Cincinnati’s P & G: Nurturing A Precious Legacy – A Bang Bao Story

I was for many years the Gamble Professor of Neonatology, or more precisely the David and Priscilla Gamble Professor. The eponymous names are descended from the original Gambles, of Procter and Gamble, “P and G,” fame, as one personal example of the legacy of this famous company. Mr. Procter & Mr. Gamble, the founders, and the company they established 150 years ago, have bequeathed noble legacies in many meaningful ways, through many people and institutions, down the ages. Especially in Cincinnati, USA, the city the founders settled in, by the banks of the Ohio river. And even in my own life journey.

The grandson of Mr. Procter, William Cooper Procter, was an Episcopalian Christian and a great philanthropist. He donated the major funding to start the Hospital of the Protestant Episcopal Church, which became the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, a private, non-profit institution which has grown remarkably into a huge and famous institution of 15,000 employees. Including today, a top ranked Division of Neonatology, in which I served for many years. But what was particularly visionary, and highly unusual for the times, is that he also donated the funds to start the Children’s Hospital Research Foundation, which grew from $2.5 million to reach a huge approximately $2 billion, over eight decades.

Photo 1: The original façade of the impressive Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation, bearing the inscription of Jesus as the shepherd “binding the broken and strengthening the sick” of his sheep. An implicit founding drive.

Indeed, a major reason why Children’s Hospital Medical Center is so excellent and extremely famous all over the world is this remarkable Research Foundation, which strongly supports research and research investigators, focused only on children’s diseases. Especially important is that it provides significant support for many young investigators, directly and indirectly, who receive that extra boost and nurture in the early phases of their careers, in order to ultimately become established successful scientists. Definitely, my academic successes were highly related to this visionary approach, and not only am I grateful, many others have been blessed by the special opportunities provided. To this day, many of the Board members of the hospital and the foundation continue to be “P and G people,” who help to guide the institution to maintain its bearings in line with the original intent and ethos of the founding fathers. To keep the institution clearly focused on its mission, the legal chairman of the Board is actually the Episcopal Bishop of Ohio, and there is a stipulation that if the foundation strays from its mission, the church could legally reclaim the funds. Which is not that well known, and very interesting, to say the least.

The Gamble family (the G, of P and G), who were also Episcopalian Christians, set up Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, around the same time, which remains to this day as one of the leading private non-profit general hospitals of the city. In fact, it’s location is within minutes of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, both situated on “Pill Hill” in the University Heights area of Cincinnati. Thus unquestionably, the Procter & Gamble name is not only reputable in business, but also wonderfully impactful for medicine and health, in many different ways, for many generations.

Photos 2 & 3: The modern imposing newest research tower of Children’s Hospital Research Foundation.

I wrote elsewhere that I was shocked, and touched, that my children’s hospital directors continued to be supportive of my first, and then second, early retirement, especially to begin a new medical mission in China, even as I relinquished my heavy leadership roles in the hospital. (See Uncle Reggie Stories: Jehovah Jireh, reggietales.org ). I was more used to a hard-nosed academic approach where, “what have you done for me, today?” was pervasive, so I was not expecting any particular hospital enthusiasm for a mission apparently unconnected with the it, providing “no direct benefit” to the hospital, and literally half way around the world.

In retrospect, especially now as I write this story, I’m pretty sure that the vision of the P and G forefathers in driving the establishment of the hospital and foundation, probably was subtly, even unconsciously, behind the scenes, setting the stage for my support. After all, if the purpose of the Foundation was to be for the betterment of children’s health, and the implicit mission of the hospital was to serve God and mankind, my beginning of the medical mission in China was likely quite a perfect fit. And so, in a deeper vein, I am now even more appreciative of what the founding fathers have wrought.

After I returned to Cincinnati from 10 years of medical mission in China, in 2004, we began a program of welcoming doctors and young professors from the major medical centers of China, to come for periods of 3 to 12 months of observation at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “Quite naturally,” we entered into another historic relationship with Procter & Gamble, which became the major sponsor of the initial program. From the start, and for a decade, the company involvement was driven by a wonderful P and G “champion,” for the project, Dr Mauricio Odio.

Together with Drs. Ardythe Morrow (Children’s Hospital “champion”), and Tom Boat (Research Foundation Director) of the Children’s Hospital, we had the opportunity of touring major medical centers in China, to educate them about the unusual opportunity of scholarship awards for training at our hospital. A generous P and G awarded program financed nearly all the first scholarships, but ultimately the program morphed into a system whereby the sending China hospitals or provinces made most of the financial commitments. Step-by-step, the whole program blossomed, especially under the next enthusiastic leadership of the Research Foundation Director, Dr Arnie Strauss. At its peak, nearly 100 scholars would come yearly to visit our institution, from more than 10 major Children’s Hospitals from all over China, an astonishing number, unparalleled for both sending and receiving countries.

Initially, we had to find a good name for this program, understanding that “brands” are important, especially in China. We settled on a name as the “Bang Bao program.” The Pampers Brand of Procter & Gamble was the sponsor of the program, within P and G. In China, the Pampers Brand is known as 帮宝适品牌, or literally Bang Bao Shi Pin Pai in Chinese pinyin pronunciation, though no one actually uses this literal name to represent the Brand in English. So, we basically just deftly took the first two Chinese words, in pinyin, for our program, because the meaning seemed perfect. It means “bang, or helping” the “bao, or precious,” which could have many meanings, including helping precious talent, precious babies, and precious concepts. And it is a nurturing term, so it could mean nurturing talent, babies and concepts. What a good way to make the connection. And the term itself in English has an exotic sounding, even as it is easy to say and remember. Say “Bang Bao” and you will see what I mean!

It’s always good to have good connections! In traditional societies, especially China, connections form the basis of trust and most relationships. In my academic and mission involvement, I had developed many personal connections already in China, and those came in very handily when we approached the various hospitals. Chinese academic institutions in the decades since China opened up to the outside world in the 80/90‘s, have been particularly concerned that they connect with overseas institutions that have a strong heritage, or branding. And, for the Bang Bao program, it turned out that the joint heritage/ branding of P & G/ Cincinnati Children’s was brilliant.

Photos 4 & 5: The famous Procter and Gamble international headquarters in Cincinnati, visited by many scholars from China to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, who may or may not realize the tremendous direct and indirect legacy of the company’s forbears to their professional skills and training.

The Procter & Gamble brand was clearly extremely well known, and among the most reputable foreign companies in China already at that time, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital was regularly ranked among the top three best children’s hospitals in the USA. This institutional branding, coupled with personal connections within China, was truly a win-win situation, and gave assurance initially to China authorities that we were offering a highest quality effort. Ultimately, of course, we trust it would be truly a win-win situation for the many China institutions involved, and the babies and mothers of China. Indeed there are now wonderful connections and relationships all over China, portending a lasting legacy to follow.

Many of the greatest institutions of America were built on the foundation of Judeo-Christian ethics and morality, and many great men and women involved were people of faith. This legacy of faith based drive towards positive social contribution is an outstanding one, which we in the West often just take for granted. Sometimes people from Asia coming to the USA for the first time are perplexed when they see the evident depth of philanthropy and social consciousness, even from business corporations. Often in their home countries, the government is expected to run literally every major institution, while business is just there to “make money.” This sort of voluntary philanthropic “legacy” is rare, or not well established.

I have often remarked to Asian friends, that one of America’s real secrets is indeed the huge number of foundations set up as legacies for good purposes, run with fine reputation and integrity, allowing people to connect to good causes of their own free choice. I am convinced that the vision of those who bequeathed their legacies, like P and G, coupled with strong volunteerism (literally thousands at the Children’s Hospital) probably are why such enterprises are often organized with strong lasting commitment and enthusiasm. It is my personal hope that this foundational spirit could permeate Asia, and especially China, as a global legacy of true compassion and initiative.

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