Breaking barriers: Southeast Asia Spark Fund transcends language for climate action

By Global Fund for Children | December 19, 2023 | Asia | Youth Empowerment

Editor’s note: This blog post was co-written by Loan Vuong, GFC’s Spark Fund Vietnam Specialist, and Alex Wen Jie Lew, a Southeast Asia Spark Fund panelists from Singapore.

In our increasingly interconnected world, collaborative projects often bring together people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and languages. While this diversity can be a source of innovation and fresh perspectives, it can also present a significant challenge: language barriers. In this blog post, we explore how Global Fund for Children’s Southeast Asia Spark Fund has embraced diverse strategies to transcend language barriers, fostering unity and productivity.

The Southeast Asia Spark Fund, supported by the Avery Dennison Foundation, Lien AID, Porticus, and RS Group, fuels youth-led climate resilience efforts in the region.

Inclusivity: “If You Want to Go Further, Go Together”

The Southeast Asia (SEA) Spark Fund has emphasized inclusivity as its guiding principle, with language justice being an integral part of this ethos. This is reflected in the decision to implement the fund in three different languages: English, Thai, and Vietnamese. This approach has allowed young people from Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore to actively participate in the fund without language barriers limiting their involvement.

The SEA Spark Fund’s objective is to invest in youth-led and youth-focused groups that are addressing critical climate change issues. It is the first GFC initiative with a specific focus on climate change, an issue youth panelists in our Spark Fund pilot round identified as an urgent priority for young people.

A group photo of the SEA Spark Fund panelists. © GFC

A key element of the SEA Spark Fund’s approach is the placement of key funding decisions in the hands of 15 young people from Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore. These youth panelists have not only designed the grantmaking process but will also select youth-led and youth-focused grassroots partners and award funding to them. This approach empowers young people to shape the future of their communities and the planet.

Tackling Language Barriers

Rather than making English proficiency a mandatory criterion, the SEA Spark Fund welcomes young people from different linguistic backgrounds. This approach not only opens doors for youth from different communities but also brings diverse perspectives to the table.

At the outset, language justice posed significant challenges. The need for interpretation and the complexity of coordinating discussions among panelists from three different countries presented hurdles. However, the SEA Spark Fund enlisted the support of interpreters who shared the same values and passion for development work and youth empowerment. These interpreters became an integral part of the team, bridging the linguistic gaps and facilitating effective communication.

Interpreters helping to facilitate effective communication in the SEA Spark Fund. © GFC

In addition to formal interpretation, the panelists embraced various tools and techniques to foster communication and understanding. They utilized technology, such as Google Translate, to ease communication. Additionally, they leveraged body language and nonverbal cues to convey their ideas when words failed. This adaptive approach allowed the panelists to effectively break down the language barriers that initially seemed insurmountable.

Building Unity Through Communication and Patience

The SEA Spark Fund recognized that acknowledging the diversity of its participants, fostering communication, and considering the contextual differences of each country were crucial steps toward unity.

The panelists encouraged open dialogue, giving individuals a platform to voice their thoughts and concerns. This not only resolved issues but also created a more inclusive and supportive environment where everyone felt heard and valued.

The SEA Spark Fund has encouraged open dialogue, giving individuals a platform to voice their thoughts and concerns. © GFC

Patience played a vital role in the fund’s journey. Panelists were patient with each other, understanding that language barriers might slow down discussions but not hinder progress. This patience, coupled with the shared values of respect, friendship, inclusion, and care, along with shared goals, propelled the SEA Spark Fund forward.

By embracing linguistic diversity, inclusivity, and effective communication, the fund has broken down language barriers and set a powerful example for future collaborative efforts, including other youth-led initiatives addressing climate change. The SEA Spark Fund’s journey teaches us that when we prioritize unity and understanding, we can overcome any obstacle, no matter how daunting it may initially seem. The panel’s motto, “If you want to go further, go together,” resonates strongly, reminding us that unity is the key to tackling the pressing issue of climate change.


Header photo: A group photo of the SEA Spark Fund panelists. © GFC

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Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.

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