Interested in starting your own journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Jean Paul Laurent, Founder and CEO of Unspoken Smiles, located in Rhormorser, San Jose, Costa Rica.
What's your organization, and who are your members?
According to the 2022 Global Oral Health Status Report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that oral diseases affect more than 530 million children worldwide, directly affecting their school attendance, social interaction, and overall health. Oftentimes, these oral diseases are completely avoidable, such as untreated tooth decay, are left overlooked, as an oral disease is considered the fourth most expensive disease to treat.
UNSPOKEN SMILES is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote both long-term oral health and economic security in the world's most disadvantaged regions. UNSPOKEN SMILES’ work began in the United States and has grown to support over 10,000+ children in 9 countries across four continents. Through public-private partnerships, we work with strategic partners from the business, academia, government, and nonprofit sectors to create sustainable oral health outcomes with our school-based education program (zero cavity initiatives), Fellowship program, as well as our FREE preventative dental services for all children. This is part of an exemplary community dental health system to bring access to quality dental services to people that have never before had access. A successful model is currently being implemented now in Costa Rica with the goal of eventually replicating it in the entire American Hemisphere.
To learn more about how UNSPOKEN SMILES is solving global oral health challenges to deliver lasting impact locally, please visit www.unspokensmiles.org, on Facebook at facebook.com/unspokensmiles, and on Twitter @unspokensmiles.
Tell us about yourself
From Tragedy To Global Activism.
My life was transformed when I traveled to my homeland of Haiti, following the tragic 2010 earthquake. While there, I was inspired by the unwavering smiles of young children as they played amid the rubble and devastation around them. Many of them were suffering from severe tooth decay. Looking at these children, I resolved to preserve the quality and health of their smiles and those of disadvantaged children around the world–and that’s how UNSPOKEN SMILES was born.
Since its inception in 2014, I have grown UNSPOKEN SMILES into a reputable and impactful nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting both long-term oral health and economic security in the world's most disadvantaged regions. As CEO, I work across two key program areas— oral health education and prevention in partnership with local primary schools in Costa Rica and the Unspoken Smiles Fellowship in partnership with dental schools—to help ensure better access to quality dental services for the greatest number of children. By developing, supporting, and incubating those initiatives, UNSPOKEN SMILES is building confidence, improving health, and transforming women's and children's futures in impoverished communities across the Americas.
What's your biggest accomplishment as an organization?
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of me as a responsible leader is my ability to show compassion and humility and inspire emotional engagement through smiles. By simply listening to the community I serve, the environment, as well as myself, I have taken a path forward when others aren't able to act.
For so long, oral health has been ignored or forgotten in favor of other non-communicable diseases. But by being truly human, I continue to remind everyone that the impact of poor oral health is a pressing one and one that affects communities of all colors and creeds around the world. I have dedicated my entire adult life to bringing this issue to the forefront of people’s minds and showcasing why it matters now on a global, regional, or local scale.
Together with our supporters, volunteers, and dedicated team, we have served over 10,000+ children in 9 countries across four continents in India, Haiti, Romania, El Salvador, Guatemala, Iraqi Kurdistan, USA, Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica.
My organization, UNSPOKEN SMILES, has directly impacted many lives and will for sure create global systemic changes in the near future. In fact, according to the CDC, one of the Ten Great Public Health Achievements in the United States from 1900-1999 was the fluoridation of drinking water. However, making sure every at-risk school kid win Costa Rica is CAVITY FREE by 2030 will be one of the biggest modern-day accomplishment for me as a business owner.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being an organization?
Building a vibrant, robust business ecosystem is not an easy endeavor.
One of the hardest things that come with being a business owner is having patience, a long-term outlook, and a strong disposition for open collaboration.
Once you truly master the art of patience, you will plan diligently, seek out advice and expertise to hedge against what you may not know, and proceeds with a clear plan, contingencies, a motivated team, and a very strong force of mind. I am always optimistic and upbeat in my approach and leadership, but very honest about challenges and energetic in taking them on. This makes me an outstanding leader, particularly because I have that rare combination of vision and follow-through.
I invite you all to master the art of patience.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow an organization today?
In today's marketplace, starting, running, and growing a business can be both challenging and successful. But to me, the top 3 tips that I usually share with everyone are as follows:
- First, you must have purpose and passion. This will truly show how much you care deeply about the particular issue you want to solve and your community.
- Second, you must have resilience. This will demonstrate how you foresee challenges and avoids or bounces back from them.
- Lastly, Leadership. You must demonstrate that you possess very strong leadership, organizational and interpersonal skills to lead your business toward its goals.
With those three tips, you will always be set for success.
Where can people find you and your group?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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