Words of Relief

This study, ‘Words of Relief: Translators without Borders’ local language translation for emergencies’, is one in a series of 15 case studies, undertaken by ALNAP in partnership with ELRHA’s Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF), exploring the dynamics of successful innovation processes in humanitarian action. They examine what good practice in humanitarian innovation looks like, what approaches and tools organisations have used to innovate in the humanitarian system, what the barriers to innovation are for individual organisations, and how they can be overcome.

TwB front cover

Words of Relief is a Translators without Borders (TWB) project designed to provide local language translation services to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), UN agencies and other actors during humanitarian response.

The project included three strands:

1. An online multilingual library of location-specific disaster messages translated before a crisis into local languages, to be openly disseminated through digital platforms;

2. A spider network of professional diaspora and community-based translators who would provide voluntary rapid translation services through an online platform;

3. The Words of Relief digital exchange: an online platform funded by Microsoft Technology for Good that facilitates translation of content generated from the community affected by the disaster, via social media networks. The tool was also designed to incorporate a library of 300 translated messages in 18 languages, including the top disaster terms, medical terms, SMS messages and tweets.

Overall, the innovation process has been successful in creating enhanced learning and evidence around the importance of language translation in disaster response, and has succeeded in producing a measurably improved mode of communicating with affected people. The project has been less successful at establishing wider uptake of the innovation, largely because of lack of attention to this issue among humanitarian agencies. However, TWB is currently engaged in advocacy work aimed at addressing this issue.

Research for this case study was desk-based, drawing on a review of project documents and 11 interviews with key project and partner staff in early 2015.

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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