The Development of massive Employment in Ireland’s Best Hidden Industry – A 3-step Guide

October 25, 2012

I am going to make a case, in three steps, for the development of significant employment in Ireland’s best hidden industry, attracting a whole new range of foreign direct investment in internationally traded services, based on Ireland’s recognized world-leading expertise and track record.

Step 1: Uncover An Industry Hidden in Plain View

Who in Ireland employs more than 100,000 people with pay costs in the order of €3.5bn? Who in Ireland has revenues of more than €6bn, and holding assets valued at more than €3.5bn?

Google? Oracle? Intel? – No, try again!

Who delivers a wide variety of public services – in health, social services, education, emergency relief and elsewhere – and creates an untold quantum of public good – in culture, recreation, social justice, civil and human rights?

The Health Service Executive, Department of Social Protection, An Garda Síochána (Ireland’s National Police Service)? – No, try again!

Who are, perhaps, the principal source of social capital in Irish society, with more than 560,000 people engaged as volunteers, and more than 50,000 people engaged in their governance?

Have you given up yet? – Here is the answer: it’s the Irish Nonprofit Sector.

Many hard-core business people still look at the nonprofit sector as a ‘nice-to-have’ that keeps the eternal do-gooders busy, while ‘it is business that creates employment. It is profits that focuses the mind, drives business, and inspires innovation’.

By contrast, Ireland’s Minister for Justice and Equality recently said that it might be more appropriate to think of the nonprofit sector as an industry. For hard-core profit-driven business innovators, it might, indeed, be a surprise to hear that, in scale, the nonprofit sector in Ireland is at least comparable to if not greater than agriculture or tourism as a source of employment.

Isn’t it time to acknowledge the facts?

Step 2: It’s International, Stupid!

Now that we know how important the nonprofit enterprises are in Ireland, let’s have a look across the ocean and get some facts about the nonprofit sector in the USA and its international operations, its internationally traded services.

The nonprofit sector in the USA has revenues of US$1.9 trillion and assets of US$3 trillion.  That is about a third higher than the combined revenues created by the oil and gas sector.

Nonprofit companies create 20% more employment (by revenue) than for profit companies. Their ‘shareholders’ are the people they support and work with. Whatever revenues they generate they are always re-invested into the organization. Revenues cannot and are never taken out of the organization and paid out as dividends to make individuals rich.

Bonnie Koenig’s 2004 Book on internationally operating nonprofits

The nonprofit sector has ‘international’ coded into its DNA. Nonprofit organizations deal with ethnic, linguistic and social minorities; they work across borders; their staff and their clients are, in many cases, based across different countries; their fundraising efforts, outreach, and communications strategies are multi-cultural and multi-lingual – even when they work locally. The Rosetta Foundation in Ireland delivered its first translation job into African languages to Ruhama, a Dublin-based organization working with women from around the globe living in Ireland.

Isn’t it time to recognize the scale of internationally traded nonprofit enterprises?

Step 3: A Small Country on the Edge of Europe

Ireland is a small country on the western edge of Europe. However, there are many areas where Ireland has continuously ‘punched above its weight’. One of these areas is that of support for people in need, a trait that many relate back to Irish history, its experience as an occupied country over many centuries, the oppression of its language and culture, the Irish famine, and mass emigration.

Ireland is a country that is regarded as friendly, non-partisan, and generous. Some of the world’s most high profile charity events were led by Irish people, such as the 1985 Live Aid event, organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for the relief of the ongoing famine in Ethiopia, which attracted a global live audience of 1.9 billion across 150 nations. Another prominent Irishman involved in global development issues is u2’s lead singer Bono. Ireland’s former President, Mary Robinson, was the high profile UN Commissioner for Human Rights.

On the business side, Ireland has become a global leader in internationally traded services. 84% of Irish goods are exported. According to the IDA, the Irish government agency responsible for attracting foreign direct investment to the country, nine out of ten top pharmaceutical companies are located in Ireland. The country has also evolved into one of the world’s most important centres for high-tech businesses, especially in the Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) sector. Nine out of the top ten ICT companies maintain a presence in Ireland. They are responsible for 25% of Ireland’s total turnover and represent one third of Ireland’s exports by value.

Ireland was the birthplace of the localisation industry in the 1980s. Softrans International was one, if not the first localisation service provider; Lotus Development was the first true multinational digital publisher to establish a significant presence outside of the US in Ireland.

The localisation industry made Ireland at some point the world’s largest exporter of software, ahead of the USA.

Isn’t it up to Ireland to take the lead in what promises to be the most significant growth opportunity for the industry, according to world leading experts, i.e. user-driven, community oriented, and socially aware international, and translation and localisation services?

Isn’t it time for Ireland to focus on the development of Ireland as a world centre for nonprofit internationally traded services?


To make it very clear: (1) Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) or companies are enterprises. What differentiates them from for profit enterprises is that they are not owed by individuals; they cannot be sold; and they do not have shareholders, nor do they pay dividends. (2) Charities are nonprofit organizations or companies with philanthropic goals. Otherwise, they can be run just like any other company or enterprise. They can be and should be at least as goal oriented, efficient, and innovative as for profit companies. One central differentiator is that they create significantly more and more stable employment (by revenue) than for profit enterprises whose main goal is to look after the interest of their owners or shareholders.

The Centre for Next Generation Localisation (CNGL), a Centre for Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) and Irish research flagship investment, has

Working with thousands of volunteers and communities for non-market-driven knowledge exchange across languages

produced highly innovative technology that has been taken up by one of its most successful spin-offs, The Rosetta Foundation, to power the work of thousands of volunteers for dozens of nonprofits who are operating internationally. Within a very short period of time, The Rosetta Foundation has had a significant impact on the work of nonprofits in Ireland and abroad, operationalizing world-leading research made in Ireland.

The Irish Government needs to ask itself whether its efforts and money are really best spent almost exclusively on attracting and keeping multinational for profit enterprises who move quickly to where they can make the highest profits.

Here is the call for action: Let’s uncover an industry hidden in plain view; acknowledge the deep international nature of nonprofit enterprise and its need for nonprofit translation and localisation services; position Ireland as the ideal location for internationally traded nonprofit technology, products and services.


For further reading and information check the following:
Irish Nonprofits Knowledge Exchange (INKE), Irish Nonprofits: What do we know? (January 2012)
Clay Shirky, How cognitive surplus will change the world (June, 2010)
John Mulholland, Bono on Africa: ‘What excites me is thinking about its future’. The U2 singer tells the Observer’s editor why the continent stands on the brink of becoming an economic powerhouse. The Observer, Sunday 20 February 2011.
Michelle McHugh, Pharmaceuticals in Ireland (no date).
Aoife O’Brien, ICT Ireland (no date). This article provides a good overview of the ICT sector in Ireland backed up by solid up-to-date data.
Centre for Next Generation Localisation
Localisation Research Centre  (LRC) at the University of Limerick
The Rosetta Foundation

Become a ‘Friend of The Rosetta Foundation’ and donate $5/month to support the core operations of the Foundation.

ONE – Is it getting better? tekom ’12

October 24, 2012

‘Do you really believe that this is a US$32 billion industry?’, said the hardcore tycoon to us with desperation in his voice at dinner (he was paying), looking around and remembering his first day at what had been sold to him as the world’s largest localisation industry event. He had been brought in as CEO by a large localisation service provider (LSP) to float the company on the stock exchange within three years. He had expected to make a killing, big bucks – and now this irritating feeling kept creeping up in his stomach that he had swallowed a “lemon”. The tycoon had decades of experience in big business. He looked at industry events as showcases, trading posts, and shop fronts to potential clients and to the world. What he had experienced that day was more reminiscent of a class reunion: it was a meeting of people who had come together to show that they were still around and that they were doing well.

This week, 23-25 October, in the middle of the busy conference season, the world’s largest event for technical communications, the tekom annual conference and the tcworld and tekom fair, is taking place in one of Germany’s least know cities, Wiesbaden. It will attract 2,400 conference participants and 1,200 visitors to Wiesbaden’s Rhein-Main Hallen.

I was there on Monday, when exhibitors were getting ready setting up their stalls. It was impressive. Like a ‘real’ trade show. Technician’s high up on cranes fitting sophisticated displays. Carpenters fitting high-gloss veneers. Caterers making sure workers had enough to eat and drink during their day-long job erecting “stands” of a size that would cover the entire exhibition space of a “global” localisation event. The place was full of energy, it was busy, and it was big. It felt like what it promised to be: a global event.

Walking around, I met many friends and colleagues who were busy getting their material organised. Most of the localisation and translation industry associations had their booth already set up, among them Tekom, ELIA and GALA. All of them, with the notable exception of the tekom stand, were modest in size and sparse in fittings. I was wondering: was that because these were small associations, because they did not want to be seen by their members to “waste” their membership fees, or was it because they were just not used to present themselves as what they are: large, significant, and global trade associations.

A lot of the localisation service and technology providers were there too, among them Across, Lucy Software, Plunet, and SDL, many with installations of a size I had never seen before. They must look at this as a good investment, something that will be worth their while, looking the business, representatives of a US$32 billion industry – even if this is, remember, not a localisation, but a technical communications conference and fair.

I like the GALA conference, I like Localisation World, and, of course, I very much like the world’s oldest dedicated localisation event, the Annual LRC Conference in Limerick, Ireland. I like meeting friends and colleagues, and the opportunity to find out how they are doing. I always learn something new and the personal contacts are invaluable for my work. But I would also like an event, one event, for our industry that felt truly global, inclusive, and like a statement. That of a US$32 billion industry. Anyone?

PS: One (“Is it getting better? Or do you feel the same? Will it make it easier on you now? You got someone to blame.”) is a song by Irish band U2 worth listening to. It also carries the message that we are all different, but can “carry each other”, a nice idea that ONE could, for example, link up with the idea of Social Localisation.
Follow tcworld 2012 on Twitter #tcworld12

Running for your Life or Going the Extra Mile?

October 18, 2012

Tap tap tap … the sound of someone’s feet hitting the ground, running. A young girl, Marie, is cheered on by her schoolmates as well as by her young, enthusiastic teacher, Joe Connor. She is running around a dusty school ground and setting a ‘new world record’, which is enthusiastically announced by Joe who is providing an adrenaline-charged live commentary to the run, using a short stick as a pretend microphone.

Change of location.

Tap tap tap … the feet of runners hitting the ground at 5 a.m. at Meskel Square, Addis Ababa. On the vast fields at Jan Meda (‘the king’s field’), they’re running. They’re also running on Bole Road and on steep Menelik II Avenue, which leads down from the palace. And they are running up 3,200-meter Mount Entoto.

Two scenes with a very different background, leading to different outcomes, but with just one message.

The first scene is taken from a film, Killing Dogs, about Rwanda in 1994. It is based on real events, filmed on location with people who had been part of the terrible events that took place there. Marie, the runner, is a student of the École Technique Officielle in Kigali and doesn’t realize that she would soon be running for her life. The genocide starts just a few days after Marie’s ‘world record’, and Father Christopher, the school’s principal, tries to get Marie out of the killing zone. His car is stopped at a roadblock by one of his former students. While Marie hides under the car, his former student kills Father Christopher in cold blood. Marie starts running for her life, for days.

Fast-forward five years. Marie, who managed to escape the genocide that had taken the lives of some 800,000 Rwandans, walks into the church of an exclusive private school where Joe, who had also escaped the killings, directs a boys’ choir. The film finishes with a scene on the manicured lawns of the school with well-dressed hockey players running around, and Joe and Marie sitting under a beautiful tree. ‘When I was running for my life your voice commenting on my run around the schoolyard was in my head, all the time.’ Mary says. ‘Why did you leave us?’ After some hesitation, Joe answers, ‘I was afraid to die.’ Mary concludes, ‘We are fortunate, all this time that we have been given. We must use it well.’

The second story is about the heirs to a tradition that started when the barefoot Abebe Bikila won the marathon in 1960 Olympics in Rome. Since then, international distance running has been dominated by Ethiopia, a developing nation with almost no formal athletic training facilities. Haile Gebrselassie has been the face of Ethiopian running for over two decades, setting a total of twenty-seven world records. Now thirty-nine years old, Haile concentrates his efforts on mentoring the next generation of Ethiopian runners. The first Ethiopian woman to win an Olympic gold medal was Derartu Tulu, who took first place in 10,000 metres during the 1992 Olympics Games in Barcelona. Abebe and Haile consider themselves to be proof that poverty does not have to be a barrier to success and that running can make dreams come true. Haile turned one of his dreams into reality with his success as a runner. He grew up just outside Assela, a small community 54 km north of Bekoji and south of the capital. He built a bridge across a river that ran through his village and that had taken the lives of a father and a son trying to cross it in the rainy season. He also built several hotels around the country and is involved in a development called Yaya Village, a new high-altitude training facility outside of Addis Ababa. Joseph Kibur, another runner who is following his dreams, developed this facility originally. ‘When one of the athletes become successful, the whole family—and sometimes the whole neighbourhood—is lifted out of poverty’, says Joseph. Yaya Village (Yaya means ‘happiness’) opened in 2011 about 15 km outside of Addis Ababa. At an altitude of 2,500 metres it is surrounded by trails that provide an ideal environment for the coaching of young athletes by Olympic superstars such as Haile Gebrselassie and Gezahegn Abera. The village provides all the facilities elite athletes require and, in addition, offers comfortable conference rooms and restaurants for the less athletic visitors. The preparations for the 2016 Olympics are already in full swing at Yaya Village, and Joseph Kibur and his friends are hopeful that Ethiopia will again be victorious in Brazil.

The two stories taught me several lessons, not just about the different aspects of life and people in Africa, but mostly about my own life and my own priorities. When I checked the origin of the phrase ‘going the extra mile’ which is a well-(ab-)used phrase in business conversations, it turned out that it’s actually taken from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:41): ‘If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles’, i.e. the ‘extra mile’. We are, in the words of genocide survivor Marie, ‘fortunate with all this time we have been given. We must use it well’. The Ethiopian runners teach us how to use this time well with dedication, focus and hard work, and with a clear goal in our minds, so that we can make a difference not just to our own lives, but to those of our family, our neighbourhood and our whole country, even if the odds seem to be against us.

The exchange of knowledge and information across languages cannot be left to commercial interests alone. We are the ones to prove it. Language matters.

For the first time in my life I’ll be running a marathon, at the Dublin Marathon on 29 October. I know that my friends from Ethiopia will cross the finish line a good two hours before me, but hopefully I won’t just go, but run the last mile.

If you want to support my run for The Rosetta Foundation, please go to

Shooting Dogs (released in the USA as Beyond the Gates) is a 2005 film, directed by Michael Caton-Jones and is based on the experiences of BBC news producer David Belton.
Steve Winston (2012). ‘Ethiopia’s Distance Running Legacy. In Search of the Secret’. Selamta Magazine, Vol 29, No 3, July/August 2012, pp. 22-33. This was the primary source for the story about the Ethiopian Runners.
More information on Yaya Village Training Centre:

Note: This blog will also be published in my blog for The Rosetta Foundation, October 2012

No one likes us – I don’t know why! TM-Europe, Warsaw, 3-4 October 2012

October 6, 2012

My Impressions from Translation Management Europe (TM-Europe)
Warsaw, 04-05 October 2012

Many translators believe that their work is not sufficiently appreciated. But so do many multinational digital publishers who don’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t speak English. I used Randy Newman’s now 40 year old song Political Science as an opener for my reflections on Trends in Localisation. Its lyrics reflect, in a humorous way, how ambivalent the views of many publishers are in relation to the rest of the world: while foreign countries provide new markets on one hand, they cause a lot of trouble and headache on the other. Borrowing the words of Newman, this is how the publishers most likely see the situation:

Now Asia’s crowded
And Europe’s too old.
Africa’s far too hot,
And Canada’s too cold.
And South America stole our name.
Let’s drop the big one; there’ll be no one left to blame us.

The solution Newman proposes (and the publishers might be dreaming about): Pax Americana.

Well, boom goes London,
And boom Paris.
More room for you
And more room for me.
And every city the whole world round
Will just be another American town.
Oh, how peaceful it’ll be;
We’ll set everybody free.

With one exception:

We’ll save Australia;
Don’t want to hurt no kangaroo.
We’ll build an all-American amusement park there;
They’ve got surfing, too.

Luckily, and according to the Wall Street Journal, one of the world’s most influential business thinkers and other experts see the world in a much more positive light: Resulting from recent social movements, they are observing a shift

TM-Europe, Warsaw, 3-4 October 2012

from control to out-of-control, from corporate to social, and from compliance to engagement. Gary Hamel (‘The elites no longer control the conversation’), Marc Benioff (‘This is about corporate spring’), Daniel Pink (‘Control leads to compliance, autonomy leads to engagement’), and Clay Shirky (‘ One trillion hours of participatory value are up for grabs.’) all support the argument I made in my presentation on ‘Trends in Localisation‘ for Social Localisation in Warsaw at TM-Europe this week.

In fact, TM-Europe was all about the future, to a point where Peter Reynolds, with a wink in his eye, did not allow panel contributions on MT describing it as a 50 year old technology. TM-Europe, organized for the 5th time by Peter Reynolds, supported by a dedicated conference committee, attracted around 80, incredibly diverse and colourful translation professionals from all around the world to Warsaw. Some, no doubt, had come because they wanted to discover the beauty of Poland’s capital city; some openly confessed that they were not really sure what had brought them to TM-Europe; but the majority, clearly, had come because of the impressive line-up of keynote speakers and contributors, ranging from Chris Durban, one of the world’s best known practicing translators, Mark Childress, SAP’s eminent terminology expert and world-leading practitioner, to change management expert Stefan Gentz, translator and self-confessed philosopher Kevin Lossner (referring to Common Nonsense Advisory), US-based Westpoint graduate Doug Strock, Polish translator and climber Michal Tyszkowski, process optimization expert Alain Chamsi, and, maybe, also myself reporting on Social Localisation as the industry’s biggest opportunity for growth.

There were no surprises in Chris Durban’s talk. She is not a person that pulls any punches. She just fires the customer. Not all clients can live up to the high expectations this practicing translator-powerhouse has of her premium customers. If you want to buy bulk at wholesale prices, you won’t get it from Chris Durban. I had met her for the first time in April 2011 at a course at the Universidade do Minho in Braga, Portugal, where we both had been invited by Prof Fernando Ferreira Alves to contribute, and had been looking forward to her keynote at TM-Europe. Chris was in true form and didn’t disappoint any of us who had come to hear this translator (‘I translate every day!’) with attitude (‘I like money and like to be paid premium fees for premium work.’), and to learn from her about how to deal with customers who want to buy commoditized words, rather than professional services.

Although announced as a keynote about the ‘Future of Terminology Management’, Mark Childress rather shared with us some of the lessons he had learned during his long and successful career as SAP’s terminology guru, serving 25 industry sectors in 45+ languages. For some strange reason, Mark’s and my ways had never crossed, at least not knowingly, but I had heard so much about him that the possibility of listening to this calmly speaking gentleman with a unique, deep voice about a subject that few if any practitioners understand better than him, would have been enough reason for me to attend TM-Europe. Mark focused on how terminology work is being affected by a constant increase in complexity, immediate access, lightening speed, and interoperating systems. I very much liked his remark that terminology, at times, is also (ab-)used to demark territories and to keep ‘ordinary people’ out of professional conversations. To illustrate this point, he told the amusing story of an Englishman speaking in German to a doctor about his ‘Appendizitis’ (he had ‘translated’ the quite common English term ‘appendicitis’ directly into German) and the German doctor asking him whether he was a colleague – ordinary Germans would have called the condition ‘Blinddarmentzündung’, while the ‘latin’ term ‘Appendizitis’ is the term preferred by the medical profession. It triggered off the memory of a similar experience a Spanish friend of mine had had in Ireland when he had talked to an Irish priest about the Epiphany and had to clarify that no, he was not a priest. Mark’s contribution was not just a master lesson in terminology management, his presentation was also a refreshing reminder that listening to words, rather than looking at powerpoint slides, requires a level of concentration that these days we are rarely expected to contribute anymore as an audience.

In addition to the main programme, the event also offered the opportunity to join a professional workshop on Project Management Workshop prepared by Martin Beuster and Daniel Zielinski, and to network at the conference dinner and during extended coffee breaks. The exhibitors, among them Plunet, SDL, and Kilgray will most likely not record a dramatic increase in sales as a result of this event, but they did have the opportunity to take part in a specially organized Translation Technology Showcase.

I met some old friends and made new ones; I learned about interesting ways to tackle common and not so common translation challenges; and I smiled at and sometimes laughed out loud about some of the witty and to-the-point remarks from some of the strange, wonderful, and highly engaged participants. Australia-based Tea Dietterich (‘I know nothing about translation, but I understand the requirements of my clients and can serve them better than any of my competitors’) worked her magic like no-other; Larissa Ekonoja (‘I work with more than 60 language professionals.’) will one day decide whether she is running an enterprise (she is) or whether she is ‘just’ collaborating with colleagues; Susan Starling, now based in Florida, had driven all the way to Warsaw from Berlin providing a lift to colleagues and friends; Monika Popiolek, being herself, engaged in passionate debates about standards in the translation industry. I had good and interesting conversations about Social Localisation with Valerij Tomarenko (Freelancer, Hamburg), Anton Soldatov and Yulia Akhulkova (ITI Global Vision, Russia), Iwona Maj (Oracle, Poland), Diane McCartney (Freelancer, The Netherlands), Steven Sklar (Freelancer, France), Sonia Lopez (Spanish Solutions, Miami), Bastian Enners (Plunet), Paul Filkin and Wesley Budd (SLD).

Among the really interesting and provocative statements, from my perspective, were some of the following: Standards are just defining the lowest common denominator, not more; the best quality standard to follow is to put your name under every translation you deliver; how do you explain the disconnect between what is paid for translation and what translation generates in terms of value and revenue (>60% of overall revenues in the case of many digital publishers); make yourself a real part of the client’s team to avoid bulk vs. premium discussions; don’t engage with low-level procurement, talk to strategic-level COO; can traditional change management and best practice approaches really still be used to deal with the speed of change we are experiencing today; having access to knowledge before your competitors do can make all the difference for your business; it’s about value and opportunity, not the ‘best’ price for a word.
Some of the wittiest and provocative statements quoted at TM-Europe were those of Miguel Llorens who had planned to participate in the Warsaw Pact Debate at the event but who had sadly passed away unexpectedly just a few weeks ago. There is no doubt that his free spirit will stay with the translation community and us for a long time!

The Rosetta Foundation made an appeal during TM-Europe 2012 to attendees and friends watching our tweets to sign up as a Friend of The Rosetta Foundation, donating €5 per month to support their work. On behalf of The Rosetta Foundation, I would like to thank Tea Dietterich and Larissa Ekonoja who both signed up since yesterday. There is still time and opportunity to follow their great example.

The closing words of advice of one of the panelists in the Warsaw Pact Debate were very much along the lines of what Miguel would have said: ‘work harder than the other guy; gamble, occasionally; spend some time doing ‘good’, engage with clients, go on a training course. But above all: don’t be afraid, the future is good.’

You can follow some of the people mentioned in this blog on Twitter, for example Peter Reynolds (@peterrey), Susan Starling (@sustarling), Stefan Gentz (@stefangentz), Monika Popiolek (@monikapopiolek), Larissa Ekonoja (@fluidtranslatio), Tea Dietterich (@2mlanguages), Wesley Bud (@LocaliseMe), The Rosetta Foundation (@TheRosettaFound), Social Localisation (@SocialLoc).

Websites relating to this blog: TM-EuropeThe Rosetta Foundation,
Miguel Llorens’ blog  and website, and Chris Durban

Programme Committee TM-Europe 2012: Mark Childress, Kevin Lossner, Monika Popiolek, Peter Reynolds.

Become a Friend of The Rosetta Foundation by donating $5/month and encourage your friends to do likewise!

From Russia with Love – TFR 2012, Kazan, Russia

October 3, 2012

Not being able to read signs and labels; not being able to ask for directions or help; intimidated by controls, checkpoints, and procedures I did not recognize. I was quietly praying that I would get through the next few days in Russia without any major trouble, feeling, I imagined, like millions of refugees and migrants arriving in what they hope is going to become their new home – though I had the re-assurance of my credit card and sufficient cash in my pocket to cover me over the coming days. I had met an ex-Russian tank commander now living in the USA, who had attended one of our localisation summer schools at the Localisation Research Centre (LRC) in Limerick. When I had asked him about what he perceived to be the major difference between living in Russia and living in the USA, he briefly reflected and then said: “Last week I was stopped for speeding by the police in the US. My first reaction, as a Russian, was to put my hand into my pocket, take out some cash and propose to ‘split the fine’. Then I realized how stupid that would have been. When you are stopped by police in the USA, these are precisely the two things you do not do: One to put you hand into your pocket without being ask to do so, and two to offer money to an officer.” I was curious about the days to come, to say the least.

Opening of Europe’s largest Translation and Localisation event, with 500 registered participants.

I had met Demid Tishin, the main organizer of the 2012 Translation Forum Russia, at the last GALA Conference where he had asked me whether I would be interested in contributing to their event to be held in one of Russia’s most beautiful cities, Kazan. I jumped at the opportunity and was all excited about visiting the country that for me had remained behind an ‘iron curtain’ for much of my lifetime. What amazed me about the event itself was that, according to Demid, it had become Europe’s largest translation and localisation gathering. And I, the ‘expert’ in localisation, had not even heard about it.

So here I was in Kazan, 800km east of Moscow, deep down in Russia. My first impressions: a nice, clean, well-off city, inhabited exclusively by young people. And half of them seemed to get married on the Friday I arrived. My new Russian friends later told me that getting married in Russia is easy: it takes about 15 minutes in a marriage registration office (where there are long queues), plus a video camera to capture the proceedings, and a couple of friends to have a few drinks and something to eat afterwards; if you have the money, you could also rent out a nicely decorated car and go on a drive to mark the day. Young Russian couples seem to have much in common with young Russian Entrepreneurs: they don’t hang around and when they have made up their mind, they go for it.

TRF kicked off on Friday morning, with a long-ish opening ceremony which included some eminent speakers from such eminent institutions as the European Council and Russian Universities, speakers who were proud to say that they belonged to the anti-powerpoint brigade, speakers who could deliver their highly consistent and intelligent views without reading from a script. The diversity of the coming three days – yes, they did run the conference over the weekend! – became apparent right from the beginning, when speeches by the old professors where followed by talks from some of Russia’s most successful language and translation entrepreneurs. While the latter were focused on their business and turnover, the former didn’t care about business at all but were very concerned about the state of the Russian language and it’s (ab-)use by young, semi-illiterate digital natives. All talks and presentations during the plenary sessions were accompanied by psychedelic light shows and dramatic music supplied by professional DJs. The interpreters, all volunteers, did a fantastic job allowing me and a handful of non-Russian speakers among the record 500 participants to follow the proceedings, enjoying the privilege of learning about the concerns of translators and interpreters, academics, and businesses. I was busy tweeting about this amazing experience #tfrus, even trying to GoogleTranslate some of the Russian tweets – which provided me with additional inside into what was going on. It turned out that the Russian sense of humour is very different, and that there is a distinct lack of gender equality and emancipation of women: strong men and pretty women were topics running through many tweets by my Russian colleagues. Probably the best joke as judged by the audience and accompanied by hysterical laughter was the remark that ‘if Russia could  produce cars in the  way they produce women, the Germans would have to borrow money from the Greeks’.

Among the eminent speakers at TFR were Noel Muylle, Honorary Member of the European Language Council. He talked about The Importance of Taking Translation and Interpretation Seriously – implying that some stakeholders don’t! Mr Muylle is a gentleman of the ‘old’ school and proud not to need slides to back up his talk; comments on the tweet feed #tfrus reflected the at times surprised reaction to his statements. Bob Donaldson, Carson Strategy Group,
is an industry veteran and well known not just in Russia, but also in the West; he talked about General Industry Trends and Forecasts, a View from the West. Doug Lawrence, of Amicus TransTec, is an outed vegetarian and non-drinker of alcohol, but he must have had taken something before his presentation on
’Stereotypes, the good and the bad, their impact, and what Russian Translation Providers should do about it!’ because it was more a performance than a presentation; Doug not only speaks Russian, but he must also be very familiar with the Russian soul, because he immediately connected not just with the minds but also with the hearts of the audience, making one fan tweet ‘I love you Doug’! Andrei Chuzhakin, of the Moscow State Linguistic University, brought the tone back to a more serious level lecturing on
’Interpreting and Native Language—Friends or Enemies?’. Andrey Moiseev, of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Committee, provided a breathtaking overview
of ’Breakthrough in Sports’ on the scale of the preparations for the Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia, next year.

I was scheduled to give three talks on Multilingual Computing and Localisation, Research with a Difference (Industrial Relevance), and A Handup-Not a Handout (The Rosetta Foundation). All went well and generated quite some interest among the audience – although it was evident that localisation was not the hot topic it is in Ireland in oil- and gas-rich Tatarstan. Unfortunately, I was not able to follow all the talks I had selected from the excellently prepared English version of the programme brochure as a single English speaker in the audience couldn’t justify the presence and support of interpreters.

One morning I skipped the very first conference session and went for a long amazing run instead. I managed to accidently enter the President of the Republic of Tatarstan Palace through a back entrance greeting the heavily and slightly irritated and heavily armed guards with a smile when I exited via the front gate, jumping across the barriers designed to keep intruders out. In true pre-Marathon form I also went out of town for perhaps 10km to see how the majority of the one million plus people in Kazan live. To get there, again I had to jump, this time over giant potholes,  I had to use the highway instead of the non-existent footpath, and run across unpaved side roads lined with a mix of high-rise cheap apartment blocks and wooden tin-roofed shags. I learned to understand how state-employed doctors can live on a few hundred euro salary, and how highly trained and well-educated translators in Kazan manage with a monthly salary of just 300 euro.

In the end, I was happy that I had taken the 16-hour three-plane journey with an overnight stay in a smoky Irish pub at one of Moscow’s three giant airports to join Translation Forum Russia. The energy of the event, run by people in their 20s and 30s full of confidence and energy was contaminating. Russia is a country of enormous geographical expands, huge natural resources, and dominated by a new generation of people who will transform the country into a modern, just, and engaged society based on true citizenship. I am truly grateful to Demid and his supporters, especially Bella and Ekaterina, for inviting me to Translation Forum Russia and for making me feel so welcome. Translators, Interpreters, and Localisers will play a crucial role in connecting Russia and her people with the rest of the world. Next time I’ll visit Russia, I’ll be visiting friends.

The Russian city of Kazan hosted Europe’s Largest Translation and Localisation Industry Event, Translation Forum Russia (28-30 September 2012), with 500 professionals registered.