Smile Train was created in 1998 by Brian Mullaney and Charles Wang, who had previously worked with Operation Smile, another charity focused on correcting cleft lips and palates. They felt the most efficient way to provide cleft surgery was to train and support local doctors rather than to fly in Western doctors to provide surgeries in poor, developing countries. Local doctors would also be able to provide care year-round rather than the limited engagements of the “mission-based” model.
In 2009, Smile Train initiated an advertising campaign in the Richmond Times-Dispatch highlighting Smile Train’s attempts between 2006 and 2009 to donate nearly $9 million to Operation Smile, the organization Brian Mullaney had split from in 1998 in what Mullaney described as a “messy divorce”. In the ad, Mullaney contended Operation Smile was refusing money that could benefit children, later calling the situation “shameful”; Mullaney also noted that he respects that in some countries need overwhelms available doctors and he had “a newfound respect for what Operation Smile does”.
The Virginian Pilot outlined the history and differences between the two organizations and indicated Mullaney wanted the two organizations to reconcile. At the time, Dr. Magee of Operation Smile declined a newspaper interview, and Operation Smile formally responded to the ad campaign, saying the two organizations “have different operating philosophies and business ethics”, and that Operation Smile would continue foregoing donations from an “unproductive relationship”.
Smile Train helps the cause of cleft care through its funding of 1,000+ active partners representing nearly 1,200 hospitals and 2,300 partner surgeons in the world’s poorest nations; through these local partnerships, the organization is able to provide free surgery for children any day of the year, with more than one million total surgeries performed as of 2016
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