Ethnolink, a behind-the-scenes success story of multicultural Australia, adds Indigenous services

Ethnolink, a behind-the-scenes success story of multicultural Australia, adds Indigenous services

Ethnolink founder and chief executive officer Costa Vasili.

A Melbourne-based translation services company that has quietly been helping to weave the fabric of this vibrant, multicultural country is now launching a division to support communications and engagement with First Nations people.

Having learned from his Cypriot father's struggles in adjusting to Australian life and the language, in 2011 Costa Vasili set out to improve the experiences of other migrants by founding Ethnolink, which is now the nation's largest professional multicultural communications agency specialising in translation services for the public sector.

Ethnolink's work goes beyond mere translation, undertaking research for government institutions and developing campaigns and projects, comprising outreach, cultural sensitivity and the creation of assets like animated videos, brochures, flyers and websites.

These range from managing the Coronavirus Victoria website in 56 languages, to working with the Victorian Electoral Commission to canvas the views of Mandarin-speaking citizens on voting and enrolments. 

"After the translation has been done, we are also responsible for distribution below the line, and that’s a real community grassroots approach to engaging with multicultural communities," explains Vasili, who is a finalist in the upcoming Melbourne Young Entrepreneur Awards.

"We're basically a bridge between government and people who are typically difficult for the government to reach.

"For example, as single-use plastics have been banned in certain situations since 1 July in NSW, we've been communicating this message with shop owners in various areas across NSW, asking them if they have any questions, what information they need, so we'll do that kind of community engagement."

The group currently has 40 full-time staff who are predominantly translators and interpreters themselves with NAATI (National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters) certification where it applies to their languages of expertise, but Ethnolink has a further 500 contractors on hand for languages that are used less often.

"In our team we've got the more common languages that we work within covered such as French, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and Italian, but we still have contractors who you couldn't employ full time for some of these rare and emerging languages where you might get one piece of work once a year for example," he says.

Now more than a decade into his business journey, Vasili's next big step with Ethnolink is the launch of an Indigenous communications and engagement services arm.

"As an Australian-based communications agency, we felt compelled to drive change in how organisations communicate with First Nations Australians," the entrepreneur explains.

"We intend to ensure that our communications are developed in a consultative and respectful way, guided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."

At launch, the new offering will include culturally-sensitive research and community consultation, co-designed culturally-appropriate campaigns and creative development, as well as translation and voice-recording in languages languages spoken across the Central and Western Desert, the Kimberley, Top End of Northern Territory, and the Torres Strait.

Supported languages will include, but are not limited to, Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara, Pintupi-Luritja, Alyawarre (Alyawarr), Warlpiri, Central/Eastern Arrernte, Western Arrarnta, Yolngu Matha (Djambarrpuyngu), Yolngu Matha (Gumatj), and Yumplatok (Torres Strait Creole).

To lead the new division as communications advisor, Ethnolink has appointed Jake Salotti, who works and lives on the traditional lands of the Kaurna people (Adelaide and Adelaide Plains) and brings three years of experience in delivering First Nations communications projects for the Australian Government, the South Australian Government, the Queensland Government, and enterprise clients.

In addition to advising clients on strategy, Salotti will also lead co-designed campaigns with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and all associated language services in accordance with Ethnolink’s ISO certification for translation services.

"We’re committed to ensuring that quality creative assets are made available in-language and delivered in the most appropriate methods possible," Salotti said.

"From my experience over the years, I’ve found that in-language audio-visual solutions, such as animated videos and shareable audio files, are particularly well received by First Nations Australians."

Ethnolink's Indigenous Languages Adviser, Jake Salotti with Trevor Adamson, Pitjantjatjara Elder of Pukatja (Ernabella) APY Lands, South Australia and Country Gospel Singer.
Ethnolink's Indigenous languages adviser Jake Salotti (right) with Trevor Adamson (left), Pitjantjatjara Elder of Pukatja (Ernabella) APY Lands, South Australia.


Lawson Stapleton has also been appointed to the role of Indigenous communications consultant and will be responsible for providing strategic advice as part of the development of Ethnolink’s new arm.

Having been involved with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory since childhood, and with over seven years’ experience working in the Indigenous language services industry, Stapleton is a well known authority on the provision of translation and interpreting services in Australia.

"Community has taught me more about compassion, sincerity and understanding than anywhere else in my life," Stapleton says.

"We need to listen to our Indigenous communities and hear their voices. I have been blessed with lessons from Indigenous elders which has made me want to serve the community even more."

Last month the company also developed an innovative culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) campaign for NSW State Emergency Service (SES) to deliver flood warning and safety messages for multicultural communities in Sydney's north-west. 

"This campaign has the potential to save lives, and it's been a pleasure to work with a client such as the NSW State Emergency Service that cares deeply about equitable access to important information about flooding for all people, regardless of the language that they speak," Vasili said at the time.

"Leveraging community voices was central to this campaign because our research indicated that communities typically trust messages delivered in-language by people from their community, particularly when they are in a position of authority.

"This campaign is really important to target locals in the Hawkesbury-Nepean community who speak languages other than English, and some of whom have experienced multiple floods in the past 18 months," NSW SES Commissioner Carlene York said, describing the campaign as a "significant step".

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