Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

May 10, 2024

“You're changing a child's life, but you're also changing this world to be a better place.”

We’re delighted to welcome Kathy Magee, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Operation Smile, to the EMEA Recruitment podcast. 

Operation Smile is a medical charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with cleft lip and cleft palate. Paul Toms, our Founder, shares a strong personal connection with the charity, which inspired EMEA’s long-standing partnership with the charity, now in its 4th year. 

To begin, Paul asks Kathy about the last thing that made her smile. She shares that smiling children bring a smile to her face, referring to those whose quality of life is improved by the treatment they receive. 

Kathy goes on to detail some key aspects of her role; driving key decisions, leading various teams and the strategic planning needed to be able to care for more children and their families in the future. 

Next, Paul and Kathy delve into the establishment of Operation Smile in 1982. Kathy shares that she was a paediatric nurse and her husband Dr Bill Magee a paediatric plastic surgeon with both dental and medical degrees, specialising in facial surgery. 

In 1982 the couple joined a team of 15 medical professionals visiting the Philippines to offer free treatment to local children with untreated cleft conditions. She tells us how the team were overwhelmed to find 300 children waiting when only 40 were able to be treated. Upon leaving, the team discussed a plan to help and now, over 42 years later, Operation Smile operates worldwide with a network of more than 6,000 volunteers, plus school clubs where students get involved in fundraising to help those in need. 

Kathy describes her husband as the visionary and herself as the implementer. In 1999, they set a goal: visit 18 countries in nine weeks and operate on 5000 children. To achieve this goal, they borrowed a medical plane and were able to complete the mission, nicknamed the ‘Journey of Hope’. 

Among many accolades, the Magees were recognised with the President’s Call to Service Award by George W. Bush in 2007, and in 2009 U.S. News and World Report named Kathy and Bill among “America’s Best Leaders”, an honour for which Kathy credits the entire Journey of Hope team. 

In this line of work, emotions run high. Kathy shares a heart-warming story of a dentist on the team helping a seven-day-old child in Vietnam who was struggling to eat. That child survived and a year later was one of the first to receive full corrective surgery courtesy of Operation Smile. 

Volunteers and donors are vital for the charity, which not only provides surgeries but also comprehensive care, such as speech therapy and nutrition at partner hospitals and during Operation Smile programmes. Kathy describes Operation Smile’s volunteers are as incredible; they care for the patients as if their own children, and run a wide variety of programmes including the ‘Champion’ programme – a scheme whereby experienced volunteers who’ve been with the charity for several years directly train the staff in district hospitals, and “Women in Medicine” that has the objective to help more women enter the medical field. There have been five all-women Operation Smile programmes so far around the globe and the charity provides education to support this aim.  

Paul asks Kathy if she is still as motivated as she was in 1982. She discloses that she recently visited Rwanda and was inspired upon meeting President Paul Kagame by his ambition to provide better healthcare for the people; a mission which Operation Smile is proud to take part in delivering. 

Kathy then talks about the students who undertake programmes with Operation Smile and are committed to giving back – an all-important aspect of this charity’s work. 

Paul has written a children’s book, Sloathar the Sloth, to help raise funds and awareness for Operation Smile, with all profits donated to the charity’s incredible programme of work. To order your copy, visit



02:25 The last thing that made Kathy smile

03:50 How it feels to be Co-Founder, President & CEO of Operation Smile

07:35 How Operation Smile was established 

13:45 Family-led impact and the shaping of Operation Smile

23:55 Being recognised with awards, including one from President George W. Bush

25:30 Managing emotions when in this line of work

31:55 The significance of volunteers to the charity’s programmes 

35:45 Kathy’s participation and motivation forty years on 


The EMEA Recruitment podcast is hosted by Paul Toms, our Founder, and Rose Jinks, Marketing Manager.

To share your feedback on the EMEA Recruitment podcast, please contact:  


#emearecruitment #emearecruitmentpodcast #kathymagee #paultoms #operationsmile  #operationsmileuk #recruitment