisations that need its support, but you yourself have costs. How is your work funded?

Andrew Bredenkamp: Not all our services are provided free, though many are. We operate a platform that enables several thousand volunteers to deliver translations in more than 100 language combinations. These people are professional translators who give up their time to work for us on a voluntary basis. With their help, we’ve translated more than 25 million words so far. But for many, many languages – even those that are widely spoken, like Swahili – there are virtually no professional translators. And that means there are no volunteers either.

So not only do we have to find translators for such languages, and – usually – pay them, we also have to train them. And of course, all that costs money. We rely on corporate partnerships, individual donations, and government or privately-sponsored projects to fund these activities and to provide the technology platform that enables us to collaborate with our volunteers.

About Andrew Bredenkamp

Dr Andrew Bredenkamp is the founder and Chairman of Acrolinx, a business communications and localisation company. He has extensive experience in multilingual content development, and a range of organisations seek his expertise on their advisory boards, including ‘Translators without Borders’ and the ADAPT Centre (former Centre for Next Generation Localisation, CNGL).

Successful communication requires cultural knowledge

There’s a good reason why you also use alumni in your work ...

Andrew Bredenkamp: We work with translators who speak the target language – the language into which information is being put – as their mother tongue. And we draw not only on the diaspora but also on alumni, especially in crisis situations. The reason is that successful communication requires not only good knowledge of languages but also, and equally importantly, an in-depth understanding of cultures – of how we can best communicate with a particular population. Good translators need to have extensive cultural knowledge.

That’s why ‘Translators without Borders’ finds it extremely valuable to work with alumni. And for the alumni, working with us is an opportunity to retain links with their former host country and to build and develop networks that enrich them personally and may also be very useful to them professionally.

Discussion of volunteering in the Community

Within our focus topic ‘initiate.participate.change.’, the ‘Study and Research’ Community group is discussing a number of issues. Do you volunteer, or did you volunteer while you were studying? Why do you volunteer? What does volunteering mean to you? Tell us what you think!


Interview: Andreas Vierecke

May 2015

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