Written by Kristin Windbigler
I like tidy endings, so it seems fitting to say goodbye just a few days before the TED Translators program celebrates its eighth anniversary. There are so many reasons for all of us to be proud of what we’ve achieved in that time, but what makes me beam unabashedly is that this program demonstrates every single day that people — often strangers, at least at first — can collaborate remotely across borders, cultures and languages to do something as important as translate the ideas presented on the TED stage.
In the months leading up to May 13, 2009, I was already working with more than 200 of you to create a pool of translations that would seed our initiative. Finding that many people who were willing to volunteer dozens of hours of time subtitling videos seemed like quite an accomplishment in itself, although in all truth it really wasn’t that difficult. Ever since TED first unveiled the talks online in 2006, people had been writing for permission to translate and share them with others who didn’t speak English. So the idea for the TED Translators program wasn’t actually ours. It was yours.
Our job was to design a scalable system that would allow anyone—anywhere—to translate any talk into any language while still achieving the best quality possible. We had a hunch that if we were able to do that, it would foster a community of translators around the world, passionate about language, accuracy and quality—and, of course, TED. Now that our ranks have grown to more than 27,000 volunteers who have produced 111,000 sets of subtitles in 114 languages, it’s easy to forget that in the early days there were plenty of doubters who said, “You can’t just let anyone translate a TED Talk!”
In the spirit of radical openness, though, we pressed on — which isn’t to say we were certain what would happen when we flipped the switch on that day in 2009. We suspected there would still be more people eager to join, but we weren’t prepared for just how many. The response was so overwhelming that colleagues from other TED departments had to pitch in to help me process the applications for several weeks afterward. That’s how I first met Jenny Zurawell, now the TED Translators program deputy director. Later the team grew to include Dimitra Papageorgiou, Ivana Korom, Krystian Aparta, Helene Batt and Barb Allen. The confidence I have in this team is immeasurable. The program couldn’t be in more capable hands, and I look forward to seeing what you all achieve together next (spoiler alert: you guys are going to remain awesome!).
Beginning next month, I will embark on a new adventure as the executive director of the Western Folklife Center, which hosts the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering every year in Elko, Nevada. I will be forever grateful for this opportunity to work with all of you. Not many people in the world are lucky enough to have friends in 155 countries, but I am among at least 27,000 or so who do. Thank you so much for your friendship and what you have shared with me about your corner of the globe. And keep contributing what you do to the world. It’s important.