A World of Difference

GALA celebrates 20 years of language work

By Cameron Rasmusson

It’s amazing to think what a different world it was just 20 years ago. 

The year 2002 was the year the dot-com bubble burst. Geopolitics were in flux following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with the American War in Afghanistan lurching into its first full year. And in the language industry, companies grappled with the implications of the internet, still a few years shy of the so-called Web 2.0 and the dawn of social media. 

Into this dynamic professional landscape, a new professional organization was born: GALA Global. Recognizing the need for a professional organization that could help language companies navigate the precarious waters of a globalizing world, 15 businesses banded together to create an organization “dedicated to professional growth and the betterment of the industry,” according to GALA’s website. 

Two decades later, the professional, technological, and globalization landscape looks much different. But the GALA mission stays the same.

“Reaching the 20-year mark is about more than just longevity — it’s about adaptation, perseverance, and a member-first mentality,” said Allison Ferch, GALA executive director. “I’m incredibly proud of GALA’s accomplishments and its approach to doing business, and I’m honored to be part of it.” 

For just about any organization or business, reaching a 20-year anniversary is a validation of the work’s value. That goes double for a nonprofit. And like most other nonprofits, GALA’s volunteers, with their passion and commitment, proved invaluable to its overall sustainability. 

“Thanks to countless volunteers and a dedicated staff, GALA has steadily grown into a legitimate global organization that is respected and trusted by thousands,” Ferch said. “We’ve dealt with setbacks, we’ve made big changes, and we’ve stayed true to our mission. I’d say we’re aging beautifully.”

“GALA owes a lot to its member volunteers and we take every opportunity we can to say thank you to them,” she continued. “From the early board members to focus group participants to SIG moderators to webinar leaders, and content contributors, GALA relies on its volunteers for all kinds of programming and content.”

There’s no doubt that the language industry — and the world as a whole — is dramatically changed today from the days of 2002. When GALA first opened its doors, mobile phones were only just beginning to enjoy mass adoption — never mind the smartphones that were little more than a gleam in Steve Jobs’ eye. Hollywood was still shackled to theaters and cable television. Globalization was important to big business, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to what lay ahead. 

“Undoubtedly, technology has had the greatest impact since 2002,” said Ferch. “As an association, our biggest change since being founded is our member composition. In the beginning, GALA was an LSP-only organization, but now we have representation from all key stakeholder groups including service providers, technology developers, buyers, and universities.”

The concerns of 2022 are a far cry from those of 2002. According to Ferch, the founding members acted 20 years ago to grow their businesses and reach beyond their borders, and with that came an obligation to understand business practices and expectations in other countries. 

“Things like sales strategies, approaches to marketing, how to scale operations and adopt technology in a smart way, how to recruit and manage a portfolio of freelance linguists – these were all key challenges for GALA members in the beginning. They still are!”  Ferch said. 

Along the way, GALA implemented some of its key events and services. For Ferch, the most rewarding of these is the annual in-person GALA conference. Introduced in 2009, GALA conferences aim to facilitate professional development — and some good, clean fun — by bringing together professionals from around the world. 

“There were a few detractors in the beginning — people who said the industry didn’t need another conference — but there were plenty of others who wanted to see what GALA could do independently,” Ferch said. 

“At these events, you see how many smart, multilingual, multicultural, well-traveled, good-intentioned people there are in this industry,” she added. “The professional and personal connections that have grown out of our in-person events are priceless and rewarding beyond compare.”

Now organization staples, it’s clear GALA’s conferences and learning events are here to stay. What’s less clear is what the future holds. The industry is poised at a pivotal moment of technological transformation, and the leading experts disagree on exactly how the dust will settle. A quick look at LinkedIn — or an issue of this very magazine — is proof enough of that.  And while language work could look dramatically different in a few years, GALA’s role will likely stay the same. 

“GALA’s most important role is being a connector: connecting people, companies, and ideas,” Ferch said. “We don’t have all the answers — nobody does. But we have an incredibly smart and experienced community and together, our members can solve a lot of difficult challenges.” 

One of those challenges is change itself. How does one best prepare for a professional future that is changing before the public’s eyes? That’s a problem that requires some serious conversations, and those are conversations that GALA is happy to encourage and moderate. 

“There are some important discussions that need to happen in this industry, especially around the workforce and business models,” Ferch said. “GALA has representatives from all key stakeholder groups, and I’m convinced that by providing a forum for discussion and even debate, we can positively impact the way work gets done in this industry.” 

And while machines may do much of the legwork in the language work, the heart of the industry is still people. As more students finish their studies and find their way into their first jobs, GALA is there to lend them a helping hand. And according to Ferch, from that perspective, the future looks bright. 

“We have a duty to try and attract new talent to the industry and diversify the pipelines that have traditionally led someone to a career in language services and technologies,” she said.

    Cameron Rasmusson is editor-in-chief of MultiLingual Media



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