WSF 2011 Report

Dakar, Sénégal, 6-11 février 2011
judith hitchman
Posts: 29
Joined: Mon Dec 01, 2003 10:02 am
Location: Tarbes, Pyrenees, France & Ireland

WSF 2011 Report

Postby judith hitchman » Tue May 10, 2011 1:11 pm

The possibility of the WSF 2011 in Dakar being a Babels project was based on the preparatory project of the CRID summer university that took place in July 2010, and the preparatory meetings that took place there. (c.f. Babels project report on-line). The basis in terms of conditions, numbers and part of the co-ordination team were established. Cheik Hamallah Diop became the main Senegalese coordinator of the three present in Bordeaux.

The second phase of preparation was in October – November, when the IC meeting as well as other preparatory meetings were held in Dakar. This increased the strength of the local co-ordination team, as well as confirming the presence of an interpretation sub-commission as part of the local Organising Committee.

The final and most complex preparatory phase was the 5-week period before the Forum itself. This involved several different dimensions and functions:

● Setting up and running training courses in basic interpretation techniques.
● Organising/supporting the logistics for ticketing and accommodation for 115 people from outside Senegal.
● Organising procedures for per diems for both international interpreters and locals.
● Interface concerning the equipment, with many communication problems and difficulty for all those involved (German, Awa Dione and her team, Judith, Ibez Diagne...).
● Mutualisation of human, financial and technical means for pre-forum activities.
● Planning for interpreters and equipment for pre-forum activities.
● General political/organisational interface.

Selection of interpreters:
A call for interpreters was sent, stating the languages and experience level required. More than 700 interpreters filled up the online questionnaire. Judith, Gregoire and Rodrigo, after having sent a call for “selectors” managed the selection process. Professional interpreters were the priority, and finally accounted for more than 80 % of those coming from abroad. The lack of identification of the exact language needs of the forum activities made this process quite tough. We only selected interpreters for the FR, EN, ES, PT and AR booth. We also identified both professional interpreters in Dakar who were willing to give their time to the Forum on specific dates, and possible candidates that could be trained in Dakar particularly for working with local languages.

Training course:
The groups were organised according to languages: 3 English, 2 Spanish, 1 Arabic, 1 local languages & one “mixed”, with all but the Arabic having 2 x 2h sessions a week.

Pedagogically there was always one main teacher + at least one helper present (generally 2 helpers). The first 10 days were run by Judith, supported by Cheik Hamallah Diop, Amy Kebe and Ibrahima Tobe. Mr. Kebe helped with local languages. From 18th January until the week before the Forum, Mikel Lopez was the main trainer. The final days before the Forum were used to test the students, with a 3-test process (sight translation, general knowledge and simultaneous interpreting). Several of the international interpreters supported Mikel after they arrived.

Following the expression of concern by local professional interpreters, an internal Babels discussion and our previous experience in Bamako and Nairobi, it was agreed that no certificate would be given for attending the classes: the risk of contributing to the “grey market” and the extremely short initiation being the reasons.

The classes were generally successful, although there was a very varied level.

Ticketing and accommodation:
Ticketing procedures were developed by Awa Dione at ENDA and Gregoire, on the basis of the selection process. The tickets were reserved, travel information sent from the travel agency sent to Awa, then sent back, forwarded to and validated by the person travelling before confirmation was given and the tickets bought. This complex procedure limited the requests for changes to tickets etc. Gregoire did an amazing job of keeping the files constantly updated on-line. The master file was then used for arrival dates, pick-ups and accommodation.

Although the Senegalese Social Forum office was initially supposed to take responsibility for organising pick-ups, accommodation and daily transfers to the WSF site, this responsibility was soon handed to ENDA. Due to lack of available staff, Mikel took on the work of finding, negotiating and reserving the accommodation, no small task. This work is normally done by local organisers. The majority of the interpreters were picked up at the airport on arrival by other members of the Babels team, and transferred to their accommodation. This meant mobilising several members of the team very late at night. This meant that Babels (and essentially Mikel) was totally responsible for self-organising all these aspects in a foreign country: neither easy nor a normal procedure. It only worked because Mikel had the skills and dedication to see a very tough job through. There were two cancellations, one due to illness, one no-show.

Procedures for per diems for interpreters arriving from abroad:
In order to ensure that there was no discrimination between people, all interpreters arriving were paid the total amount of per diems due for their stay upon arrival, 2 days later at the most.

The procedure involved a team of 2 people collecting the money in two installments from the ENDA office, then preparing the individual envelopes and distributing them according to arrival date. The person receiving the money signed for it, and the receipts were then handed back to ENDA. This procedure involved two people being responsible for every stage of the procedure to double check and count. (Judith, Alice, Antonio, Andres, Jaime and several others).

The ALIS equipment (generation 1 & 2) originated from 3 separate sources: the CNOP in Mali, Nairobi (stocked since the WSF in 2007), and Malmö, stocked in a warehouse by a company that had bought it following the bankruptcy of ESF in 2008. Getting it to Dakar presented varying degrees of difficulty. The simplest was the equipment from Mali that was transported by road, over a month before the Forum. Igor Palakot from the ENDA office ended up flying to Nairobi 2 weeks before the Forum to ensure the proper transport of the equipment from there to Dakar. This part of the equipment is actually the property of the African Social Forum. Like that from Mali, it is generation 1, and in good working order. It arrived minus the requisite transformers, which is a key part of the system. These had to be bought in Dakar.

After very complicated transfer operations, the Malmö equipment was shipped via Hamburg, and arrived in Dakar just prior to the Forum. German contributed very considerable time and effort to ensuring that this actually happened. Awa performed miracles getting it released from customs in time. The equipment from Malmö should have arrived sooner, needed testing and repair work that it was impossible to carry out.

All the equipment used for the activities during the preforum worked (even if several meetings were delayed due to the very late arrival of the equipment to the preforum events venues) This proves that with enough properly tested equipment and technicians, a good job can be done with alternative interpreting systems.

There were not enough properly trained technicians to be able to set up booths and get them to work. This would have been a huge issue if the forum had happened as planned, with equipment able to be installed.

Mutualisation of technical, financial and human means during the pre-forum and activities and side events:
Using the logic of solidarity economy, the Babels interpreters organised the interpretation for several of the pre-forum meetings. Those that had funding paid into the WSF funds (in some cases via other organisations); those that did not, covered the per diem of the interpreters. This involved the Science and Democracy Forum, HIC, Rosa Luxemburg festival, Ebert Foundation, Trade Union Forum, Forum on Health and Social Security, Migrants Forum, ADEPA (Fishing Forum), and a meeting on Fair Trade. The teams were coordinated by Rodrigo. The main difficulty (apart from the uncertainty of having working equipment) was the lack of a specific coordination office, and schedules had to be put up on the walls outside the office at the Centre BOPP. This made it difficult for interpreters to check their schedules and for coordination. Besides, it was quite confusing and the schedules were regularly ripped off the wall overnight at BOPP.

General political and organisational interface:
This was much more than a full time job (average of 12h hour days, 6-7 days a week for 5 weeks before the Forum, although it is impossible to describe the million and one things it involved! Most of the contents were included in the daily blog that informed the interpreters of what was happening in Dakar before they arrived.

Mutualised and pre forum events
Most of them went well, though we also faced some chaos due to some misunderstandings:

Rosa Luxembourg
We had a dedicated team for most of the days with some support when the meetings were a bit longer or complicated. They had mostly English and French as working languages, with some German and Spanish. We got great feedback from them; they were amazed by the great job done by the team.

Fondation Friedrich Ebert
We provided a dedicated team for them who did a great job, supported by other colleagues when needed. They had most of the meeting outside of the forum venue, a few minutes’ walk from the University.

We had agreed with the FAL that Babels would cover their meeting, in the forum premises and elsewhere. When we sent a team of interpreters to the hotel Meridien where the President of Senegal (among others) was supposed to talk, our team called coordination telling that there was a team of paid interpreters there; the Babels team decided as we had previously agreed should this happen, and that they would leave the venue. We had planned up to 5 meetings for the FAL during the forum, and even though they mutualised resources, they never called us or contacted us during the forum, weirdly they used their own interpreters or the paid ones they had hired the for the meeting at the hotel. I met Eva Torremocha, who was responsible for their co-ordination at the closing ceremony and asked her why they never called us (as we did not have her phone number and sent her several mails), her reply did not make much sense to me, and she did not directly tell me what had gone wrong.

Other pre-forum events Babels covered:

Science & democracy forum
This meeting was quite complicated both technically and logistically, as there was no equipment guaranteed the day before the forum was supposed to start. We had up to 5 rooms covered with working booths at some moments (4 languages working in 2 bigger rooms).

Habitat International Coalition (HIC)
We had a dedicated team for them with 3 languages. We got very good feedback from them despite some misunderstandings regarding off-site meetings.

World Social Forum on Health and Social Security
We covered their meeting for 2 days with EN, FR , ES and PT.

They held their meeting at the BOPP centre. We had a dedicated team for 2 days with a few support interpreters helping when they divided in working groups. They were very happy with the participation of Babels.

Forum syndical
This Forum only confirmed they needed us on the 25th of January. We experienced terrible communication problems with the group. We did the planning and confirmed our participation only 2 days before the forum started.

Via campesina
We had good communication with them, and ensured we allocated them the best Wolof and Bambara interpreters we could get. We were in direct contact with their interpreters, who helped us when covering the needs they had at some points.

The Migrants Forum on the Ile de Gorée
We had only 3 interpreters covering this meeting which was held on the island of Gorée.

They had a meeting in Kaolack, which we covered with 2 interpreters.

International Alliance of Inhabitants

We covered their meeting at the Tahiti hotel for 2 days, which was hidden somewhere in the Yoff area. Our interpreters had great difficulty finding it, as no one seemed to know where the hotel was. We had communication problems as they had not mutualised their funds in the same way as other associations. Therefore, they were not given priority when assigning interpreters before the forum, which made them very angry when they got to know about it. They threatened us with positioning against Babels at the next IC meeting. English, French and Spanish were covered in all their meetings.

More information on pre-forum events can be found in the following link: ... uckF#gid=9

Conclusions and lessons learnt:
Based on experience of Bamako, Nairobi and Malmö, all tickets were prepaid, accommodation was reserved in advance, and all per diems were prepared and signed for when people arrived. This guaranteed good logistical conditions for all international interpreters.

The task of reserving accommodation and airport pick-ups should essentially not fall to Babels (this put extreme pressure on many of the coordinating committee members who had to devote plenty of time to this, instead of doing planning, communicating information etc), but to the Organising Committee, working as a team with Babels needs to make sure that needs are met, and interpreters don’t end up sleeping on Church floors like in Malmö etc.

The co-ordination team involved 3 Senegalese (Cheik Hamallah, Amy and Ibrahima, as well as 3 Europeans, Judith, Mikel and Gregoire.

On the basis of mutualisation, approximately 25 000€ was raised in mutualised funding. This covered the approximate expense of accommodation for the interpreters. Although Babels is an informal collective, and does not raise funding per se, this approach contributed significantly to the finances of the Forum.
Many local professional interpreters did not fully endorse the idea of mutualising funds and interpreters. Some decided not to work with Babels, as they thought the many meetings being held in Dakar, before, during and after the forum, could have been covered by the local professionals. Many organisations had the funds to pay local professional interpreters the normal local fees. In the light of these reactions and taking into account the discussions with several interpreters who took part in the forum, mutualization should only be encouraged when Babels estimates the question has been properly and satisfactorily discussed with local professional interpreters. It should definitely be provided for those organisations that have no means of otherwise funding interpreters, and can also be a very good way of demonstrating how another economy is in fact possible: those that have the means to contribute funding, those that have the means to do the work do so. It is an approach based on solidarity economy logic. The OC should have the means to raise funds to pay interpreters’ plane tickets and accommodation, without having an impact of the interpretation local market and the income of those living from it.

In one case, we ended up sending interpreters to some meetings where the organisers, who had even mutualised funds, hired professional interpreters to cover the meetings, wasting resources and creating frustration as a result. This is unacceptable for everyone: both organisers and interpreters.

The Forum

● Opening march
● Room/booth planning
● Decisions
● Impacts
● Per diems
● Closing ceremony
● Conclusions

The opening march:
Babels took part in the opening march. About a month before the forum we were asked to interpret for the opening march and given the contact details of the person in charge of the organization of the march; it was specified then that there would probably be moving vans and 3 stages where interpreting would be needed. A few days before the march we were given details of languages needed and some of the new logistic details (only 2 stages, 3 vans). The day before the march we were able to finally have phone contact with the two people in charge of organizing the march: the language requirements changed three times that day, and at 8pm we were given the “final” logistic info: 4 vans, only 1 stage in front of the library, speeches would start at 5pm; and we were given language requirements. Only at the beginning of the march were we given the list of speakers (including Evo Morales) and found out that the location of the stage had changed and the speeches would actually start at 3.30pm. Therefore we sent a reinforced team ahead of those marching. Although present, for some reason never fully clarified, (possibly due to the fact that they were not wearing their identification badges), neither they nor the sign language interpreters were allowed on stage to interpret during the initial part of the opening ceremony (around 7-10 speakers intervened before Evo, and this lasted more than 1 hour). Some of the coordinators went through the march checking for the interpreters’ teams on the vans. We did not see any, although they were there from start to finish. When we got to the stage, the interpreters were about to leave. They had been ignored, even though they had been waiting for a few hours. All this happened although several of the main heads of the forum, had seen us and denied us access to the stage. Rodrigo tried to speak to the local police and Evo's delegation, who also ignored us and mocked us, specially the police. We kept on waiting until Judith arrived and started negotiating again, this time more successfully. When Evo took the floor, interpretation was improvised by a person already on-stage who is neither an interpreter not a member of the Babels collective. Security was high. As soon as Morales left, and following the musical interlude, the Babels team went onstage (sadly the sign language interpreters had already left).They interpreted for the Tunisian, Palestinian and Egyptian speakers, as well as other members of the Organising Committee and International Committee.
The incident raises several issues: firstly the presence of a head of state in his capacity as head of state, which contravenes the WSF charter, irrespective of who the person may be. Secondly the temporary exclusion of the Babels team from the stage. This was very upsetting and unacceptable to all members of the Babels team that were present on time. Judith made the personal choice of staying in the march (possibly a bad political call, but one she felt entitled to make!), which probably did not facilitate initial access to the stage.

Room/booth planning:
The normal procedure for Babels, or indeed any organisation, is for meetings to be allocated to rooms, and interpreters allocated to meetings according to the language needs and time schedule. The room allocation is done by the Organising Committee; only then can Babels do their booth planning. This is also the starting point for allocating technical interpretation equipment. This logic did not exist in Dakar.

Added to the chaos of insufficient rooms, this combined with a lack of properly trained technicians, and led to almost all of the rooms not having interpretation equipment that worked. There was insufficient training in advance for technicians, an insufficient number of technicians really able to set up a room (only about 5). However it is as important for technicians to have a programme and to work hand in hand with interpretation booth planning. This was impossible as there was no designation of rooms possible, and no access to electricity for most activities.

The booth planning method used by Alice and Giulia was based on interpreters’ levels of experience, language combination and specific needs, and aimed at integrating the less experienced and first-timers with their professional colleagues, thereby guaranteeing the quality of interpretation. Due to the lack of a room where the coordinators could work, we had to start planning very late, and finished it on the morning of the first day of the forum, just a few minutes before the meetings actually started. The planning method we had developed and the big effort we made was totally useless, as most of the allocated rooms could not be used.

The total break-down in the availability of rooms, with the impossibility to print a realistic programme throughout the forum, meant that this system could not be used. It also meant that interpretation equipment was generally not installed, apart from a few rooms in UCAD 2. Some NGOs had spiders, which proved some small help, but the situation can be summarised as follows:

Day 0: We were assigned a planning room and a coordination room that didn't exist; even after a whole day of calls (threats, voice mails, and text message) no solution was found to the problem. This meant not being able to hold an important interpreters meeting (and therefore made it even harder to communicate news and logistic details to interpreters) and almost not being able to do planning for the following day, as coordination was left with no office, no Internet access, no printer etc. At the last minute, with Nico’s help, we managed to get access to the ENDA offices downtown for the night to do planning there. In the morning the programme for day one had been put online, however with big mistakes concerning interpreting requirements (it listed only 12 activities in the whole day that would need interpreting!) We also had a provisional programme put together by Nicolas Haeringer a few days before (that had been put aside due to big changes requested by the local OC, as well as a third file with a provisional list of organisations that had already paid for interpreting and that therefore had to be given priority status. A dedicated team worked all night to try to merge all this info before they could even start booth planning.

Day1. No room for interpreters, most meetings either did not take place at all, or were held in total chaos or assigned non-existing rooms. By mid-afternoon we had made our way to the crisis management unit and had been assigned a (real) room for the following day as well as access to the Media Centre for the members of Babels co-ordination. (Initial rooms allocated to us included a lecture hall that was not free and a room in the middle of a construction site…). The conditions in which we found ourselves working were worse than any we had previously encountered, we were on the verge of giving up a few times during the first two days, but for some unknown reason, we decided to continue.

Days 2-5. A progressive procedure was established by the planning team (Giulia, Annabel, Lina and Rodrigo). Meetings were held in tents or rooms, but it was still not possible to print a reliable programme indicating what/where. This severely impacted the planning possibility and allocation of interpreters

Decisions and impacts:
● Interpreters were allocated on the basis of available rooms and requests made in person, confirming room/tent availability, whether the organisation had paid for interpretation etc. Many associations that had not paid the interpretation registration fee took advantage of this chaos and came to ask for interpreters without having paid the due fee. Many associations came with their proof of payment to avoid misunderstandings.
● Information on the interpreter allocation procedure adopted was uploaded onto the WSF site and signage was used to inform people.
● No proper booth planning was possible in these conditions.
● “Flying” teams were the norm.
● Work conditions were very tough, but energy was very high.
● Integration of local interpreters (both professional and first-timers) was haphazard, last-minute and poorly managed, through no direct fault of the coordination team. (Due to no possibility to have integrated planned teams…and on several occasions due to the uncertainty of being able to make sure that per diems would really be paid to the local interpreters).

Per diems for local interpreters:
A provisional budget was communicated by the Babels coordination represented by Judith to all relevant members of the Organising Committee, ten days before the Forum. It was based on the estimated needs of activities (including local languages). ENDA took responsibility for the per diems for local interpreters during the pre-forum week, CONGAD for the week of the Forum. A clear procedure for payment was written and communicated and agreed one week in advance.

In order to avoid the loopholes that had existed in both Bamako and Nairobi, whereby local people who had not actually worked, claimed per diems, a triple-check system was set up, by the co-ordination team.
It proved very difficult for Cheik Hamallah & Judith to get the requisite per diems every evening, and this resulted in a threat to all go on strike. Per diems were then forthcoming.

Unfortunately the break-down of room/booth planning led to all those who had received training sitting around, waiting/hoping to be called, rather like 19th century jobbers. This discriminatory situation was terribly uncomfortable and unfair. It also created some bad feelings. Payment of per diems had to be interrupted, although all per diems owed were paid.

The closing ceremony and reports from Assemblies:
A Babels team, including a sign language interpreter, were on stage for all the reports from Assemblies. There were no negative incidents.

● A dedicated co-ordination team of ten people, both locals and internationals, with everyone having volunteered for specific functions; this worked effectively. However, the lack of a room where we could meet, during the first days, had an important impact on the coordination team, that mostly took the decision to work from home (where we had at least Internet access).
● The positive logistics up-front enabled the team to work, in spite of the very chaotic and difficult conditions during the forum.
● Conditions were a serious obstacle to integration between local and international interpreters.
● About 25 local professional interpreters had planned to give time to the Forum on various days. It was totally impossible to integrate them as no advance booth planning was possible. This was an important loss in terms of local dynamics.
● Nobody was forced to do anything that they were not prepared to do, although conditions for most people were very tough most of the time.
● The fact that interpreters did not have specific badges was a hindrance.
● The lack of promised infrastructure (meeting and planning rooms) translated into a major difficulty and far less efficiency
● The lack of a programme in due time made proper planning and organizing impossible; this will have to be avoided at all costs in the future. Changes can be dealt with, but an outline/draft of the programme needs to be given so that both technical equipment installation and interpreter booth planning can be done.

Responsibility for who, within an OC is in charge of what aspect of interface for Babels needs to be very clearly defined from the beginning. The shift of responsibility from CONGAD to ENDA concerning everything to do with the international interpreters made it difficult for us initially, but worked efficiently. The obligation to self-organised accommodation worked out fine, because a member of Babels accepted this role, but it should not be part of Babels general responsibility, although Babels needs to agree to the accommodation proposed.

It is equally important for the OC members to be able to identify the specific people within Babels who are responsible for a given aspect of co-ordination within Babels: we are a horizontal organisation, and it is important that this is clear, even though there is always a project coordinator.

The difficulty with the opening march is largely related to the unclear interface to get the right information. Procedures should have been clearer on all sides to allow access to the stage at the very beginning and avoid what was very serious frustration for those present.

Procedures, when written, (for example the payment of per diems), should be respected. This was the case for ENDA and the international interpreters, but not for CONGAD with the local interpreters.

● Technical aspects like interpretation equipment, electricity (and rooms...) cannot be improvised. They require planning. They are basic requirements for providing interpretation in decent working conditions for interpreters and decent meeting conditions for participants.

Relations with the OC
Once again, Babels tried to have the best possible relation with the OC, before, during and after the forum. However, we encountered many difficult situations. The communication with the OC was mostly done through Judith, who tried to share that info with the rest of the coordination committee. Members of the OC were mostly talking to her directly in person, very rarely via e-mail, and that kept the bulk of the team away from the decision making and preparation process before and during the forum. The day of the opening ceremony was a good example of this. After several calls and messages we managed to get a room downtown to do the planning. Threats to take Babels out of the forum were made. This was only the beginning. The threat strategy had to be used a few times afterwards (paying per diems to both local interpreters and technicians, getting the programme for the following day, etc.) At the moments were the OC members could and should have made our life easier, they ignored us, overwhelmed by events taking place, and on some cases, some members failed to treat some Babels coordinators with due respect, even treated us with disdain (like at the opening ceremony, when our team was initially seriously ignored).
Internal tensions within this OC also had an impact on our team. The responsibility of paying the local interpreters and technicians was not clearly assumed although it had been decided that this was to be the responsibility of the CONGAD. There was an on-going difficulty to get payment of the locals' per diems. This led the international interpreter's team to threaten strike action unless the money was duly paid to the locals. We ended up in one of the worst situations ever seen in a forum, where volunteer interpreters were being misinformed and humiliated, dividing our team into the “foreigners” who got their per diems, and the locals, whose payment was an open question.

As in previous fora, we emphasized the idea of not having volunteer interpreters and paid interpreters in the same meeting. Our interpreters found out that associations had hired their own interpreters in at least 4 occasions. Although the OC did generally and publicly support Babels message, it did not totally avoid this kind of unfortunate event.

All this miscommunication created a lot of tension in the coordination team. On a few occasions we had long discussions as to whether or not we should continue. For many of the team, stepping down should have happened very early in the process, especially after what we saw during and after the opening ceremony. Other members wanted to continue, and finally prevailed. However, we did frequently take into account the fact that the OC had not fulfilled its promises of providing the basics we needed to do a proper job. The main consequence was that we could not really guarantee any decent conditions to the team of interpreters or to those who were expecting good quality interpretation during the forum.


Despite all the frustration, everyone kept up amazing good spirits and did a great job assisting the coordination team. For that reason, this report ends with a BIG THANKS to:

● All those committed local interpreters who came to our Amphi every morning and waited long hours to be sent to a meeting where they could give a hand. Their commitment kept us going, despite the problems with the per diems.
● All those who, despite the scary and chaotic beginning of the forum, woke up every morning and joined us in the bus with which we started every headless chicken day.
● All those who suffered the ridiculous and frustrating opening march and opening ceremony moments.
● All who called or texted us telling that interpreters were needed in tent X, knowing how hard it was for us to send interpreters to unknown tents or rooms, but showing that another interpretation is possible in the WSF and elsewhere.
● All those who helped us during the night at the Enda office when none of us really believed planning would be of any use.
● All those who had to work every single day, without complaining, as we were really short of interpreters at some moments and for some languages.
● All those who supported us with water, sandwiches, telephone cards, taxis, sharing info, sticking papers on the walls…
● All those who kept smiling, when crying or killing the chicken was the easy way out.


Re: WSF 2011 Report

Postby BizKey » Tue Feb 21, 2012 7:02 pm

This project was very frustrating but all in all it was very successful. A good show of persistence.

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