Translation Services for the Strategic Initiatives Office – An Investment into The Future

May 2022 – The translators’ team for the Strategic Initiatives Office recently celebrated the submission of a joint project with the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. These individuals were a crucial part of an international team of over 30 members who tirelessly worked for almost two years to prepare, baseline, benchmark, preliminary design, and then provide a final design for the Saudi Arabian National Defense University.

The establishment of the National Defense University is part of the transformation across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as part of Vision 2030, under the direction of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The roadmap of accomplishing this reformation, completed and submitted to the Transformation Management Office, transforms the current military education system into the Saudi Arabia National Defense University.

The translation team, Wafa Al Shutwi, Joud Al Subaie, Loujain Al Rasheed, and Shahad Al Sahali, are the first Saudi female staff in the Command and Staff College, which is a military institution. Working in a military environment, with almost all team members being senior ranking members, they seamlessly integrated into the team. The Command and General Staff College is located in a remote military environment outside of Riyadh, which presented some personal challenges for the team due to transportation issues. Each provided critical assistance over many months in designing, drafting, and translating the final design before the deadline of February 27, 2022. They provided a full range of translation services during the two-year-long project to include simultaneous, consecutive, and written translation.

SIO Translation Team

The simultaneous translation requirements are challenging as many of the terms and phrases were military or education-specific, requiring in-depth knowledge of specific language sectors. Senior leaders and stakeholders across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia attended weekly, daily, and sometimes multiple meetings per day with international partners to discuss and develop this plan. Simultaneous and consecutive interpretation was especially challenging during open discussion sessions where the original concepts were briefed, and the Vision and Mission for the National Defense University and the components were developed. Each word in the Vision and Mission was discussed and agreed to by the stakeholders, necessitating that each speaker’s most accurate terms, concepts, and nuances were relayed in real-time. One of the interpreters, Wafa Al Shutwi, said that interpreting for high governmental officers was one of her most meaningful events and provided a great experience in translating military, legal, and official letters. Each experience enabled continual learning and built the translators’ knowledge, skills, and abilities on specific terms.

During consecutive translation, a speaker provides input, then the translator relays the speaker’s information, either as a literal translation or with an interpretation of the speaker’s meaning. Consecutive translation is not simple rote parroting with translation from one language to another and is sometimes an art versus a science. Translating military and educational terms into everyday language was incredibly challenging. The consecutive translation sessions require a high level of understanding and accuracy. Further, the speaker’s tone and actions must also be conveyed on sensitive topics. The consecutive translation sessions allowed the translators to excel and illustrate their high level of understanding of military and educational terms. This was especially true during the initial baseline comparison of international academic institutions. During these sessions, there were multiple discussions of what elements from other nations’ university systems were required and what should be included in the Saudi National Defense University. Each session required an in-depth understanding of the topics, the words being used to convey the concepts, and an opportunity to provide culturally specific terms and insight on each topic. None of the translators has served in the military but still completed the mission through teamwork, professionalism, and exceptional competency.

The most time-consuming element of the project was providing the written translation of the products. This new University will consist of four components: the War College, the Joint Command and Staff College, the Leader Development Center, and the Strategic Studies Center. Each of these centers will have specific focus areas to support the National Defense University. Seven volumes, called the Target Operating Model, were produced to design each of these centers, along with multiple annexes that will provide a roadmap for successful implementation. The translation was only part of the issue on this portion of the project. Keeping the product’s source formatting and overall “look” was especially challenging as Arabic and English words do not always fit in the same space allocated on a slide. As an example, one volume of the Target Operating Model, the Human Resources section, contained 347 slides, including organizational charts, position descriptions, and faculty development plans. In total, they translated over 1,334 pages for the final product alone, not including the changes, additions, and corrections as the material was refined after each meeting.

In discussing this project in comparison with their previous translation jobs, they relayed the positive impact of the characteristics of the military environment on the translation work as the military requires precision, accuracy, professionalism, and rigorous timelines for completion. They also praised the work environment, which focused on teamwork and responsibility. Being part of a project of this magnitude is a clear indication of the vision and empowerment of women and a clear demonstration of implementing the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 of empowering women and having more women enter the workforce, in all sectors, including support to the military.

The future is bright for this all-female translation team if the past is a prologue to the future. Their past experience was incredibly challenging but rewarding, and these motivated employees will continue to renew the energy of their work environment in the future. There are a few areas for improvement. They are looking forward to the new facilities when they are completed in the future. The new proposed facilities have even greater accommodations for all students and staff, such a gymnasium facility for both male and female, potentially childcare facilities, and a new Mosque with separate prayer rooms. In addition, the proposed facility has a grand foyer where the University will host and celebrate global events related to the military sector and recognize all-inclusive events, such as women’s history day. Each translator plans to continue to be part of this program during the implementation phase and sees it as their way to contribute to the investment in educational reforms in the Kingdom. Their teamwork, expertise, and skills will help endow Saudi Arabia with the institutional capabilities to analyze issues, forecast security challenges, and apply strategic thinking to implement effective policy solutions and leverage regional and local knowledge.

The views presented in this article are those of the speaker or author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its components.