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Smith's Blog

Posted Oct 28, 2009 at 4:42 PM by Smith Yewell

The fact that the world speaks multiple languages drives the need for our business. However, this same fact also creates a situation where many people in the world are cut-off from life saving information simply because it is not available in their language.

In my view, this is a senseless tragedy, and I believe that it is our responsibility to appreciate not only the multilingual demand that drives our business but also the multilingual downside for those who cannot afford the services we provide.

Yes, globalization has been a welcome proposition to our ears as it drives more and more demand for our services. But the last 20 years of the current form of globalization, have shown a very clear decline in progress for certain segments of society as compared with the previous two decades. The following two areas are key examples:

• First, Infant and Child Mortality: Progress in reducing infant mortality was considerably slower during the period of globalization in the last 20 years than over the previous two decades.

• Second, Education and literacy: Progress in education also slowed during the most recent period of globalization.

These statistics are disturbing and without educated and prosperous future generations all around the world, our economics, our prosperity and our humanity are challenged.

My proposition is this - that not only will the Rosetta Foundation benefit the world’s poor, it will also benefit all of us, including business. Why? Imagine if we supplemented our efforts to hook the developing world’s children not only on fast food and soft drinks but also on education? Education is fundamental in building a healthy society. Without education there is no market opportunity. Without education there is no prosperity. Without education there is no market. Just look at sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia.

Based on enrolment data, about 72 million children of primary school age in these areas and others in the developing world are not in school; 57 per cent of them are female. And these are regarded as optimistic numbers. Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. It is estimated that less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.

Yes, the profit motive is part of the problem given profit drives investment and access to resources, thus we need to recognize that the profit motive must be a part of the solution. 51 percent of the world’s 100 hundred wealthiest entities are corporations. Given they represent the majority of wealth, naturally, the solution must involve them. And if we want them to get involved in a large scale way, it must be in their best interest, meaning there must be potential for profit. As an example, the same is very clear in the global climate change challenge.

So where can we help and where does translation fit into the equation?

Let’s start with demand, demand drives investment and a strong middle class drives demand. A strong middle class is at the heart of every strong and growing economy. And what creates a strong middle class? I would argue that one of the most important factors is education. An educated workforce is attractive for job creators. Anytime you hire, you are helping to create demand in the economy for additional products and services, and the cycle is re-enforcing. An educated workforce and attractive business climate create greater demand for more jobs, more jobs create demand for more educated workers, more workers create a larger middle class, and a larger middle class invariably desires more products and services.

Just look at Ireland in the last 30 years. The country went from last in the EU to first in terms of GDP growth, at least pre-recession, based upon the combination of a well-educated workforce and job creation through low corporate taxes.

Again, one of the fundamental building blocks is education, and this is where translation comes in. The world’s information is in many languages. Thus, it is a classic Tower of Babel challenge. How can we educate the world’s poor when the educational materials are in a whole variety of different languages?

Our company has translated approximately 164M words through Q3 2009. Three one hundredths of a percent was into Bengali, the language spoken in Bangladesh, which is the world’s third poorest country. Thus, it is clear Bangladesh is not a target market for our clients. But at 162M people, Bangladesh ranks 7th in the world in terms of population.

So why are our clients not targeting one of the world’s largest countries? Well, there is a strong correlation between education and income, and without income it is very hard to be a customer for anything, and survival itself becomes the priority.

There are roughly 2.2 billion children in the world, and there are approximately 121M with no access to any form of education. Thus, is there any question why 2.2M die each year because of something so simple as lack of immunization? Many do not even know immunization is necessary because they have never been informed or educated on such a simple topic. 2.2M million a year is approximately 6,000 per day. Unfortunately, that means that approximately 75 children will die while you read this article.

So what do we do, well Google translate even misses the mark. 1.6 billion people, a quarter of humanity, live without electricity much less the internet. Good old fashioned printed material in their native language is the first step.

But here is the exciting part, we now have the internet, and technologies such as GlobalSight and CrowdSight, which can enable any translator in the world to help. The efforts of translators, the Rosetta Foundation and NGOs around the world can be combined to collaborate to innovate. By working together, we can find a way. Such a large challenge is not insurmountable and even the smallest of efforts from a single individual can be harnessed and leveraged to conquer this challenge of global information poverty.

Reading about it and hearing about it often makes it feel so far away and outside our circle of circumstance. But that circle is smaller than we think. A lack of education and multilingual materials contributes to needless death in the ranks of the world’s poor, but it also has the potential to inspire the ranks towards the darker side of the have and have not equation, fomenting frustration, envy and unfortunately hatred. Hatred and contempt are the harbingers of violence and terrorism. And while terrorist leadership may sometimes come from the developed world - the troops are recruited largely from the ranks of the uneducated, the disenfranchised and poor.

Every generation faces the same question of can we leave the world a better place than we found it. I believe that we, and this industry as whole, can. The time is now. We can all make a difference. I challenge you to get involved.

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