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Local capacity building after crisis: The role of languages and translation in the work of development NGOs in Kyrgyzstan

Wine Tesseur (School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies (SALIS), Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 28 August 2019

Issue publication date: 11 March 2020




The purpose of this paper is to discuss the role of languages and translation in the context of capacity building in NGOs in Kyrgyzstan. It argues that language barriers can impede local capacity building, while translation can help in overcoming some of the issues encountered.


The paper reports on what NGO workers have said on the role of languages and translation in their work in 34 semi-structured interviews conducted in Kyrgyzstan in January 2018. The discussion is structured around a theoretical understanding of capacity building at three levels: the organisational level, the individual level and a broader enabling environment.


First, the paper demonstrates that knowledge of English plays a key role in accessing international funding and information. Second, it describes the challenges that NGO workers encounter when translating information related to development into Russian and Kyrgyz. Third, it argues that donors do not overtly consider the important role of languages. Together, the findings suggest that ignoring the role of languages and translation can have a negative effect on project outcomes and power relationships.

Practical implications

Policy recommendations for international NGOs and donors drawn from this case study and from comparative case studies on Peru and Malawi have been published in Crack et al. (2018).


The paper argues that taking the role of languages and translation into account can result in a more in-depth understanding of aspects that may contribute to better local capacity building.



This paper presents findings from a broader research project, titled “The Listening Zones of NGOs: Languages and Cultural Knowledge in Development Programmes”, which has been conducted with Professor Hilary Footitt (Reading), Dr Angela Crack (Portsmouth) and INTRAC. The project has been funded with the kind support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (project reference AH/M006808/1). The author would like to thank Cholpon Akmatova for her assistance in conducting the research interviews in Kyrgyzstan.


Tesseur, W. (2020), "Local capacity building after crisis: The role of languages and translation in the work of development NGOs in Kyrgyzstan", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 214-226.



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