A Sneak Peek at LocWorld Africa with Donna Parrish and Ulrich Henes

A Sneak Peek at LocWorld Africa with Donna Parrish and Ulrich Henes

When Donna Parrish (former publisher of MultiLingual magazine) and Ulrich Henes (founder of The Localization Institute) organized the inaugural LocWorld conference in Seattle in October of 2003, the duo wanted to see an event for language industry professionals to network with, and learn from, their peers. In its nearly two decades, the LocWorld global conference series have carved out a respectable position for itself within the localization industry. Since that 2003 beginning, it has grown into a venerable industry stand-by that brings those who work in localization together from all over the world to discuss the trends and technology that shape the industry.

“LocWorld is first and foremost a friendly gathering where clients, vendors, and academics can gather, learn, network, and do business,” Parrish and Henes said in an interview with MultiLingual.

The conference has been held at locales throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, but never before has a LocWorld conference focused on Africa. That’s set to change in 2022 when the doors will open on the first LocWorld Africa — highlighting a continent with a young and rapidly growing population, and home to an astonishing amount of linguistic diversity that makes multilingualism the norm, but that hasn’t enjoyed the same attention from the language industry as Europe, Asia, or the Americas in years past.

In August MultiLingual spoke with the organizers of Loc-World, Parrish and Henes, to learn a little more about what’s in store at LocWorld Africa, as well as some of the challenges that came along with organizing this exciting new chapter in the LocWorld saga.

“(We) think that the non-African attendees will be learning the most at this conference,” the organizers said. “But it will also be a good opportunity for African attendees to find out what new technology and services are out there. Most of all, as with any LocWorld, we hope that successful business partnerships are formed and that friendships are made that will enable international business throughout the continent.”

The LocWorld team has been wanting to host a conference in Africa for quite some time but Parrish and Henes said it was challenging to organize, due to the fact that the continent is so large and diverse — “One of the obstacles in creating a pan-Africa conference was the transportation challenges between some of the countries. We actually tossed around a ‘road-show’ concept as some way to make it easier for people to attend the conference,” the duo said.

“Now that virtual conferences have become a proven way to meet, learn, and network, those obstacles are overcome,” they said. “Of course, actually holding a meeting in person is  preferred — what with the personal experiences and easy chats. But, with these constraints, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a virtual conference focused on Africa is something that we can now produce.” 

In order to plan and organize the conference, Henes and Parrish said they put together an advisory board of localization experts who have a deep familiarity and understanding of the African language industry, composed of the following individuals:

  • Johan Botha, Folio Online
  • Paula Duarte, CLUTRAD
  • Ibrahim El-Yakub, CLEAR Global/Translators Without Borders
  • Otmar Filipe, CRETIL
  • Jill Goldsberry, Lionbridge
  • Jan Hinrich, Beluga
  • Cynthia Obioha, Facebook

Henes and Parrish say they’re especially looking forward to showcasing the vast linguistic diversity of the African continent — often noted as the most linguistically diverse on the planet — as the Africa’s indigenous languages, like Swahili and Igbo, have long been neglected in the language industry. This, even though these languages have millions of speakers across numerous different countries.

“Perhaps part of this is the fact that it is easier to reach out to the other countries near you. The ones who have a single-digit count of highly-used languages,” they said. “The linguistic diversity in Africa can be intimidating.”

They also noted that the main conference language is English, which they admit is “ironic, given that we are organizing a global language industry event.” They related that repeated attempts have been made to include other languages during the call for papers, as well as to offer simultaneous interpretation at the event, but that participants rarely took advantage of the opportunity. They said they would continue to evaluate whether emerging technologies would make it more cost effective to start offering multilingual accessibility again.

“That said, the opportunities there should be enticing to anyone looking to grow their business internationally,” they added. According to the January 2019 report from The Brookings Institution titled Spotlighting opportunities for business in Africa and strategies to succeed in the world’s next big growth market, Africa is rife with business opportunities, as the continent’s growth has recovered and future prospects look promising.

When asked how localization experts can help acknowledge and support the linguistic diversity of African markets and communities, Henes and Parrish’s answer was short and sweet: “The first thing that comes to mind is doing what we always do: bring products and services to local markets in a manner that is localized for that market, its culture, and language.”