The limits of my language mean the limits of my world, read the words of an Austrian-British philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Even though what he meant was that philosophy (the world) ends when the language cannot venture further, we can’t help but think that in today’s world, the growing language gap creates tall impenetrable walls between the multitude of cultures coexisting in a country. The fact is, we need to talk to make our world a better place for everybody. interprAID, a social venture offering virtual community interpreting services, is set on making the dialogue happen.
Founded in 2015, interprAID is the first ever online community interpreting platform enabling NGOs to find qualified interpreters in over 40 languages. The beauty of this social start-up is its accessibility – the only tools you need after registering on the platform and connecting with a community interpreter are a laptop with a solid Internet connection and a webcam.
With the recent influx of refugees and asylum seekers, the EU governments were faced with a completely new array of social issues. The basic human need to understand and be understood to perform not only required legal tasks, but also function in society, became a challenge to those, who did not know the language of their new country. Even though in many countries the newcomers gained access to local language courses, the need for fluent speakers of Arabic including local Syrian dialects was burning because in many cases refugees did not speak English.
Some statistics for Austria…
Last year the Austrian BM.I (Bundesministerium für Inneres) registered 42,073 total asylum applications (source) of which 27,254 were admitted to the procedure post-screening. With the total number of immigrants living in Austria steadily growing year on year (settling on 14.6% in 2016, source: Statista) the need for interconnecting people is bigger than ever. However you want to look at it, we live in a multicultural reality.
We contacted Matthias Monreal, the person behind interprAID and a member of Impact Hub Vienna, to ask him about his idea, what he thought of being at Impact Hub Vienna and what his plans for the future are.
Where does the idea of interprAID come from?
Matthias: My wife, who works within the Social/Non-profit sector lamented the fact that she could not find adequate interpreters to communicate with her clients. They were hard to find, expensive and lacked the necessary cultural competence. With interprAID we address exactly these three needs. We build a virtual pool of interpreters online, accessible via video call; we follow a marketplace approach to serve as many user organisations as possible; and we focus on the best possible match between client and interpreter by going beyond mere language selection, but including cultural, religious, ethnic and personal criteria that might be decisive for a situation of trust in which an assignment can take place in the first place.
Why do you think providing community interpreting services is so important right now?
Community interpreting has been around for a long while. Less so in the German-speaking world, but e.g. in the UK it is well established. What has been lacking so far is proper market access for community interpreters who were so far always limited by local demand, which you can imagine isn’t that much if the language you offer is Tigrinya or Pashto. Through interprAID community, interpreters have a chance to actually generate an income and thereby have the incentive to professionalise. Community interpreting is the facilitator across the entire social sector. Without it, a large group of people will be excluded from essential services our society offers. The recent refugee crisis has highlighted that and created more public awareness of language barriers, but the problem is not new in principle.
What programs did you enroll in at Impact Hub Vienna?
I am part of the Accelerator Programme, through the found! Deloitte program and the IRP Lab.
What did you think of the help you received at Impact Hub?
The Impact Hub is a great environment and I wish I could soak up more of the spirit by actually being there. Since I am based in Innsbruck it’s more sporadic for me. I have attended several workshops and received mentoring and expert advice, all of which was very good.
What are the three key findings from your participation in Impact Hub-hosted programs?
The power of the network. Don’t build your venture in a bubble, but share, talk about it, inspire and you will receive a lot of valuable input!
What sort of support did you receive from AWS (Austria Wirtschaftsservice)?
I have received funding through the JumpStart program and just found out today [3rd Feb 2017] that we won funding through the AWS Social Business Call. Great!
In general, what is your advice for any start up owner, who is using Impact Hub and AWS services?
Talk about your idea and involve others as much as possible.
Where do you see interprAID going?
Our vision is a world in which language and cultural barriers do no longer exclude people from receiving social services. interprAID is as much a practical tech solution to make this possible, as it will be a community for community interpreting. We want to build awareness and promote change in how we deal with language barriers and intercultural communication in our society. We need to trigger a mind-shift that changes practices and policies of how social services are provided to people who do not speak our language. We see a great need for that and great potential to generate fundamental impact at a large scale.
This article was written for the Impact Hub Vienna blog and published on the 15th of February, 2017. Access it online here.