Dispatch on India’s newest translation association

Multilingual speaks to Sandeep Nulkar, CEO of BITS, and one of the driving figures in the recent formation of India’s Confederation of Interpreting, Translation and Localisation Businesses (CITLoB). So far, the association has a newsletter, and is planning to start webinars soon.

Tell me more about CITLoB. How and when did it come about?
Nulkar: Actually, this has been something that we have been toying with for a long time. Honestly, there wasn’t much happening because — as you might be aware — the internal industry in India is very fragmented. There is a lot of insecurity and people don’t want to be part of anything that they have to pay for, which was challenging. As a company, we just took it upon ourselves to start doing things on our own because the association wasn’t happening.

I think Mayflower, BITS, Braahmam, and Crystal Hues first got together and started discussing it, but after that, honestly, nothing happened for a while because we were all busy with our own businesses. Things changed when I got a chance to speak at the Association of Translation Companies (ATC) conference. At that time we were still toying with the idea, and I was invited to speak on India as the next frontier. There was a lot of positive feedback. Geoffrey [Bowden] said “If you really need to take this up, go back and take this up. And the ATC is willing to back you in any way you deem fit.” The only kind of help that we needed was administrative and procedural, so that was put in place and we really got started just under two years ago.

We didn’t immediately start actively working on it because, at that time, the Indian government was putting a lot of money and effort into building up the entire language ecosystem in India — and translation is a very miniscule subset of what they were trying to do.

Anyway, we didn’t want to clash with any initiatives that the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) was undertaking — although the areas of operation are completely different; the Indian Language Internet Alliance (ILIA) is more technology-centric and very minimally translation- or LSP-centric — which is why we kind of lay low for about a year, until FICCI and the ILIA have been completely set up.

We have noticed a resurgence in demand for Indian languages. What do you think is driving that?
Nulkar: I think that the primary reason is the launch of Reliance Jio [an Indian telecommunications company that operates a national LTE network]. I think that no one really imagined that anything as disconnected as that would have any kind of impact on the language industry, but it did in a way that no one ever expected. Almost overnight there was a phone in every Indian’s hand, and access data was very cheap, so in a country of nearly 1.4 billion people you had over 1 billion phones. Now, only 10% of our population speaks English as their first, second or even third language, which means you are very quickly catering to the real 1.4 billion market when you were initially catering to a market of probably 150 or 200 million.

The initiative at FICCI was not something that the government primarily thought of; rather the impetus came from the industry. The industry really demanded that the government and the official body FICCI do something about this, which is why they constituted ILIA – because a lot of technology needs to really catch up with this change.

How many members did you start with, and how many do you have now?
Nulkar: We started with five founding members – BITS, Summa Linguae (which acquired Mayflower), Braahmam, Crystal Hues and Fidel Softech. We opened memberships up a little over a month ago, and so far we have already reached 50 members. Now our aim is to get to about 150 members, and then start using my position in FICCI-ILIA to leverage opportunities and see what we can do for the industry.

What is the cost of your membership fee currently?
Nulkar: Our membership is still free, because I believe that we need to earn the membership fee first and can’t just expect people to pay.

What is still missing in India?
Nulkar: One thing that is still missing in India is a market survey or market research. The one that came out in 2017, the KPMG Report, is already three years old and has been overused to an extent that is not even funny anymore, and this work has been a study that has really scoped out the Indian market. We don’t know the size of the Indian market, which really means that there is a lot that needs to be done and can be done, and it is in everyone’s interest to do so, as people seem to be interested in India and Indian companies.