Riding for translators: On Our Bikes

Translators Without Borders is thrilled to have a responsive network of donors supporting our mission to help ensure local language availability of critical health, safety and educational information in developing countries. One of our most creative fundraisers is run by language services provider TextPartner sp.j, based in Poland. TextPartner is the driving force behind OnOurBikes, which raises funds for TWB annually, via long-distance sponsored bike rides. Before the latest ride, which has just finished (raising almost $10,000!), TextPartner’s co-founder and Operations Manager, Marek Gawrysiak, shared the OnOurBikes story!

Q: Marek, first can you tell us a bit about your own story and how you started TextPartner?

Sure! I started as freelance translator, typically on my computer at 3am in the morning to meet 8am deadlines. There was always one person I could count on to be available at 3am for linguistic, DTP and programming help, at that was my future co-founder, Lucjan Szreter. He was a chief editor at a newspaper, also living in Poland about 400km away, back in the late 90s. We decided to set up a company together, beginning in a little apartment one floor down from Lucjan’s flat. As more and more work came in, we hired more people full-time and eventually took over the entire floor for office space. Today we have 18 people and are still growing. We started with English to Polish and then German translations and have grown to cover 15 language pairs,  and we’ve added reviewers, DTP and even a print shop, all in the same building. We have a great team, I love being in this business, with all the shades and colors of translations.

Q: How did you and TWB meet?

I first connected with TWB at a conference, where we started talking and I got very interested in their mission. I found it a great intersection of languages and doing good in the world. TextPartner didn’t have a big budget to donate, so we brainstormed internally on other ways to support. Both Lucjan and I like riding our MTB bikes in the mountains. We spoke to John Terninko, the executive director of the European Language Industry Association (ELIA) about doing a fund-raising ride from our hometown of Katowice, Poland, to arrive in Budapest in time for the ELIA conference on October 2. He thought it was a great idea. So Lucjan and I started calling people we knew who were cyclists, including Raymund Prins, a former pro cyclist who runs a translation agency with a similar model to ours. I spoke with TWB’s director of fund-raising, the amazing and resourceful Anne-Marie Colliander Lind, who gave us great suggestions. I set up the OnOurBikes.info website, and we did that first 400km ride, arriving in Budapest after 4 days. We had never before tried riding such long distances, but with just 3 people, one of whom just did one day, we raised $1800. That was just short of our goal of $2000, but we easily made it up at the conference with the help of the ELIA participants. We ended up with 21 sponsors, and had enough to pay for two TWB translators in Kenya for 1 year!

Q: So you kept going with the rides!

Yes, TWB was happy with the result, and so we decided to continue with the idea, with events once per year. Last year in 2013 we tried a longer route, to go across Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and back to Poland, for a total of 600 km in 4 days – our team was getting bigger and we were getting more fit! My wife Ewa, also part of the TextPartner management team, took up MTB cycling especially to join us for the event. We had wonderful support along the way. For example, Răzvan Costache, the founder of Avalon Media, had friends in a Romanian town where we were stopping. We spent the night with them and they welcomed us like part of the family.

Q: What have been the greatest challenges during the rides?

For the 2013 ride, our sponsors donated $5 per km and we got to $3000. We didn’t want to stop there, so we offered, if sponsors would donate extra, then we would ride extra sponsored kilometers in a place of their choice. Sponsors could choose the location on the website, and the majority chose the Alps. On the first day in the Alps, I got carried away and wanted to show off my stamina. I went up a famous pass in Austria, to an altitude of 2000m; then down on easy-to-ride asphalt and back up again to 2300m. Suddenly, the altitude got to me and I completely ran out of energy. Luckily, there was an Austrian shelter hut. A kind guy from the former Yugoslavia shared his schnapps, we told stories and had hot soup. I thought I was okay to go back. But on the way down, my bike tires slipped, and I fell. With the adrenaline, I felt little pain at the time, but later that night, discovered I had broken ribs. I’ll be more careful next time!

Another kind of challenge is more political. During that same 2013 ride, there was a Ukranian rider with us, Egor Agnaev from Promova, Ukraine, who traveled nineteen hours on the train to ride the Ukrainian segment with us. Because Ukraine is not in the EU, it’s very difficult for them to get visas to travel in Europe.  So Egor could only go with us as far as the Ukraine border. It was sad to see him leave our ride, for us personally and for our fund-raising!

Q: What are the plans for 2014?

Our 2014 ride is a “Baltic Loop,” starting April 18 in Poland and finishing May 3rd in Poland. We ride through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, then take the ferry to Finland, ride across Finland, take another ferry to Sweden, ride south to Karlskrona, Sweden, and take the ferry back across to Poland. It is 2,300 km! We’re asking sponsors to donate $5 for each km. We have 360km sponsored to date, and you can see our sponsors and progress on the OnOurBikes.info site.

Q: How do you publicize your fund-raisers?

We have learned a lot from our previous 2 rides. We’re very focused now on spreading the message about TWB and what the goal is, in as many languages as possible. Having our own print shop makes it easy to print brochures for media purposes. Before the ride, on March 28, there is a translation and localization conference in Warsaw, where we will do a presentation about the Baltic Loop ride and about TWB’s Kenyan training center. In each of the countries we cross, we’ll have an agency partner willing to translate press kits and send to local media. These include Diskusija from Lithuania, Tilde from Latvia, Interlex Translations from Estonia, Maris Multilingual from Finland and Increa.se Consulting from Sweden. We’ll do more media events, and some sponsors will write articles in their  languages for local media. We now have an article in Dutch, English and Slovenian, with plans for at least ten other languages! During the 2013 ride, our riders were accompanied by a car pulling a caravan that had all the comforts of home, and we put sponsors’ logos on it. The Baltic Loop is 2,300 km, so too expensive to bring a caravan, but we are building a toy caravan that can be towed with a bike and will also have space for sponsored logos. TWB’s Anne-Marie will be throwing a party for us when we arrive in Växjö, which will be great fun. During the Latvia part of the ride, we’ll stop in Riga to attend the ELIA Networking Days, and meet with media there. We are planning to post photos as we go along the ride, on the OnOurBikes.info website, and we use Twitter all the time to broadcast updates about changes to the website. In fact, we’ll be tweeting soon about 2 new cyclists joining in from Latvia and at least 4 others from Estonia!

Q: Just curious – why the .info domain for the OnOurBikes website?

Our sponsors are from all over the world, and so we wanted a country-neutral domain. And conveniently, .info is 3 time less expensive than .pl!

Q: What are your hopes for future fund-raising?

We want to keep contributing to TWB as much as possible. TWB gives people knowledge to improve their lives, using the tool of translation. TWB is involved in lots of projects in Kenya which need funding, like the training center, and making Wikipedia content available on mobile phones. It’s so important to make this information accessible in the local language. Through OnOurBikes, we want to support TWB  translators. So we dream of being able to raise more funds as part of an open, international initiative, with possibly mirror events in other world regions. We’ve had some interest from Asian countries, and if we can share our knowledge on how to get organized for the rides, be attractive to sponsors and do the publicity, we can help them join in. We can provide our time, as Marek Pawelec, one of our expert Polish translators did, by going to Kenya to TWB’s center, to train students on CAT tools. We’re also interested in working with more translation industry associations such as GALA and TAUS, to let them know about OnOurBikes. And we hope all your readers will visit our site at OnOurBikes.info and help us spread the word as well.

Thank you, Marek, for sharing your story, and for all that you do for Translators Without Borders!



Jessica Roland