How to fill the French language gap in aid work, peacekeeping

Aid workers in Côte d’Ivoire, one of the largest French-speaking countries in the African continent, support humanitarian efforts through enacting social services, including healthcare and food security programs. Photo by: Anouk Delafortrie / EC / ECHO / CC BY-ND

French-speaking African countries are faced with a shortage of aid workers and peacekeepers with French language skills, according to Marc Trouyet, head of France’s Department for Democratic Governance Development and Global Public Goods Directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The best way to fill the language gap isn’t to export French-speaking aid workers or peacekeepers to Africa, but rather to train African citizens to become professional aid workers and peacekeepers, Trouyet told Devex on the sideline of this year’s Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Global Forum on Development in Paris.

Trouyet’s comments come after more than half of global development recruiters participating in the “Devex Career Trends in 2015” survey identified French as the most in-demand language for their organization in 2015.

Recruiters told Devex that a growing demand for aid work in French-speaking regions is compounded with the fact that — compared with other languages such as Spanish — it’s more difficult to find fluent French speakers in country who can carry out on-the-ground leadership roles.

Read: Recruiters’ most wanted: French-speaking aid professionals

As a result, recruiters are seeking French-speaking expats and third country nationals to fill those positions.

But Trouyet said that sending more aid workers from France isn’t the solution to the language deficit, adding that France is working with its partners to train African French speakers according to “the U.N. standard for peacekeeping operations or security systems.”

The idea is to both develop local capacity and to capitalize on the inside knowledge that local talent can offer.

In the peacekeeping realm, according to Trouyet, African French speakers with police or military backgrounds are particularly sought after because of their knowledge of local legal systems — a base of knowledge that is currently lacking among expat peacekeepers in Africa.

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About the author

  • Jeff tyson 400x400  1

    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.

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