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Operation Smile is a secular not-for-profit medical service organization based in Norfolkmarker, Virginiamarker (USA), founded in 1982. A secular NGO, the organization provides cleft lip and palate repair surgeries to children worldwide, assists countries in reaching self-sufficiency with these surgeries, and works to reduce the occurrence of cleft lips and palates. To date, Operation Smile has provided reconstructive surgery to over 100,000 children and young adults in 30 countries.

Early history of Operation Smile

Operation Smile was created by Bill and Kathy Magee after they participated in a Philippine cleft repair mission in 1982 and recognized a need for more missions.

According to a 2003 interview , when asked about the start of Operation Smile, Magee said:

The scope of the organization increased after Mother Teresa invited Operation Smile to come to Indiamarker to treat deformed children .


  • Bill Magee (Dr. William P. Magee Jr., D.D.S., M.D.)
  • Kathy Magee (Kathleen S. Magee, B.S.N., M.Ed., M.S.W.)

Dr. Magee is the Chief Executive Officer of Operation Smile. His wife, Kathy Magee, serves as the president on a full-time, volunteer basis and is a lifetime member of the Board of Directors.

Dr. William P. Magee, Jr. and Kathleen S. Magee were awarded The Spirit of Raoul Wallenberg Award from the American Swedish Historical Museummarker in 1998 for their work in establishing a network of professionals and volunteers engaged in restoring badly deformed faces of children.Dr. Magee received the 2001 Antonio Feltrinelli Prize (Premi "Antonio Feltrinelli" awarded by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei for Exceptional Endeavors of Outstanding Moral and Humanitarian Value, received the U.N. Servants of Peace Award, presented the Honorary Kazanjan Lecture to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, and in 1998, received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons .


Operation Smile organizes international volunteer missions to provide cleft lip and palate repair in developing countries, coordinates programs for training physicians from around the world, manages programs to assist host countries in reaching lip/palate repair self-sufficiency, supports education and research programs to eradicate cleft lips and palates, and organizes global volunteer programs for high-school and college students.

Surgical missions

For each mission, Operation Smile verifies the credentials and organizes the participation and travel arrangements for a team of volunteers. The team typically includes a mission site coordinator, plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, a pediatrician, an intensive care physician, head or coordinating nurse, pre- and post-op nurses, child development specialists, speech pathologists , dentists and/or orthodontists.

Teams are organized with volunteers from within the host nation as well as from other nations. Many of the volunteers provide important logistical (non-medical) support to the mission; they may serve as translators, medical records technicians, photographers, or help in such areas as food services, lodging, procurement of supplies, or transportation. The teams also typically include two high school students who fulfill various functions, including giving presentations on health maintenance and dental hygiene to families living near the mission site. Operation Smile coordinates the donation, purchase and delivery of medical provisions (equipment, medications, supplies) for each mission.

In 2005, these volunteer medical teams provided free surgeries for 8,359 children through international and local, in-country medical missions . Operation Smile’s partner countries include:

  • Iraqmarker - In 2007 the health minister of Iraq's Kurdistan region, Dr. Zorban Othman, announced that Operation Smile would treat 51 Kurdish children in nearby Jordan. The Dr. stated "the step was taken because of the bad security conditions in other areas of Iraq, which makes it impossible for foreign physicians to come." .

World Care Program

On a case by case basis, Operation Smile will bring extraordinary cranio-facial cases to Norfolk Virginia -- when mission conditions are inappropriate for the severity of the case. As of June 2007, approximately 200 World Care patients have been treated.. The program may be expanded to other locations. .

Chapters & foundations

Operation Smile has Global Resource Chapters that raise funds and awareness to support its programs. Mission teams are hosted by International Foundations that are responsible for all in-country mission logistics and that also raise funds and awareness throughout the year.

Comprehensive Care Clinics To aid countries in becoming self-sufficient at caring for cleft patients, beginning in early 2007 the organization will open seven medical clinics in Colombia, Honduras, Morocco, China, India, the Philippines and Vietnam . The centers will provide surgeries and treatment, educate local volunteers, perform local development activities and manage local communications / administrative services. The center in Vietnam will treat 2,000 patients annually and train about 1,000 medical professionals .

U.S. care network

Operation Smile provides a network of resources to assist families in the U.S. with children born with facial deformities. This network is accessed through the Operation Smile Web site and includes a listing of Referral Web Sites plus a Physicians Resource List with the names of doctors available to review a case.


Operation Smile provides a framework for its partner countries to come together to share knowledge, technology and skills through the use of programs customized to each country’s specific medical infrastructure. University Partnerships offer Operation Smile medical volunteers training in advanced techniques and provide opportunities including fellowships, emeritus professorships and visiting professorship programs. Education Exchange programs are also offered through partnerships with leading medical teaching institutions.

The annual Operation Smile Physicians’ Training Program (PTP) brings surgeons from around the world to the United States for training in specialized surgical skills. The program has helped train more than 650 international physicians in advanced craniofacial techniques .

Operation Smile has twice hosted a global summit on medical standards in Norfolk, VA .

Student programs

More than 450 Operation Smile Student Associations in the United States and around the world build awareness, raise funds and educate students about the values of commitment, leadership and volunteerism.

The International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC) is a big aspect of Operation Smile Student Programs. The 2006 ISLC was held at Weber State University in Utah, and the 2005 ISLC was held at William & Mary in Virginia. The 2007 ISLC was held at the University of Limerick in Ireland. The 2008 ISLC was held at San Diego State University, and it has been said that the 2009 ISLC will be held at Christopher Newport University. .

Awards and milestones

  • In 1996, Operation Smile received the first Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize to recognize outstanding contributions to alleviate human suffering.
  • To mark its 25th anniversary in November 2007, Operation Smile undertook the World Journey of Smiles (WJOS), a single campaign that included 40 simultaneous missions over a period of two weeks in 25 countries -- beginning with the return to the site of Operations Smile's first mission . During WJOS, Operation Smile completed 4200 cleft lip/palate surgeries with 1700 volunteers from 43 countries. The World Journey of Smiles also collected DNA samples from 4200 children -- the largest sampling ever made and now housed at Yale University. The previous largest sampling included the DNA of 200 children .
  • Bill and Kathy Magee were honored on March 1, 2008 with the Norfolkmarker First Citizen Distinguished Service Award .

Criticism and response 1999-2002

In November, 1999, specific patient deaths brought criticism on Operation Smile's medical procedures, suggesting the organization prioritized publicity and volume over patient welfare and safety .

In response, Operation Smile conducted an internal review . Initially, the organization "promised to make public the full findings of the review," though later chose not to release the findings, considering the review "an internal matter" . Several directors disagreed with this choice and left the board .

Four months after announcing the review, the organization publicly admitted organizational flaws. By 2002, the organization also established medical credential standards, improved medical monitoring of patients, and implemented quality and financial controls.

Financial Information

  • The NGO raised $35,024,864 during the fiscal year ending June 2008. They spent 41% of the cash revenues on fundraising and administration; $11,905,507 on fundraising (33.9%) and a further $2,710,783 on management (7.7%) .
  • Operation Smile also operates the Operation Smile Foundation, a separate registered non-profit whose sole purpose is to raise funds for Operation Smile. The Foundation spent $7,267,834 on fundraising and raised $8,387,513 in the tax year ending June 30 2007. The Foundation transferred a total of $781,858 to Operation Smile.
  • The organization was listed with the Forbes 2005 200 Largest U.S. Charities.
  • Operation Smile is a member of the Independent Charities of America.

Operation Smile in popular culture

  • A 2007 multimedia project featured a seven-story sphere at South Street Seaportmarker in New York, NY. Microsoft worked with Operation Smile, Digital Kitchen (a design firm) and the Wexley School for Girls (Seattle, WA) to have photographic images of visitors projected onto the sphere. (See also: Case Study)
  • A 2005 movie, Smile, directed by Jeffrey Kramer was loosely based on the experiences of a student Operation Smile volunteer.
  • Singer Jessica Simpson, actress Roma Downey and television hosts Billy Bush and Nicole Lapin volunteer on behalf of Operation Smile.
  • Singer Mariah Carey volunteered for The Smile Collection fundraising event in New York in 2006
  • Singer/mtv television personality Chase Johnson hosted a "rock the smile" event to benefit Operation Smile.
  • Operation Smile was featured on NBC's reality show The Apprentice, Thursday, April 15th 2004 .
  • Operation Smile is referenced repeatedly on Bravo's teen reality show NYC Prep .


  • In 2002, Operation Smile was featured in a Mr. Potato Head contest, with proceeds to benefit the NGO.. Hasbro continues to donate Mr. Potato Head toys for Operation Smile missions .
  • An ongoing co-branding campaign between Operation Smile and Sephora combines the NGO's name with the companies products, raising over $400,000 for the NGO. . The Operation Smile Sephora Lip Baume was listed at number five on Lara Spencer's "Lara's Hot Shopping List, Hot Products for Women" .
  • An ongoing co-branding campaign between Operation Smile and AriZona Iced Tea features the tea company's three best selling (one liter) products' labels replaced with Operation Smile branded messaging, mission statement and photos of children with cleft repairs. .
  • In 2007 Lladró unveiled a collection of porcelain, including a piece inspired by Gustav Klimt’s painting The Kiss, proceeds from which were to benefit the NGO .

See also: Co-branding and Marketing co-operation
See also: external article on co-branding: When Two Brands are Better than One

Headquarters relocation

Operation Smile announced in late 2007 that it would relocate its world headquarters approximately from its current location in Norfolk, to a new building in Virginia Beachmarker . The projected building is sited adjacent to a projected regional health profession center to be built by Tidewater Community College. The headquarters will occupy land owned by the city of Virginia Beach and will receive funds from the city for site improvements, including landscaping, utility service and sidewalks..


  1. The Spirit of Raoul Wallenberg Award
  2. 2008 form 990

See also

External links

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