Sometimes opportunities come up that feel ill-timed. This was just my reaction when I was approached to take on the role of Coordinator of the ITI Italian Network, in July 2019. But I decided to grab the bull by the horns and give it a go! And now I’m looking back over the last year – with all its ups and downs – realising that what has been achieved has far exceeded my expectations. In normal times, it would have taken at least three years’ hard graft.
Back then, I was helping to organise a new concept for the translation industry – a series of online workshops for professionals to hone their translation skills. Most practical arrangements had to be made along with what software to use, all at the lowest cost possible. After all, the Italian Network is a not-for-profit organisation run for the benefit of its members. The webinars were rated highly, and the well-respected translator and author, Tim Parks, was happy to discuss a second set of events – with a few tweaks.
One of the more eye-catching aspects of this kind of CPD delivery is the fact that it was perceived as a green alternative to numbers of linguists travelling large distances to get the same value. And for less time and cost. As a result, we featured in the professional body’s magazine, ITI Bulletin, as trailblazers.
Little did we know what was coming. Or how revolutionary it would be.
As coronavirus gripped Italy, many members live alone and work from home as freelancers, and I was concerned about their mental isolation – not to mention their lack of income. I also felt it was the network’s responsibility to offer some support to its members caught in red and amber zones, trapped in their homes. My idea was to host informal online social events on a weekly basis, but the content soon became a collective effort. And we came up with the event name, Aperitivi, together – the only ‘rule’ was that we were to avoid talking about ‘the situation’.
Initial events were a mixture of photo quizzes and fun collective tasks, such as thinking up alternative titles for Italian biscuits, a translation slam, book reviews and even the odd Italian film review.
Aperitivi turned into a regular event and members enjoyed the participative aspect as well as being able to contribute content as they wished. It wasn’t all driven by one person. And the concept has now taken on a life of its own.
Since ‘the new normal’, our Aperitivi have become a chance for members to share knowledge and experiences about subject areas in an informal setting. These range from the olive oil industry, Italian dialects, ISO legal translation certification and translation techniques to name a few. The breadth of content is a testament to our members’ knowledge – and they are willing to share it.
As a catalyst, these events acted as a mechanism for the network’s collective dynamic to develop, enabling the members to re-energise and refocus the group in a way that would usually have taken years to achieve. Looking back over this transitional period, it’s almost as though the pandemic swept away any preconceptions we held to let us address what was truly important. Our network had the chance to redefine itself as a vital, member-led environment. The consequences of coronavirus combined with my facilitative approach became the springboard to members feeling empowered, a sense of ownership and greater engagement.
We are still running our Aperitivi twice a month. They are as popular as ever, creating plenty of discussion in our online network space. This happens alongside our third edition of our translation mentoring programme, the launch our second Tim Parks’ translation workshop series, as well as pursuing plans for CPD events for Italian-language speakers.
So, what have I learned as a Coordinator? Well, I have long been an advocate for knowledge sharing and continuous learning. We never stop learning. Ever. But for me, the best outcome has been to witness the engagement of our members and the enjoyment they derive from the interaction and learning that sharing knowledge offers. This is what really motivates me. My other insight is that whatever happens over the next 12 months, we will be a stronger community of language professionals because we can – and do – support each other.
These reflections have made me wonder how the pandemic has acted as a catalyst for other communities and networks. What have you learned and experienced?