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Worldwide Locations

How Technology Fuels Philanthropy

Brian F. Mullaney, former CEO of Schell/Mullaney Advertising, is co-founder of Smile Train. (Asia Society)

Brian F. Mullaney, former CEO of Schell/Mullaney Advertising, is co-founder of Smile Train. (Asia Society)

NEW YORK, June 15, 2009 - Seated in front of a crowded audience, Brian F. Mullaney, former CEO of Schell/Mullaney Advertising, discussed how tech innovation was behind the success of Smile Train, the world’s leading cleft lip and palate charity.

In 1997, Mullaney and Charles B. Wang, former Chairman and CEO of Computer Associates, came to the Asia Society to announce the organization’s founding. “We didn’t want to do a charity just because we were getting old and wanted to kill time…We wanted to actually solve a problem,” said Mullaney.

Now in its tenth year, the charity has performed 500,000 surgeries. Technology played a critical role in its success, both on the ground and in the office. Mullaney spoke about the virtual surgery software their organization has put into the hands of more than 20,000 surgeons worldwide—a tool that has allowed indigenous doctors to learn techniques on their own and from each other. Likewise, creating digital patient charts has simplified the task of tracking thousands of surgeries across 78 of the world’s poorest countries.

Mullaney noted they focus on clefts, in particular, because they can see improvement after only a single, relatively cheap surgery. “The improvement’s 100,000 percent in less than an hour,” he said, emphasizing the dramatic effect the 45-minute operation has on nearly all aspects of a child’s life.

Sreenath Sreenivasan, dean of Student Affairs at Columbia University, spoke in conversation with Mullaney. When asked about the impact of the Oscar-winning documentary about their work -- Smile Pinki -- the latter said “We’ve been writing to reporters for 10 years trying to get articles… This put us on the front page, and people are calling us.”

To be sure, fundraising and outreach hurdles still remain. Nevertheless, Mullaney says, “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” a testament to the power technology has to fuel a philanthropic vision.

Reported by Zach Balin