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A Catalyst for Collaboration: Operation Smile Government Health Forum

By Kendra Davenport, Chief Development Officer, Operation Smile

Participants gather at The Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, for Operation Smile’s first Government Health Forum. Photo: Steve Barrett.

We hosted our first Government Health Forum in Washington, D.C. on Friday, November 8, 2019, convening traditional and nontraditional partners and stakeholders to prompt greater collaboration and to identify critical intersections of interest among diverse, but powerful, existing and prospective partners. Since our inception in 1982, Operation Smile has pioneered global health solutions that have brought safe, effective surgery to hundreds of thousands of people in more than 40 countries. Nearly four decades later, we continue to innovate, establishing and sustaining partnerships with critical corporate supporters to give people in need a shot at a healthier, happier life through surgery.

The Government Health Forum was yet another example of our commitment to serving as a catalyst for much needed collaboration among government and private sector entities, who have enabled Operation Smile to achieve so much this far.

"Operation Smile has a deep history in global health, and we’re expanding that to include access to safe surgery and health systems strengthening, especially in the developing world where access to surgery is not a given for many people," said Operation Smile Chief Development Officer, Kendra Davenport. Photo: Steve Barrett.

This year alone, we will lead close to 200 missions in more than 30 countries, providing high-quality, free surgery and other medical interventions for more than 16,000 patients, performed by top medical professionals from all around the world.

We know we can, and must, do more. That’s why we hosted this forum, to ignite a conversation about collaboration and cooperation that will ultimately result in the formation of more strategic alliances. The forum brought together some of our most supportive corporate partners like Chevron, Johnson & Johnson, Baxter, Stryker, Wipfli and AbbVie and united groups like the Partnership for Quality Medical Donations and the Association for Accessible Medicines and also convened government representatives from congressional and international offices including Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie of Ethiopia.

"It’s impossible to have such a big impact through just one entity or private company or a foundation or non-governmental organization or even a government. We have to partner to make much more impact. For us, at Chevron, this initiative represents a commitment: the responsibility we have for our children," said Patricia Serrano, Corporate Affairs Manager for Chevron. Photo: Steve Barrett.

At Operation Smile, we take nothing for granted and we are steadfast in our appreciation to all those whose support helps us provide life-changing surgeries without cost to patients or their families. We strive to foster long-term partnerships because we recognize we cannot work alone.

As competition for philanthropic dollars grows, we recognize our donors and corporate supporters have choices and we are grateful so many give our work their seal of approval by continuing to provide essential support. We are committed to ensuring that mutual benefits are achieved and hold ourselves to exactingly high standards of dependability, professionalism and trust.

"What it takes to build trust and to build capacity in-country is to work with organizations that have local footprints and commitment to health strengthening. Operation Smile is an ideal partner for Baxter. At the end of the day, we need collaborative and collective action, thoughts and approaches to advance both safe surgery globally and to advance health system strengthening," said Veronica Arroyave, Director of Global Community Relations and Executive Director of Baxter International Foundation. Photo: Steve Barrett.

The turnout at the first Government Health Forum was a testament to the regard in which we are held by those whose donations sustain our work. But more importantly, it was a clear sign that those who attended are motivated and enthused about engaging in conversations about unique new ways we can work together to refine processes, improve services, increase access to safe surgery and bring more donated goods and services to countries where small improvements can be transformative.

We remain grateful to everyone who supports us and to those who participated in the Forum. We underscore our appreciation because with you, we are certain we can help more people live healthier lives.

“What I saw with Operation Smile was the human capacity that they were building as well as the physical health care system’s capacity, which are really two of the most important things that we can build in global health. I hope this conversation continues. It’s so unique to have the representation, and, collectively, I think we can make incredible strides to help Operation Smile reach their objectives and also impact so many people in need," said Kathy Pickus, Vice President of Global Sustainability for Griffith Foods. Photo: Steve Barrett.

The closing conversation facilitated by Kathy Pickus, Vice President of Global Sustainability for Griffith Foods, demonstrated how passionate participants were about innovating together, eradicating silos and leveraging collective expertise and resources. Together, we believe we can make safe surgery more accessible globally, improve and strengthen developing health systems continue to change lives for the better, one smile at a time.

We are intent on catalyzing the energy, resources and manpower of as many corporations, industry associations, lawmakers, government agencies and like-minded individuals as possible, to maintain the momentum created at our first Government Health Forum.

"My parents (Operation Smile Co-Founders Dr. Bill Magee and Kathy Magee) taught me that friendship, trust and emotion are the most important things that you can bring to any partnership. I think the reason that Operation Smile is what it is today is because of 37 years of trust and friendship that we’ve built both in the countries, but with the partners that we have here today," said Kristie Porcaro, Operation Smile Senior Vice President of U.S. & Global Philanthropy. Photo: Steve Barrett.


It takes as little as $240 and as few as 45 minutes to provide life-changing surgery and a bright, beautiful new smile to a waiting child.