CEO Interview: Laura Knetzer
Bradley Hickey M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.
LCDR Medical Corps U.S. Navy
Preventive Medicine Resident Physician
Johns Hopkins School of Public Health
May 1, 2011
***The following Strategic Planning Assessment of Mercy Uganda was performed by Bradley Hickey as a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Health Policy and Management, Strategic Planning Course Project***
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.
I had the opportunity to meet and become friends with Laura Knetzer while working for the Navy in Panama City, Florida from January 2007 to January 2009. My wife, Amanda, is a licensed professional counselor and she worked for Laura at a local maternity home, The House of Grace. Amanda and Laura became very close during this time and I had the opportunity to witness Laura’s devotion to Christ and the young women living at the maternity home. Additionally, during this period of time my wife and I began the adoption process for our daughter and concurrently adopted our son. Laura offered a great deal of support and encouragement to us and we will forever be grateful.
Since that time, God has done amazing things through Laura. She had the opportunity to travel to Uganda and witnessed the tremendous need of the people in areas most Americans take for granted. Education, safe drinking water, farming and agriculture education, proper nutrition, medical and pregnancy care, and HIV/AIDS prevention were notable for being areas where targeted interventions would significantly improve the lives of the local people. After several mission trips and a calling from God, Laura founded, became executive director, and presides as Board Chair of Mercy Uganda in order to serve God and the people of Uganda.
“Mercy Uganda is a Christian, humanitarian ministry dedicated to working with women and children in Uganda to address spiritual, physical, educational, and economic needs, thereby helping alleviate the causes of poverty and injustice, and providing hope and a future” (Knetzer, 2011). Further, Mercy Uganda is a 501 (c) 3, Christian, non-profit ministry, and International Non Governmental Organization. The successes of Mercy Uganda include the provision of vital medical equipment to pregnancy centers, remote wells for safe water access, animal and plant agriculture assistance, coordination of the provision of free medical care delivered by U.S. medical missionaries, and the initiation of a child sponsorship program that provides education for local children. Future and progressing projects include additional well building, land purchase and the initiation of an agricultural training center for orphans, expansion of the child sponsorship program, building schools for local children, increasing the number of U.S. medical missionary teams in Uganda, and building alliances with other Christian ministries and Non Governmental Agencies to better serve the people of Uganda (Mercy Uganda, 2011).
A few of the obstacles that Laura has faced included setting up a 501 (c) 3 organization, obtaining recognition as an international Non Governmental Agency, liaising with U.S., Florida, and Uganda government agencies and bureaucracies, obtaining donor financial support, and leading a team of diverse and gifted employees and volunteers. While juggling these many responsibilities, Laura recognizes the importance of short-term and long-term strategic planning for Mercy Uganda. Most importantly, she feels that prayer and reflection are vital to staying within God’s will and she adds that God has provided all the organization’s needs thus far.
Formally, Mercy Uganda has a board of directors that meet at least twice per year to discuss the 3 month, 6 month, 1 year, 3 year, and 5 year goals and objectives. The board consists of Laura Knetzer, a business administrator, and field managers from both the U.S. and Uganda. These meetings include both face to face and email discussions that allow for the prioritization of plans according to the mission statement of the organization and the available funding. Further, Laura highlights that the organization weighs the urgency of each case of need. For example, at any given time there may be a need for educational needs, nutritional needs, safe water needs, agricultural, and medical care needs. In this situation, the board attempts to rank the urgency of each case as stated above while considering the long-term impact on the individuals and community. Additionally, a situation such as this also calls for fund raising efforts and Laura states that God has always provided.
Informally, the Mercy Uganda team work closely together and support projects that each of the members feel passionate about. In rare cases a project may not be realized due to funding or other obstacles; however, in most circumstances the team adopts the project leader’s vision and work cohesively to implement the plan and meet milestones.
Both the strategic planning process and the final list of objectives and goals provide important and actionable information for Mercy Uganda. Typically, plans are segmented and team members are assigned responsibility for overseeing the implementation and completion of the plan. However, Laura adds that as the CEO she is ultimately responsible for the execution of the strategic plan and overall oversight. Laura also states that the strategic planning and implementation process has not caused friction among the team members. In fact, she feels that it is a source bonding for the group and also allows each member to hold others and themselves accountable. A few projects that Laura highlights as examples of God’s leadership and Mercy Uganda’s success include the building of a home for 5 orphans, obtaining sponsorship for 50 children to attend school, and the building of two wells which required a fund raising effort of approximately $20,000. She obviously takes pride in these accomplishments but is quick to add that more wells need to be built; more children need sponsorship, and more work remains to be done.
After concluding my interview with Laura, I had time to reflect on the conversation and the amazing work that is being done by Mercy Uganda. As a fellow Christian I am inspired by the mission of Mercy Uganda and it is a pleasure to see Laura’s spiritual gifts being utilized. I very much appreciated the opportunity to learn more about a Non Governmental Organization’s strategic planning process and implementation process. Further, I see Laura and Mercy Uganda as models that I someday hope to emulate as a social entrepreneur.
1. Knetzer, K. and Hickey, B. 2011. Email correspondence on April 15, 2011.
2. Mercy Uganda Website. Accessed on May 1, 2011 at http://www.mercyuganda.org/.