Pro Bono Work: Kiva

We oftentimes get questions about how to overcome the typical chicken/egg dilemma: clients want translators to have experience, but they won't hire newcomers to the world of translation without experience. Many times, newcomers make the (poor) choice to take lower rates to get started. The effect is that it destroys the market for the rest of us (think macroeconomics!), and that it's very challenging to raise your rates once you have gained more experience. Thus, starting low is not the way to go. However, how do you get experience?

As many of our readers now, we are strong supporters of our communities and of fighting global poverty through activism, volunteering and by donating to international organizations. One of our favorite causes is microlending to small businesses, many times women-owned, around the world. Several non-profits run these remarkable programs, and Kiva is perhaps the most visible one (although one we haven't donated to). In November, we ran into Naomi Baer, a translator and member of the ATA and NCTA (Northern California Translators Association)  in Denver after the ATA conference. She mentioned a volunteer translator program at Kiva. We think that's a fantastic way to get started in the industry while making our planet a better place to live.

Kiva has millions of words that it needs translated on a continuous basis, especially in languages of lesser diffusion. As is to be expected, there's no budget for paying translators. However, this is a fantastic opportunity for both newcomers and for established translators who want to give back.

Although Kiva's volunteer translation team is currently full (go volunteers!), they are accepting applications for languages that they will need in the future, which include Arabic, Armenian, Bahasa Indonesia, Dari, French, Khmer, Mongolian, Nepali, Pashto, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, Vietnamese. Visit the Kiva Translation Program page for more information. All translations are from the foreign language into English. Kiva also needs volunteers for its Editing Program. 


Rachel McRoberts on December 10, 2010 at 10:06 AM said...

I wholeheartedly agree with this post! I started volunteering as a Spanish>English translator for Kiva when I decided I wanted to become a translator. It was a great way for me to get regular translation practice and establish my confidence as a translator (knowing that my translations would be out there for others to read!). I continue to volunteer for Kiva in order to give back to a cause I believe in. It's a great organization!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 10, 2010 at 6:01 PM said...

That's great, Rachel! It's wonderful to hear from someone who has volunteered for Kiva and had such a fantastic experience. We love how Kiva is changing the world -- one tiny loan at a time. Thanks for volunteering; you absolutely did the right thing to start with Kiva when you were getting into the profession.

Kevin Lossner on December 13, 2010 at 2:23 AM said...

I like Kiva and have participated in their microlending program since a college friend called my attention to it a few years ago. I'm pleased to hear that they also have a volunteer translator team.

I used to volunteer a bit of translation and editing work for Greenpeace, since I worked briefly for the organization in the 1980s and support most of their causes. There the major European languages are in demand for communication purposes. I can recommend Greenplace as another good place to engage in volunteer work.

It is indeed better to give your work away than sell it at dumping prices. The feedback cycle I experienced as a volunteer was also good. However, I don't completely buy the notion of how "hard" it is to raise rates once you have aimed too low. It might indeed be difficult with existing customers, and even where it is not particularly, I am quite modest in applying rate increases to my "oldtimers", mostly as a matter of sentiment. But anyone new who wants a place in the queue has to buy it at the current rate asked, and that is seldom a problem (not counting Asian zookeepers, of course). So if you are prepared to practice spring, summer, fall and winter cleaning of your client list as newer, better client relationships are established, increases are not that hard to achieve no matter what your rates once were. There are, of course, other prerequisites.....

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 14, 2010 at 9:54 AM said...

@Kevin: glad to hear you like Kiva as well. Greenpeace is also a fantastic option for those starting out - thanks for sharing.

Good point on the rates. Unfortunately, a lot of newcomers really lack the confidence to raise rates, but highly experienced folks like you have the business acumen to ask for what they need. Love your "client cleaning" suggestion! Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 14, 2010 at 9:55 AM said...

Update: we just received a sweet note from Naomi Baer at Kiva with the following information for applicants to submit their info to Kiva after reading about it on our blog:

I'll alert the team here to watch out for applications coming via your blog. If it's appropriate, you could post a follow-up comment encouraging people to mention your blog in their application. We always like to prioritize applications from professional translators, translation students, and those looking to get more involved in the profession, as we find they have the skills and interest to be great volunteers.

The languages we currently need are: Arabic, Spanish, French, and Russian (all into English) and editors for English.

Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo said...

Thank you for posting this! I met one of the Kiva representatives at ATA as well and saved her business card because I also found the organization and their cause to be very intriguing. I haven't signed up yet, but it's on my list of things to do for the New Year! Glad to know that others have had positive experiences with them. :)

Unknown on December 27, 2010 at 1:18 PM said...

Hello, Judy and Dagmar! My name is Danielle Maxson. I just started translating professionally last year and, like Rachel, volunteer for Kiva as a Spanish>English and Portuguese>English translator. It's definitely been a wonderful experience; I get to practice translation, learn lots of country-specific vocabulary, and help hardworking, optimistic, amazing people to provide for their families.

Another advantage to helping out at Kiva is having the opportunity to interact with and learn from the translation coordinators and the other volunteer translators. Naomi Baer, Alexandra Jaffe and the rest of the Kiva translation staff are incredibly supportive of the translators, and they're often able to answer tricky questions when we need a hand. The translators themselves come from all over the world and freely offer their own knowledge and research skills when someone needs a hand with a difficult text. Working with them has given me the chance to practice another important translation skill -- consulting with colleagues to make sure the translated meaning is as close to the original as possible.

Drea Douglass said...

Thanks for posting this great opportunity! I don't think I would have thought about pro bono work if I hadn't stumbled upon it here - now I'm all signed up with Kiva and looking for more opportunities to work with non-profit organizations. This was so helpful, keep 'em coming :).

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