Have you ever heard of the Global Smile Foundation? It is a group of volunteers who make a tremendous, positive impact on families in need of surgical care, in places where access to this care is extremely rare. Their mission is to “bring first class surgical repair to patients throughout the developing world who suffer from congenital facial deformities”, the majority in need being children with cleft lips and palates. One generous entrepreneur and very dear friend, Mimi Banks, has donated her time to this agency for several years, traveling with the GSF team to South America twice a year to volunteer as a photographer to document their work. Let’s learn more about the Foundation and how meaningful Mimi and her team’s work is in this month’s interview.
SSP: As a veteran of social media, owner of a very successful social media agency and an accomplished photographer, how did your life path cross with GSF?
My longtime boss and mentor was actually friends with the founder, Dr. Usama Hamdan. Several years ago they were in need of a photographer. She suggested me. The rest is history!
SSP: What made you want to get involved with this cause in particular? Why is giving back so important to you?
Growing up, each Thanksgiving my cousin showed pictures of past medical missions. I was always very curious about what they actually were. And, being raised in a household where giving back is core to our ethics, I volunteered in many charities. What I noticed, is that while I helped several charities, I did not feel like I was making a difference. What I love about traveling with the Global Smile Foundation is that we are on the ground and actually helping people. Our presence makes a huge difference and has a strong impact.
SSP: I’d love to hear more about your experiences with these families in South America. Do you have one particular story that you can share with us, perhaps one that really moved and inspired you?
The people that I work with inspire me the most. This is a team of 20 medical professionals - doctors, nurses, hospital support. They leave their medical practices for a week to volunteer. I watch as the surgeons help as many people as they can, work so hard to help the children. They treat each child with such care and compassion. I'm in awe of their kindness, skill, and ability to make a difference in children's lives.
SSP: How do you approach these families - do you interact with them or quietly watch and photograph these life changing moments? What do you want your pictures to capture?
I do a lot of smiling. I don't speak Spanish very well, so I spend a lot of time smiling at the parents, cuddling their kids and trying to reassure them that their children are in good hands. I capture pictures of the children before and after their surgery. The transformation is incredible. In fact, I often show the older kids a picture of themselves, just out of surgery...so they can see! My role is to document the process, capture the patients' journey and help tell the Global Smile Foundation's story through images.
SSP: What is it about these missions that you find most gratifying?
The smile on the mothers' faces and the tears in their eyes when they see their child for the first time after surgery is life-changing.
SSP: How does one get involved? How do we learn how we can help support, whether it be joining a mission or donating clothing and funds?
The best way to get involved is to donate money to: www.gsmile.org. They could use the support to provide even better care to their patients.
Mimi Banks as more than 15 years of experience in the beauty industry in the US, France, and Israel. She spent the majority of her career at L’Oréal, where she led social media for Lancôme. She has proven success building, optimizing and implementing social media strategies, engagement tactics and plans to drive online brand engagement and reach. Mimi Banks is a passionate, forward thinking and results-driven digital and social marketer. http://www.mimibsocial.com/