NGO-Speak: A Daily Serving of Alphabet Soup

If using jargon was a competitive sport, some NGO and aid groups in Cambodia would present a force worthy of Olympic athletes. With their heady mix of alphabet-soup acronyms and contorted clauses, a hybrid language awaits the uninitiated in the pages of re­ports, draft papers, workshop agen­­das and press releases that some organizations issue.

In a recent news release, Save the Children Australia invited journalists to attend an event titled “Na­tional Dissemination Meeting To Support Policy Formation On Key Issues Facing Orphans and Vul­nerable Children in Cambo­dia.”

The body of the text explained that the Orphans or Vulnerable Child­­ren (OVC) Task Force—com­­­­prised of “thirty people from various Government Ministries in­cluding MoSVY, MoEYS and MoCR working together with people from NGOs and UN agencies”—would discuss, among oth­er things, “Mapping of Existing Policies and Identifications of Gaps.”

“There were many gaps identified, and an abundance of challenges to overcome,” the press re­lease admitted.

Unfortunately for the uninitiated, neither the “Mo” acronyms nor “Na­tional Dissemination” were de­fined in the release.

OVC Coordinator Carol Elliot ex­­­­plained on Thursday that the vague language was the inevitable ef­­fect of trying to communicate with a broad spectrum of aid organizations, legal groups and government ministries.

“It’s just taking a look at policies that are already in place and trying to identify areas where more has to be done,” she said of the forthcoming meeting. Save the Children Australia is not the only aid organization with a taste for acronyms.

“Workshop on Achieving Gender Equality: CEDAW and the Cambodian Millennium Development Goals organized by UNIFEM CEDAW SEAP” was the tantalizing title of a June press release from the UN Development Fund for Women.

The release went on to explain that the “multi-stakeholder workshop” will be “a kick-start to strengthen commitment and action towards the implementation of CEDAW and to create a network for policy dialogue and partnerships.”

In fairness, the release explained that CEDAW is short for Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, but it fell short of specifying what was meant by “stakeholders” or the “breakout groups” that would discuss “implementation” and “linkages” after the workshop.

Ingrid Fitzgerald, a consultant to UNIFEM, said the acronyms were a necessary evil.

“Otherwise it will be several sentences long,” she said of the release title. Perhaps seeking to avoid the clunky jargon of other donors, the Asian Development Bank in a recent release resorted instead to memorization techniques.

“Increased physical connectivity, improved competitiveness and a stronger sense of community—the three Cs—are the building blocks of the GMS program,” read the release, referring to the “Greater Mekong Subregion Program.”

Asked by e-mail Thursday about the three Cs of the GMS, ADB external relations specialist Tsukasa Maekawa replied that the “GMS Program helps improve the quality of life across the subregion by emphasizing the three Cs.”

At times, some NGO and aid groups transcend meaning entirely, attaining a nearly Nirvana-like state of opaqueness.

“Lastly, the meeting noted that funding arrangements that are now being formalized with the various development partners to launch the CEP, including the BCI and the EOC, and that there are indications of interest to support the CEP coming from additional development partners,” another ADB release explained.

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