RivInt Interpretation and Translation Services (RivInt) is an award winning social enterprise providing outstanding, high quality language services to the health, social service, corporate, and legal sector in the Greater Toronto Area since 2000. RivInt supplies assistance in over 90 languages and dialects, with a growing number of over 900 linguistic specialists contributing to better the community and our clients. Our mission is to deliver outstanding interpretation and translation services that are accurate, timely, and affordable, as well as to create a shared understanding among people. We recruit majority of individuals from low-income backgrounds, including women, immigrants, and newcomers.
Managed by the Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women, a charitable nonprofit organization, RivInt is invested in positively supporting the community. RivInt is established in the Black Creek neighbourhood, but we serve people and customers spread across the GTA. We strive to empower women, seniors, and newcomers, giving them opportunities to work towards economic self-sufficiency and to contribute to building community relationships while gaining experience as interpreters and translators.
RivInt Interpretation and Translation Services started as a training program delivered in partnership between the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, and South Riverdale Community Health Centre in 2000. At the beginning, the focus was on self-employment: we wanted to help newcomers and immigrants, who had difficulty finding a job, develop their own interpretation businesses.
The first training involved 12 interpreters who spoke 5 languages. We originally planned to equip them with professional and customer service skills, and then provide our support and guidance so they could build their business. Each person had to contribute $1,000 to cover the cost of insurance, business registration, etc. However, our team found that despite their interest in the idea, interpreters did not have the money to invest. They felt it was an uncertain project for them to get into even though the profit would be shared.
Faced with this challenge, Riverdale Community Development Corporation decided to take over the business, creating the social enterprise in 2001. The interpreters agreed to work for RivInt without getting involved in running the business—a risk-free way for them to earn income. We have been growing ever since then, adding a translation business in 2003 to our offering.
In 2005, our first parent organization closed down, and the social enterprise was taken over by Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women. Bringing the business into this organization was a good fit, particularly because it also served newcomers and immigrants. The change did not affect our operations, and we were able to considerably expand our translation business to corporate customers.
Our achievements include receiving the Social Enterprise Angels’ Award at Social Enterprise Council of Canada Conference in 2009. The money from the award was spent to further our marketing. In 2013, we became a selected supplier for the Pan Am and ParaPan Am Games.
In the social enterprise development process, the key factor was bringing in a manager with business background and experience. Another critical piece to our success was involving hospitals in decision-making right from the beginning. Health sector professionals in our advisory committee helped grow the enterprise, providing feedback to set up our business the way they felt that followed best practices. The hospitals became our customers, and we designed our services to satisfy their needs and match their standards.
RivInt originally offered interpretation services; we later added a translation business in 2003. At the beginning, our main clients were hospitals, and now we provide services to health, corporate, legal, and community (social service) sectors. A major part of our revenue comes from interpretations. We have one-year or two-year contracts with hospitals (ranging from a few thousand to $80,000 yearly), which gives us some stability in revenue. Sometimes we get larger assignments from government or corporates. We are currently thinking of diversifying our revenue by adding new services.
One challenge is to make sure every interpreter and translator on our roster has proper training and language tests. All our interpreters have completed Interpreter Language and Skills Assessment Tool (ILISAT). We can do the training, but now also accept accreditations from programs at other institutions.
Keeping track of what languages are in demand in the Greater Toronto Area has also been crucial for our business. We need to have interpreters and translators qualified with tests and training to provide service in these languages.
After operating for some time, we found out that private companies and other organizations started offering language services at very cheap rates. They were able to do so because their employees did not complete training and language tests. Despite their second-rate services, organizations began to consider hiring them because of low costs. The competition in the market forced us to reduce our rates to keep customers. Our profit suffered but we kept wages for our interpreters and translators at the same level (although we also could not increase their rates as we originally planned to do).
Marketing is extremely important. A social enterprise needs a good website. To get some clients, we have to proactively reach out, for example by making cold calls to encourage corporations to try our services.
As a service provider for the health sector, we are fully insured.
RivInt also has internal and external policies in place (e.g. how interpreters have to deliver the service in a professional manner). The quality of service is key to success. When we commit to something, we deliver it. We always make sure the customer remains satisfied with our services.
RivInt could use support with marketing. We are good at providing services but do not advertise enough. It would be great to have a marketing person to help take our social enterprise to the next level and further develop our service offering.
RivInt is a registered business within a charity. Our parent organization, The Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women, provides space, full-time staff and any assistance or resources we need.
Partnerships with hospitals have always been critical for developing an ongoing business as the health sector professionals in our advisory committee have helped us design our services and set up best practices. They also have become our customers. We are also a member of the Healthcare Interpretation Network.
Impacts & Outcomes
As we strive to empower people, it has always been important for us to make sure our interpreters and translators get paid well. The difference between the rates we charge customers and wages makes the profit that goes back into our parent organization to support programs benefiting the community. We currently employ over 900 people speaking over 90 languages.
RivInt also benefits the larger community by bridging the social and cultural differences, thus removing the communication barriers that prevent individuals from accessing services in the health, legal, community, and corporate sectors. Language obstacles pose significant problems particularly in health institutions, in which the risk of legal liabilities must be considered. We work 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, helping professionals deliver their services efficiently to diverse populations.
Vision for the Future
RivInt would like to diversify revenue and increase our marketing activities. At the moment, we are also preparing to provide services for Pan Am and ParaPan Am Games, training our existing interpreters to do simultaneous interpretations.
Leave a Reply