METM19 panel discussion

Can we make the world a better place? Realities, roadblocks and rewards for language professionals who work for philanthropic causes

Timothy Barton, Dundee, Scotland; Karen Shashok, Granada, Spain; Sandra Young, Brighton, UK. Moderator: Valerie Matarese, Vidor, Italy

To make a decent living, many language professionals work in well-funded sectors such as marketing and finance where our services advance our clients' agenda. Even in research, where our services help advance knowledge, they also (sometimes mostly) advance our clients' careers. Can we use our skills and knowledge for greater social causes?

This moderated discussion session will explore the realities of working with clients – charities, nonprofit entities and multilateral aid organizations – whose primary motivation is beneficence, not self-interest. The topic will be addressed by three panellists with remarkable experiences supporting philanthropic causes, including time spent in a developing country where their language services were used. The panellists will describe their career paths, and together we will discuss the obstacles they faced and the rewards they, their clients and their clients' clients reaped. 

Topics of discussion may include: Can it be our main job, or must we keep a high-paying “day job” and volunteer in our free time? Are high-level language skills and disciplinary knowledge (i.e. a language professional’s expertise) still of primary importance, or is quality sacrificed in the name of giving? What other skills are needed? How can a language professional transition from self-interest-motivated clients to philanthropic clients? What are the needs and opportunities for language professionals in this sector? What are the rewards?

The insights revealed by the discussion will shed light on how language professionals can use their talents to support the philanthropic and aid sectors.

About the presenters

Timothy Barton is a freelance translator and editor based in Dundee, Scotland. He specializes in macroeconomics and has translated reports for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Inter-American Development Bank, as well as two economics books. He has also worked at the United Nations Office in Geneva. From 2016 to 2018 he worked in Namibia and he has several Namibian clients.

Karen Shashok has been a science-technical-medical translator, editorial consultant and trainer since the mid-1980s. She has written about translation, author editing, peer review, editorial ethics and open access, and has provided training for researchers and editors in Spain, the Eastern Mediterranean and Latin America. Through professional development organizations for journal editors and publishers, she has tried to explain the perspectives and experiences of researchers from emerging and resource-limited research communities to research publication gatekeepers and experts in research ethics. In 2009 she founded the volunteer project AuthorAID in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Sandra Young is a translator and interpreter based in the UK and working in the areas of international development, sustainability and medicine-pharmacy. Her trajectory through the human rights field has been organic and often full of surprises. She collaborates primarily with NGOs tackling human rights, agriculture and climate issues, although her clients in this field also include investigative journalists and multilateral organizations. In 2016, Sandra embarked upon PhD research in computational linguistics, but this has not affected the close working relationships she has with her clients in the human rights sector.

Valerie Matarese is an authors’ editor based in Italy and working in the biomedical sciences. Having attended every METM since the first, she has been motivated to go beyond science editing to study the work of language professionals. This interest has led to publication of a multiauthor volume, Supporting Research Writing: Roles and Challenges in Multilingual Settings (Chandos Elsevier, 2013), based on a panel discussion from METM09, and Editing Research: The Author Editing Approach to Providing Effective Support to Writers of Research Papers (Information Today, 2016), incorporating interviews with experienced editors including MET members. This interest also motivated her to conceive the topic of this panel discussion.