They told Manny Ohonme he was crazy.
His dream of putting shoes on the feet of 10 million children worldwide was too ambitious, too impossible, too big.
But on Thursday, an impassioned — and shoeless — Ohonme celebrated on a stage as he announced to over 400 Movement Mortgage market leaders, sales managers and guests that Samaritan’s Feet, the nonprofit he started with his wife Tracie, was on track to distribute shoes to 7 million children by year’s end.
“We chose to align ourselves with a vision that’s much bigger than us,” said Ohonme. He challenged the audience to identify the ‘why’ that drives them each day. “It’s not just about the profits. It’s about creating profits for a greater purpose.”
Ohonme delivered his message on the final day of the Movement Mortgage Vision Conference, a three-day event featuring speakers and breakout sessions designed to inspire Movement’s leaders on the company’s processes, culture and mission. Movement has set a vision to capture 10% national market share by 2025, while investing its profits in community nonprofit work through the Movement Foundation.
“Has anyone told you that your idea sounds ridiculous?” Ohonme asked the crowd. “You guys are doing things that seem impossible. I hope you guys don’t give up on your dream.”
He discussed his impoverished upbringing in Lagos, Nigeria, where his alcoholic father often told him he would never amount to anything, and his mother prayed over him, encouraging him to dream big and maintain hope.
Life changed for Ohonme when he met a Wisconsin missionary who invited him to enter a basketball contest. The prize: A pair of tennis shoes.
Ohonme won the competition and the shoes, becoming the first person in his family and entire community to own a pair.
Years later, he received a basketball scholarship to Lake Region State College in North Dakota, where he met his wife. After earning his master’s degree, he started work for a Charlotte software company.
But after returning to Nigeria for his father’s funeral, Ohonme became overwhelmed by the African country’s poverty-stricken children.
“I forgot what it was like to be poor,” he said. “I saw those children – they didn’t have shoes; they didn’t have hope.”
Initially, he resisted God’s call for him to leave his six-figure-salary job and start an organization that would bring shoes to millions of children in the world. His defiance was in vain.
Months later, he lost his job, prompting him and his wife to launch Samaritan’s Feet in 2003.
Today, the nonprofit collects and distributes shoes and socks to underprivileged children with the belief that a pair of shoes can change a life. Ohonme said footwear is effective in staving off sole-transmitted parasites that infect the body through a person’s feet, becoming a “death sentence” for the barefooted.
“I had a vision for something that was much bigger than I am,” Ohonme said. “I never stopped dreaming.”
‘Here for a reason’
Before ending his speech, Ohonme challenged the Movement community to keep its eyes on a greater purpose.
“If you say you work for Movement Mortgage…you represent something that’s much bigger than you.”
Tony Taveekanjana joined Movement three years ago. He was touched by Ohonme’s talk, nearly to the point of tears. Taveekanjana, Movement’s divisional vice president on the West Coast, said working at Movement helps him better understand his ‘why’ each day.
“It’s more than just mortgages. It’s more than just being part of a community,” he said. “I know I’m here for a reason. I want to give so much more — not only to just inform, I want to transform.”