MCIS Language Solutions is a non-profit that has evolved into a model social enterprise and has been relentlessly pursuing its vision to remove language barriers for over 25 years. With over 35 full time staff and employing a roster of over 3500 interpreters and translators, MCIS provides a full suite of language solutions: from language interpretation, translation and transcription to localization, training and training development for government, legal, police services and healthcare organization in 200+ languages. In 2013, Common Sense Advisory confirmed that MCIS is the largest non-profit language solutions provider in the world.
Every year MCIS invests its net income into initiatives that support free services for victims of violence and the homeless, and training subsidies for aspiring interpreters and translators. With a growing demand for language services, a long track record of success, and deep roots in the community, MCIS has positioned itself to capture more market share in the language industry by simply demonstrating there is a better way to conduct business.
Since its inception in 1989, MCIS has remained primarily committed to vulnerable persons and their rights to access important public services which help them navigate situations of crisis. MCIS has facilitated communication between limited English/French speakers who are in need and a range of services in the public sector: shelters, law enforcement, healthcare and criminal justice system agencies.
Our primary beneficiaries, PEOPLE WITH LANGUAGE BARRIERS, are in need of professional language services and solutions so they can access the critical information & services they need (health and legal rights, education, employment), and have greater capacity to make informed decisions. This, our research has found, has an impact on their sense of safety and general well-being and, in return, creates healthier communities. Our mission is to improve access to critical information and services through high quality language solutions, and our vision is to connect people across the world through languages, serving as their global voice.
MCIS Language Solutions, initially incorporated as Multilingual Community Interpreters Services (On), began in 1989 as the Scarborough Cultural Interpreter Pilot Project (SCIPP), with support from the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship’s Wife Assault Prevention Initiative (WAPI). In 1991, this pilot, envisioned as a complex brokerage model between interpreters and their clients (social service and volunteer agencies), grew into a full-fledged service renamed the Metro Cultural Interpreter Service (MCIS). In 1993 its first Executive Director, Sandra Larsen, was hired and she expanded interpreting services to General Welfare clients and displaced workers through Ontario’s Labour Adjustment Strategy (LAS). In 1994 the Founding Board renamed the agency again as Multilingual Community Interpreter Services (On) (MCIS) with a mission “to ensure equity and access to services for members of various ethno-racial communities” and to divest it from its host organization, Human Services of Scarborough (HSS). On March 17, 1995 MCIS was incorporated and moved its first office from the Town Centre Court to a location in north Scarborough. After a year and a half in crisis ending in December 1996, MCIS’ funding was temporarily resumed and made year to year. A new (and current) Executive Director, Latha Sukumar, was appointed in September 1996, and she formed an Advisory Committee which rallied for continued funding for MCIS. MCIS’ interpretation services soon expanded to 21 languages from the original 8. At this time MCIS had 40 interpreters.
By 1997 the apparent lack of interpreters’ education on working within the criminal justice system as it relates to domestic violence cases led to a grant MCIS received to pilot test the Domestic Violence Court Project Cultural Interpreter Program. This program trained interpreters to work with service providers who supported victims of domestic violence accessing the criminal justice system at designated domestic violence court houses at Old City Hall, North York and Durham, and at the hospitals participating in the Domestic Violence Project in the Greater Toronto Area and Durham.
In 2000, as its services expanded, MCIS successfully applied to be lead agency on a grant to build a web-based interpreter scheduling system which would be used by all language interpreter services funded by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration (MCI) across the Province. By now MCIS had grown from 2 to 6 FTEs and 24/7 coverage.
Another milestone year for interpretation services across Ontario was 2004. First, MCIS was awarded the two year Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative federal grant to administer interpretation services to 14 City agencies serving the homeless and persons at risk of being homeless. The same year MCIS secured a Ministry of the Attorney General grant to do needs assessment and develop community capacity for interpretation services. The result was “Giving Voice”, a research study which identified the language service needs of seniors, youth, children and family members of homicide victims, and found and made recommendations for funding support for professional interpretation services to the above populations. MCIS involved other local language agencies, settlement agencies, interpreters and the public in this study.
During this time, MCIS began to offer interpreter training on a fee-for-service basis. This helped build its interpreter capacity and by 2006, the year it landed its first large fee-for-service contract for interpretation, its roster had grown to over 500 interpreters. From 2005 on, MCIS partnered with Rotman’s MBA interns to work on complex business solutions. Today, with a diversified client base, MCIS provides a full suite of 30 plus language services, including translation, transcription, training and accessibility services to over 750 organisations in government, the broader public sector and private sector in over 200 languages.
MCIS is a provincially incorporated non-profit with a Board of Directors (13) and four Board subcommittees which provide additional guidance in finance, marketing and operations, human resources and nomination and governance/ social impact. Internally, the work of MCIS is structured in eight operational departments: Interpretation Services, Translation and Transcription, Recruitment and Training, Finance and Administration, IT and Internal Operations, Human Resources, Sales and Marketing, and Management and Governance/ Social Impact.
Through our Theory of Change process, we identified non-profit (NP) service providers and aspiring/established language professionals (LPs) to be our strategic partners with whose support we build the sector capacity ensuring appropriate referrals to professional language services and greater public awareness about language barriers and industry standards to address them. Further, as a member of leading networks involved with improving public sector access for vulnerable newcomers, such as Ontario Network of Language Interpreter Services (ONLIS), Healthcare Interpretation Network (HIN), Association de l’industrie de la langue – Language Industry Association (AILIA), Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) and Domestic Violence Coordinating Committees, MCIS influences and shapes public policy and best practices as they relate to access to professional language services.
We actively and continuously search for partners who will help us further our vision, mission and impact, and have also applied for and received government grants to address access to critical information for vulnerable populations. Our newly established MCIS Social Innovation Lab’s mission is “to provide a trans-disciplinary playfield for learning about and experimenting with all forms of social innovation. By combining courses, workshops and pilot projects, we offer a cooperation platform to connect business, public administration and civil society in joint projects.”
Growing its fee-for-service business arm nationally and internationally, MCIS has ensured continuous, uninterrupted revenue growth. Other than the core grants from a couple of Ministries to provide free services assisting victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking, MCIS has carved its niche in an extremely competitive language industrywith high quality services that it delivers on public sector contracts. The most recent appointment to be an exclusive language link between the Federal Government and the incoming flow of 25,000 Syrian refugees is testimony to MCIS’ growing capacity and undisputed reputation in the field.
Impacts & Outcomes
MCIS’ Theory of Change defines our intended impact as: “improving the access of people with language barriers to critical information and services that support their rights, safety and wellbeing. At the same time, the advocacy efforts and sector leadership will promote access as a human right best served through professional language services. By 2020, 15% of our efforts will be intentionally focused on vulnerable populations.”
Historically we have measured the value of our social impact/ imprint focusing on six primary objectives:
- IMPROVING ACCESS TO LANGUAGE SERVICES for non-English speaking victims of domestic violence/sexual assault/human trafficking and homeless persons as part of our ongoing commitment to remove language barriers for our most vulnerable clients. We have routinely absorbed the cost of interpretation when individuals and organizations have not been able to afford it (up to $10,000/year). In 2014-15 fiscal years MCIS provided professional language services to 869 customers in public, private and social sectors fulfilling 63,112 requests that varied in scope, scale and complexity.
- INFLUENCING STREAMLINED ACCESS by participating in the conversations and work at the local, provincial, national and international levels.
- EDUCATING ELIGIBLE NEWCOMERS BY PROVIDING QUALITY TRAINING and offering training subsidies for newcomers to Canada aspiring to become professional interpreters. It is widely known that getting work and exposure to the Canada-specific job market enables faster integration into Canadian society. MCIS subsidizes the training where over 90% of our trainee cohort consists of newcomers who have been in Canada for less than 5 years.
- EDUCATING PUBLIC SERVICE PROVIDERS: Given our solid reputation for the development of online training programs, in 2013 we were funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General – Ontario Victims Services to develop the Online Training Initiative to Address Human Trafficking. This is one of the most comprehensive, one of a kind bilingual online training programs for service providers that has attracted close to 3000 participants. We also expended a lot of MCIS’ own resources educating public service providers on the importance of using professional community interpreters when serving their non-English/French speaking clients.
- PROVIDING EMPLOYMENT: MCIS provides job opportunities for people who face barriers to employment, in particular those in receipt of social assistance. In partnership with the City of Toronto’s Investing in Neighbourhoods programs, we recruit individuals subsidized by the City for a year, train them and following that year absorb 25% of all such recruits permanently into our payroll. We have been engaged with this program for over 7 years now hiring 7 permanent employees from that program on MCIS’ payroll.
- ADVOCATING FOR CHANGE:
- LEGISLATION – MCIS advocates for changes to legislation to ensure continued and enhanced access to public sector services for limited and non-English/French speakers. MCIS is part of networks that are involved in legislative reform, which include professional recognition for Community Interpreters and mandated use of Community Interpreters in all primary health care facilities and legal fora.
- ENGAGING INTERPRETERS & TRANSLATORS WITH LOCAL LINGUISTIC COMMUNITIES
- Docs for Change (2013-15), a two-year Ontario Trillium Foundation funded program developed in collaboration with the Doc Institute, Toronto appointed the very first generation of Docs for Change Fellows with the task of developing their documentary viewing skills and creating film clubs, providing opportunities for community dialogue and social change. (New documentary training program explores newcomer experiences in the GTA)
- Social Impact of Translation (2014) gathered translators and language rights activists who believe that translators are the key instrument to ensuring access to human rights and freedom of expression. (Manifesto)
- Food for Language (2013) – MCIS’ collaborative writing project, a recipe book and collection of narratives shared by MCIS Language Services and Sandgate Shelter staff. The collection captured the dynamic relationship between food and personal narratives while showing the audience how food transcends culture and contributes to Canada’s multicultural fabric and global citizenship. All proceeds of the book towards supporting the Community Kitchen program at the Sandgate Shelter (the book is available on Amazon in printed and Kindle versions).
Today – 25 years later – we are confronting the challenge of incorporating our Theory of Change seamlessly into our social enterprise: from developing business strategy that will align with our social impact objectives and social procurement responsibilities, to engaging partners with advocacy initiatives, and building the type of organizational culture and capacity that will support all of our efforts. We want to provide language solutions that will significantly improve access to critical information and services supporting the rights, safety and wellbeing of people, and develop advocacy efforts focused on the promotion of language access as a basic human right best served through professional language services.
Social benefit is the outcome of the process of achieving tangible and intangible social values. The benefits and value we create continuously for all our customers and various stakeholders range from providing jobs for the long-term unemployed, offering opportunities for training and new skills development to newcomers, and helping individuals or groups facing social or economic barriers overcome them by facilitating their access to critical information through language services. However, social values are not formalized and we are interested in experiments with developing legislation around the Canadian Social Value Act that will open conversations around what we value as a society and as individuals, and how social enterprises and non-profits contribute to the creation of social capital.
Our most important lesson is to never doubt a small group of committed citizens. MCIS’ growth into a successful organization happened precisely because of its commitment to bottom line objectives – sound finances, protection of human rights and diversity – as the direct result of exemplary leadership on its Board, competent staff and the contribution of our language professionals, volunteers and interns. We take pride in MCIS’ growth and its commitment to recruiting highly qualified new immigrants and local language professionals thereby increasing Toronto’s and Canada’s visibility as a multilingual hub that can provide language services to the globe.
Two lessons we are still mastering are related to capacity (that needs to be built regardless of present demands on our scarce resources) and succession (that needs to be planned ahead of time).
In the end – our vision, to connect people globally through languages – is really about communication. And our communication, to quote Suzana Grego from Skoll Foundation, should be a critical change agent and “create authentic alignment between core business and communications [because][…] what you do and what you say fuels transparency and trust in consumers, clients, and citizens alike.”
We want to build authentic, transparent and trusted bridges world-wide that will open up silos between people and languages, fueling mobility and prosperity.