Samaritan’s Feet founder: Golf is a strategic vehicle

It's not just about a whole bunch of guys getting together and just hitting this little white ball.

By: Terry Vandrovec .

Manny Ohonme
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Manny Ohonme is founder and president of Samaritan’s Feet International, a global humanitarian organization working in more than 75 countries and 325 U.S. cities to provide shoes and help save underprivileged barefoot children from foot-borne illnesses and soil-transmitted parasites.

He is also a member of the Sanford International Board, which guides Sanford Health’s efforts to deliver health care globally, including through its Sanford World Clinic locations.

His organization has used golf tournaments as a fundraising and awareness tool. He shares his thoughts on Sanford Health’s plan to do the same with its inaugural Sanford International tournament this week at Minnehaha Country Club in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

You were a college basketball player, so a lot of people associate you with hoops. But golf is something you’re part of as well.

Golf is one of those platforms that allows regular folks to get connected with something bigger. When you think about the Sanford International being hosted in Sioux Falls, it’s a phenomenal opportunity to showcase the true, full expanse of who Sanford is. When you think about Sanford, you think about this Midwest — South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota — health care group. You don’t realize it’s Sanford, something we know as a global organization. It’s amazing to people to actually use this as a coming out party for Sanford, for people to hear and meet and interact with some of these amazing people that are actually transforming lives.

My role on the board, as you think about what we’re trying to accomplish, is trying to set the direction and the growth trajectory for where Sanford needs to go as we expand internationally. This golf event provides us a phenomenal vehicle to be able to do that. Proceeds from this helps us fund those efforts and help us accelerate trying to bring our know-how, predictable health care and infrastructure to some of these developing countries.

In your day job, you’re a CEO as well, so you understand the vision for a company, and you have been involved with golf as well. For Samaritan’s Feet, how has a golf tournament been a good strategic piece for your group?

We’ve done our Barefoot Classic Invitational for the last 15 years. This is the first time we actually had it canceled, because of (Hurricane) Florence, that just dumped a ton of water on us. But golf is a phenomenal platform to bring unique sets of people together. When you think about how big and vast this Sanford International tournament is, you think about John Daly. You think of these great leaders in the sport of golf to come to Sioux Falls and put Sioux Falls on the map, so the world can see what that is.

You get a chance to interact with business partners, people from the community. To be able to see through the platform of golf where you are forced to interact, you are forced to tell the story. The story sells everything. And that’s the beauty of the story of Sanford that hasn’t been told. Let’s tell that story to people outside of Sioux Falls, outside of Fargo (North Dakota), outside of Bemidji (Minnesota), outside of Bismarck (North Dakota) that come to Sioux Falls to talk about the Sanford story. Sanford is now this 50,000-member group of people. That’s who Sanford is. Those are our doctors, those are our nurses, those are our practitioners. They’re our boots on the ground across the United States. Now when you add the Good Samaritan Society we’re talking about being part of 24 unique states.

It’s not just about a whole bunch of guys getting together and just hitting this little white ball. This is a strategic vehicle to allow us to tell the story of Sanford to the expansive world.

Do you play golf and, if so, what’s the state of your game?

I hit the ball every so often. I won’t say I’m the best golfer. But we use about four golf tournaments around the world every year that Samaritan’s Feet actually gets involved with. The reality is it forces you to slow down. It forces you to have conversation. It forces you to actually build relationships. So why shouldn’t we use golf as a vehicle to bring the story to people who may know a little bit about us but to move the needle a little bit forward?

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