Managing Projects & Programs – Language Projects

Management is presented by many as the thread that keeps the various components of a project or a programme together, answering the “who, what, how, when, where, why questions”, by providing organisation, coherence, ways and means for effective, sustainable community-based language development. 

A new stakeholder reported that at a project event, he heard a team member say: 

“…I am the exegete, these three are translators, he is a linguist, they are literacy teachers, and he is a literacy specialist. This is our computer guy and those two ladies organise Bible studies with the ladies in our neighbourhood…”. 

When he finished introductions, he was asked: 

“So how, are your various roles interwoven? 
 How do you define what to do, where to start or what you need?
What/who keeps the different pieces together?”

The answer was, “Those are issues project and programme management (PPM) takes care of.” 

Since the beginning of its journey back in the days of Cameron Townsend, SIL has had a long story of people dedicating their whole lives either as a pair of single individuals, a couple or a family, to serve God by living among a community where they planned, resourced and managed language projects. They structured, implemented, and monitored individual community-based projects independently of other ongoing SIL projects.

In those days, projects were known as language development and translation initiatives by SIL members in favour of targeted language communities. In each project, every action was managed by the SIL member and aimed to facilitate one people group’s social, cultural, political, economic and spiritual wellbeing. 

As life changed, new realities occurred, new challenges were faced, new needs were expressed, new methods and resources became available. Those novelties included, inter alia, continuity, sustainability, local ownership, holistic development, multilingualism, accountability, as well as a growing interest of local churches in Scripture access and engagement. SIL adjusted and modernised its management approach. 

Today, SIL is known for sending several members to clusters of languages, as inter-dependent teams of people whose skills and activities intersect. And a project is now a joint venture between beneficiary communities, stakeholders and SIL people who collaborate to plan and manage the project together. 

Within each project, focus continues to be on goals such as language development, translation, literacy, Scripture engagement, or literacy, but efforts are also geared towards services such as ethno-arts, trainings and capacity building, multilingual education or digital tools.

In other words, SIL continues to be involved in managing projects but does it with like-minded others. The latter are individuals or organizations who have interest in, are affected by, or are committed to the project results or activities. In this partnership model, SIL honours local initiatives and leadership. Its main streams of participation include training, capacity building, technical expertise, consultant services, IT support, advocacy. 

When a set of projects are managed together, they are referred to as a programme. Thus, a project is a subset of a programme. 

As part of its PPM model, SIL’s is happy to share its experience and skills to ensure that teams, stakeholders and other players develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed. The organisation has developed internal trainings for project and programme management, and has also selected certificate and degree programmes for those interested in PPM. You can find information on these at:

Project Management Certifications from PMI (Project Management Institute)

Project Management for Development (PM4DEV)

For further details on SIL’s journey in project and programme management, you are welcome to read the book: Marmor, Thomas & Bartels, Eric. (2017). Managing Language Programs: Perspectives, Processes, and Practices. Preliminary edition 2017. The E version can be found at:

You may also click on the following links:

Language Program Management – A Model for the 21st Century

Introduction to Language Program Manager Roles and Profiles .

Last year, SIL celebrated 100 years of managing projects and programmes.

To date, hundreds of projects and programmes have been completed in many parts of the world, from Guatemala to Papua New Guinea, from Indonesia or the Philippines to Burkina Faso.

The 2018 annual review listed 1664 active projects being managed with SIL’s involvement, which represented 1.07 billion people. These keep increasing. 

Any person who has an interest in or who senses a calling for any aspect of PPM in any area of the world, will be able to find a place to serve alongside others. 

Across the world, SIL has organised PPM in zones, areas and units. In case you wish to have more information about Language Program Management Development, kindly write to: Lois Varenkamp (Language Programs Management Development SIL International Coordinator at