Professor Hilary Foottit, University of Reading

 

Over the last decade, major changes in the international NGO sphere have simultaneously emphasised the need for local community empowerment in humanitarian aid, and exposed the relative lack of cultural knowledge with which to facilitate such ‘bottom up’ intervention. The UN has stressed the importance of ‘ensuring that humanitarian personnel …communicate clearly their purpose and objectives to local populations’. The sector’s expectation of greater cultural sensitivity however comes at a time when the humanitarian space itself is much less secure, so that NGOs are increasingly forced to restrict the movement of their personnel in danger zones. The result of all these changes is that local intermediaries become vital transmitters of cultural knowledge between NGOs and the communities they serve, and thus key players in their own right.

 

Whilst many NGO practitioners and professional interpreters/translators are aware of the growing importance of these intermediaries, there has been little academic research into their role and status, and into the linguistic and cultural implications of their day to day work.

 

Languages and International NGOs: cultural knowledge in communities in crisis (LINGOS) aims to develop a research agenda which can support in a meaningful way the operations of NGOs on the ground in international crisis zones by focusing specifically on the language and cultural challenges they face, and on the role of the local personnel they employ.

LINGOS will bring together four groups to discuss these isssues:

– language researchers working on the role of languages in conflict

– international relations researchers with a particular interest in the work of NGOs

– NGOs and humanitarian organisations which operate internationally

– professional interpreters/translators with a particular concern for the employment and training of locally recruited personnel.

 

LINGOS will bring these four groups together in a structured workshop in order to identity the range of issues involved in language/cultural exchange in this area, and raise awareness of these questions within the relevant networks of the four groups involved. From this, LINGOS will develop an agenda for future research through a ‘Building Future Projects’ event. LINGOS will publicise this agenda and advocate its importance within the wider NGO sphere in a film aimed specifically at younger volunteer groups, and in articles for the academic/practitioner audiences in development studies and translation/interpreting. It will further take this agenda out to governmental agencies through a breakfast event at DFID, and in a lunch time presentation at the European Parliament.

 

Professor Hilary Footitt

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