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Special Project

Special Project

Smile Train's Economic Impact Report

Entered in Research Reports


Nonprofits, especially global health nonprofits, often measure their impact in metrics like number of lives saved or conditions treated, but rarely show the real-world economic return on investment of their work. At Smile Train—the world’s largest cleft-focused organization—we wanted to do both.

So, this year, in honor of our 25th anniversary and sponsoring our 2 millionth cleft surgery, we set out to achieve two aims:

  1. Quantifying the societal and economic impact of our global surgical intervention program.
  2. Sharing our findings with the World Health Organization and other global health movements focused on treating birth differences as our unique contribution to the general corpus of global health knowledge.  


In 2016, researchers at Harvard University used Smile Train’s surgical data, lifespan data from the World Health Organization, the World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease data, and a variety of economic models and other statistics to develop a complex model that would estimate the economic impact of the cleft surgeries Smile Train sponsors around the world. They found that, by giving people with clefts the opportunity to be healthy, stay in school, and find meaningful employment, Smile Train’s work had contributed $20 billion USD to the global economy. 

Our new study updates this analysis with an additional eleven years of data (2012-2023) from 1.5 million Smile Train patient records of primary cleft procedures completed between 2001-2023. These records were taken from Smile Train Express, our proprietary digital patient database. 

After crunching the numbers, it was imperative to translate our findings into language that would make them meaningful to a diverse group of stakeholders – donors, the media, policymakers, thought leaders, etc. We enlisted the help of an outside medical writer and our in-house content team to distill the technical jargon into digestible, compelling language that brought home the tremendous significance of our findings—and their support for Smile Train. 


Our analysis showed that Smile Train-sponsored cleft surgeries have boosted the global economy by an estimated $69 billion. In other words, by supporting just one $400 cleft surgery, as much as $60,000 is put back into the local economy, as former cleft patients go on to contribute to economic output and lead full, productive lives. This amounts to a more than 150x return on investment for a single cleft surgery.

Producing this data was a significant success in and of itself – we had quantified our impact like never before. But we went further still, finding the individual ROI for our work in each of the 95+ countries we have been active in over the past 25 years.

Once the report was finalized, we launched it on Global Surgery Day across our website and social media channels, including Facebook, X, LinkedIn, and Instagram. We also coordinated a global PR launch that broadcast our findings to 229+ million people.

At the 77th World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, we handed out printed copies of the report and had direct discussions with national ministries of health, WHA member state representatives, and funders. This helped strengthen our advocacy for prioritizing pediatric surgery and cleft care within national health agendas, and for the adoption of National Surgical, Obstetric, and Anesthesia plans.


Entrant Company / Organization Name

Smile Train


Entry Credits