Podcast Episode 3 with Aimee Ansari: CLEAR Global Update
We’ve seen several crises unfold over the past years, including COVID-19 and the ongoing war in Ukraine. With disasters and crises, the need for critical communication is crucial – getting accurate knowledge and information, in multiple languages, to the people who need it most.
CLEAR Global is a non-profit helping people get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak. CLEAR Global includes Translators without Borders, founded in 1993, bringing decades of experience at translating critical communications through a network of volunteer linguists.
In this podcast, host Louise Law chats with Aimee Ansari who is the Chief Executive at CLEAR Global. They discuss some of the recent activities and projects the CLEAR Global and Translators without Borders team have been working on. Aimee talks about how the long term strategy at CLEAR Global is to ‘flip the power dynamic’ – making it possible for people who don’t speak the main ‘power’ languages to be heard and have their say in the big issues of today.
Here are some updates on recent CLEAR Global projects..
- Multilingual glossary for COVID-19 – to get clear, consistent healthcare out during the pandemic
- 2+ million words translated to connect people in and fleeing Ukraine
- Multilingual glossary launched to provide information and help prevent sexual exploitation and abuse – this includes 208 terms and is available in 29 languages
- Currently working on a major report for the World Health Organization (WHO) on sexual exploitation
- Starting to take on sustainability issues to broaden education on environmental challenges
- Continuing to build the community of translators and linguists and technology platform that helps support all these activities. Translators without Borders now has more than 100,000 community members and 200 partner organizations.
To get involved as a volunteer, partner, or sponsor, find out more about CLEAR Global and Translators without Borders here.
Catch up on all the latest Welocalize Podcast episodes…
Welocalize Podcast Episode #1: 25 Years with Welocalize: CEO Smith Yewell
Welocalize Podcast Episode #2: Working with AI in Language: What Can Go Wrong
Louise Law: Hello, and welcome to the Welocalize Podcast. We’ll be talking all things, Multilingual, Localization, Translation, Technology, AI, NLP, and loads more, helped along by a wide variety of guests. I’m Louise Law, your host, and in this third episode of the podcast, I’m delighted to welcome Aimee Ansari, who is the Chief Executive at CLEAR Global, a non-profit organization helping people to get vital information and be heard, whatever language they speak. Hi, Aimee. We’re so pleased you can join us on the podcast, and we’re welcoming you from Greece. So welcome.
Aimee Ansari: Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited about it. It’s always good to talk to you, Louise.
Louise Law: Thanks, Aimee. So just before we get in, to give our listeners some background. Last year, May 2021, you announced the launch of CLEAR Global, which is a new organization that incorporates Translators without Borders and I know Translators without Borders is a super-organization founded in 1993, and CLEAR Global is like the new chapter, you know, continuing to build a network and importantly, expanding on that great work.
There’s a lot happening in the world right now, not all of it good, and we’ve seen several crises unfold over the past couple of years. We have the COVID pandemic. There’s obviously the war in Ukraine happening, and that expansion of the work that you do, you seem to be addressing wider, more challenging global issues that kind of go way beyond that kind of original premise of translating healthcare information.
Aimee Ansari: That’s right, yes.
Louise Law: I just like to share four kinds of fact, four pieces of information with everyone that really shows how the organization has really elevated the scope of the work. First one, last year, the community translated 30 million words, and more recently translated 1 million words to connect people in and fleeing Ukraine, to help them get the aid and support that they need in the right language. The second fact, that you’ve actually launched a multilingual glossary to help prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, and that includes 208 terms and is available in 29 languages. And at the height of the COVID pandemic, you developed a multilingual glossary in key COVID-19 terminology to help push out clear and consistent public information. Third fact, you’re currently working on a major report for the World Health Organization on sexual exploitation. And finally, you’re also shifting, so you’re focusing on sustainability issues to help broaden education in multiple languages on various environmental challenges. So few… That’s four pretty big areas. And I know there’s a lot more, Aimee, and these are incredible activities,
It’s been quite a time for you and the team! How are you feeling at the moment? Could you share with us how CLEAR Global have you been able to be so agile and expand the scope of the work that you’re doing under so much pressure?
Aimee Ansari: Thanks so much for that summary. It’s very kind and polite of you to do that. We are almost at 2 million words for Ukraine now. I think like everybody, almost everybody in the world right now, almost all of us are tired. The pandemic has being in lockdown, always having to worry about wearing a mask and all of that sort of thing has exhausted a lot of people and to have to also respond to that crisis just made it that much more exhausting. And then the conflict in Ukraine, the crisis in Ukraine started which then we had to respond. We’re very fortunate that we have amazing sponsors like Welocalize that consistently support the work we do so we can have a team that can adapt and reprioritize at least in the short term and companies like yours often also donate for a specific response and that means we can hire dedicated staff, or like in Ukraine, for the Ukraine response, I went to Ukraine as a result of some of the support from our sponsors and we could start translating very quickly. We also have an amazing community of over 800 linguists, editors, designers, project managers who donate their time and skills particularly when there’s a crisis and that makes it really flexible. Having a community that’s that large with that many skills means that we can pull on a lot of different resources and we are also very fortunate to have team members whose experience is in difficult circumstances responding to crises under incredible pressure. As an organization we have put preparedness measures into place job descriptions, roster is a strong candidate standard operating procedures, streamlined processes that we deploy when there’s a crisis. So we’ve designed the organization and built and grown the organization with the agility in mind so that we can adapt and expand without killing ourselves doing it.
Louise Law: That’s incredible. Obviously those preparedness measures that you mention, they’re probably more important now because it’s not as if we’re just dealing with one situation. There are multiple situations unfolding all the time so you really need that, don’t you?
Aimee Ansari: Yeah, it’s a key factor in crisis responses. You always plan to have three crises going on in the world. If there’s more than that, then it all collapses. So basically you can manage about three crises at a time.
Louise Law: With the fact that there are limited resources, how do you prioritize? What areas are a priority for the team at the moment?
Aimee Ansari: Prioritization isn’t rocket science, it’s hard but it’s not! You figure out what’s urgent and important. I always ask myself, “Is anyone going to die if I don’t do this?” If the answer is yes then I have to get it done but mostly the answer is no. So then it’s about really deciding what’s going to help us to achieve our mission. I almost always prioritize recruitment because the more– If we have staff positions open the more people we have doing stuff, the more stuff we’re going to get done and I try to invest in hiring the best people. That’s basically right now priority is of course the Ukraine response. We’re also trying to prioritize the food security crisis in the Horn of Africa that it’s going to be quite a big deal. Those are our two big priorities in the organization. We also have a new sort of area of work starting that we’re slowly building a team around.
Louise Law: It kind of goes a little bit beyond sort of– Obviously there’s a lot of linguists and linguistic skills required. So with those two crises that you mentioned, what are the broader skills that you’re requiring over and above the linguistics skills that you use?
Aimee Ansari: We have a whole localization team, language services team that is quite skilled and experienced. We also have a team of people that specialize in language technology and particularly applied language technology. So speech, ASR, speech recognition, machine translation, building techstacks, and Conversational AI as well. And then we have the international programs team and those are the people that really specialize in how you do sustainable development. How do we help people and countries to meet the sustainable development goals and all of those three teams come together as a whole in order to help us to achieve our mission.
Louise Law: Initially you wouldn’t necessarily think of all those things, would you? Conversational AI, the multilingual chatbots, and the speech recognition, that is so important for the future of CLEAR Global and everyone really, isn’t it?
Aimee Ansari: Well, speech recognition in particular is important. Low-Resource Speech Recognition is important. A lot of the most marginalized people in the world of course don’t have a lot of education and so have very low literacy levels. So being able to do speech recognition in a low resource language just opens a whole world for them. You know, it opens a whole world where they can be heard and have their voices listened to and express their concerns. That has incredible potential and power in the world.
Louise Law: Yeah, absolutely. It kind of speaks to the people that you’re trying to help at the end of the day, isn’t it?
Aimee Ansari: Yeah, exactly. And that’s what the team, our program technology team does is really think about how we build Low-Resource Speech Recognition, for example, so that we can hear the voices of people who are on the other side of the front line in the fight against Boko Haram.
Louise Law: What are some of the challenges that you’re facing at the moment, with some of the work and the new programs you’re working on,
Aimee Ansari: I think we probably face the same challenges as a lot, as everyone in some ways. Recruitment, hiring people is right now a challenge for everybody and we have a deep commitment to hiring people who speak marginalized languages because if that’s who we’re seeking to support, then we’re never going to succeed unless we have team members in leadership and management roles that do speak those languages and understand the needs and concerns of those people. So that’s one–
Louise Law: They’re all volunteers as well, aren’t they? The whole network is run on a volunteering basis, isn’t it?
Aimee Ansari: For the most part, it’s run on a volunteering basis. And in some parts of the world, electricity and internet are not a given. So all of those members of our community who live in places where electricity and Internet is not always there, it’s not a given, they really struggle to be able to do work for us, appreciate them always.
Louise Law: Yeah, absolutely. So what’s next for CLEAR Global? What’s the big vision for you?
Aimee Ansari: It’s funny you asked, because we’re just formulating this right now. One of the things we found is that there are about 4 billion people in the world that speak what we call Power Languages. English, French, Chinese, Russian etc. But 4 billion people don’t speak those languages. And it’s no coincidence that the most vulnerable and the most marginalized often overlap with the 4 billion who don’t speak Power Languages.
Louise Law: Of course.
Aimee Ansari: So our plan, our audacious plan, is to try to flip down that power dynamic to support those 4 billion people who don’t speak Power Languages, to get information and be heard through the machine translation and the ASR, so their voices can be heard in local and global conversations and debates, to have their say in the big issues of the day around climate change or financial inclusion. Because without, you know– So we’re trying to really flip that power dynamic because we strongly believe that without those voices and unless we hear, and really assimilate those concerns and ideas and solutions, we’re never really going to solve those big problems that affect us all. So our big program is to start 4 billion conversations.
Louise Law: I love that. I love flipping the power dynamic. I think that’s great, and that’s a really good kind of giving, empowering those 4 billion people. That kind of voice is fantastic. Very worthy.
Aimee Ansari: Flipping the power dynamic, using the power of language.
Louise Law: And that’s what our industry is all about, isn’t it? Using the power of language, isn’t it, to help global connections? That’s great. So importantly, how can people help? So you mentioned, obviously, sponsors before, but how can people, how can the listeners help your organization achieve that goal, Aimee?
Aimee Ansari: Volunteering, being a member of the community always helps. It doesn’t matter what your language pair is, we always need people who speak all kinds of languages, including Power Languages, of course.
Louise Law: Sure.
Aimee Ansari: Donating, running fundraisers, those kinds of things, supporting the organization, just getting people excited about what we do. This podcast is great. It’s a great example of a way that you support us and we so appreciate it.
Louise Law: You can find all that information on the CLEAR Global website clearglobal.org Aimee as well, can’t you? There’s information on the website for volunteering and donating and everything like that so…
Aimee Ansari: On our website, and any of our social media has links to how you can volunteer, how you can donate and how you can help get people excited about our work.
Louise Law: I know social media is a really great resource as well, for finding out more about the kind of work that everyone does and keeping up to date– You’re really good at keeping everyone up to date with what’s going on and some of the programs going on as well, aren’t you?
Aimee Ansari: Oh, thanks. I’ll tell our cons team. They’ll be very happy to hear it.
Louise Law: That’s great, Aimee. Well, again, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s always an absolute pleasure to speak to you or any of the CLEAR Global team. We know all of the work that you do, it’s great. Keep doing what you’re doing. And thank you again for joining us!
Aimee Ansari: No, and thank you. We couldn’t do it without the ongoing support we get, we’ve had from Welocalize for – I should check – probably ten years now?
Louise Law: Probably.
Aimee Ansari: A long time. We couldn’t do it without you. Thank you so much.
Louise Law: No problem. Thanks, Aimee.