Translating for the NGO/international development sector
Thread poster: JNBJ
JNBJ
Denmark
Local time: 18:27
Danish to English
Jan 12

Hi everyone,

I have a MSc in International Development and worked a few years in the NGO sector before I went through something of a career change and ended up in freelance translation. It didn't take me very long to start making more than I did in my last full-time job (granted, that was the NGO sector...), and I've got a great relationship with 3 agencies who feed me lots of work. So far I've mostly been translating texts on other subjects in which I have some experience, but I've been itching to get back into translating about things I'm actually interested in.

After recently contacting 15-20 NGOs in Denmark, though, all but one of those that replied wrote something along the lines of "We use volunteers for that." I did get one job out of it (my first direct client job, yay!), but I was generally pretty disappointed by the lack of positive responses. Some of those who replied even seemed a little insulted that I had the audacity to offering a service they were currently getting for free.

It's made me wonder whether it's realistic to set up a niche as a freelance translator in the NGO sector unless you work in one of the 'big' language pairs, like EN-FR, where there are many more clients to choose from. I'd love to hear from other translators who have faced similar challenges or have any helpful advice.


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DJHartmann  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2014)
Thai to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
Following this topic Jan 13

My Masters was in Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development and, like you, I fell comfortably into the translation industry. As far as I know, NGOs in my language pair tend to rely on those working in their industry rather than hiring us pros for translation and if they were to hire us, their budget would only be a fraction of what you'd expect. If you do find a tip or strategy, please do share! Meanwhile it's clinical trials and banking docs for me!

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MK2010  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:27
Member (Jun 2017)
French to English
+ ...
Maybe take the "N" out of NGO... Jan 13

...and try to work with government agencies involved in international development, human rights and so on? You could start by looking for translation agencies that do a lot of work for the government and you could also inquire directly about how to get qualified to work for local / federal / international government bodies --but of course, it's not easy, as tons of people want those jobs.

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JNBJ
Denmark
Local time: 18:27
Danish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Jan 14

DJHartmann wrote:

My Masters was in Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development and, like you, I fell comfortably into the translation industry. As far as I know, NGOs in my language pair tend to rely on those working in their industry rather than hiring us pros for translation and if they were to hire us, their budget would only be a fraction of what you'd expect. If you do find a tip or strategy, please do share! Meanwhile it's clinical trials and banking docs for me!


That's been my experience too so far, although the one job I've gotten directly from an NGO so far actually paid really well, compared to my agency rates at least. The problem is just finding NGOs that are willing to pay at all, but some well-known translators (Corinne McKay for instance) don't appear to struggle with that.

And yeah, I'm translating tourism brochures and an IT company's website this weekend - riveting stuff.

MK2010 wrote:

...and try to work with government agencies involved in international development, human rights and so on? You could start by looking for translation agencies that do a lot of work for the government and you could also inquire directly about how to get qualified to work for local / federal / international government bodies --but of course, it's not easy, as tons of people want those jobs.


Good tip! For some reason I hadn't considered that. The more I think about it, Denmark has a lot of agencies involved in that kind of stuff that I haven't put on my prospects list.


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