HIR Issue: 
Youth on Fire

Haiti’s influence led Translators without Borders to seek ways to scale up operations, such as automated matching of translators and NGOs. Now Translators without Borders had the attention of the translation industry and its technology providers. Helping in Haiti had been successful. But to respond to that type of crisis again, while also translating every day humanitarian documents on a wider scale, the organization, which to date has run completely on volunteer power, without a single paid employee, would need to harness technology.

Firstly, it would be necessary to better connect vetted NGOs to professional translators. That flow issue was addressed by establishing a crowdsourced network that, in less than a year, has increased capacity in translated words five-fold.

Secondly, as the organization began to receive interest from more volunteer professional translators, it became increasingly apparent that while some languages could be served well, there were no translators available for many of the most critical languages where the lack of accessible knowledge was greatest, such as key African and Indian languages. It became necessary to find more potential translators for underserved languages, train them, and add them to the crowdsourced community.

The Crowdsourced Network

The first step was to create a simple, seamless, and almost self-managing community in which translators worked directly with NGOs.

The new crowdsourced community was modeled after a self-regulating worldwide translation community developed by Translators without Borders tapped the company to create an online project management system called the Translators without Borders Translation Center, allowing vetted NGOs to post their projects, and pre-approved translators to choose the projects that interest them. The first platform of its kind, the Translation Center is completely automated, meaning more translators can put their skills to work for more NGOs.

How this works is that NGOs upload documents for translation, triggering an e-mail notification sent to a small group of volunteers with the relevant language combination and expertise. Projects are claimed within hours, and the NGO receives the translation within days. This automation has facilitated the growth of the operation.

In January 2011, when projects were handled manually, Translators without Borders translated 29 projects, with 37,000 words of text, in seven language pairs, for nine different NGOs.

With the Center, in January 2012, Translators without Borders was able to translate roughly 6 times as much: 183 projects, with 280,000 words, in 25 language pairs, for 24 NGOs. Fully functional by May 2011, the Translation Center was marketed to vetted NGOs throughout the year, alerting them that they could now self-post to the network. They found it user-friendly and, more importantly, faster. Direct postings by NGOs grew steadily and by November, all Translators without Borders humanitarian translations used the Center.