From an early age, Tom Egan, president and CEO of Phoenix nonprofit Esperança, had his sights set on a career that would allow him to help people in need. He was the eldest child of a single mother, who contended with both financial struggles and a hearing handicap. “I just kind of developed, early on, a sense that I wanted to help families, particularly women and children,” said Egan, identifying his mother as his primary source of inspiration.
Esperança, which means “hope” in Portuguese, provides a wide range of medical and educational services to poverty-stricken communities, both domestic and abroad, through volunteer programs and partnerships with indigenous nongovernment organizations. “When you’ve got big problems, like global public health and poverty, none of those can be solved by one individual or one organization,” said Egan. “It takes a strong, collaborative relationship. People have to come together to tackle these big issues.”
Though Egan joined Esperança in March 2011, he has been involved in community outreach and nonprofit aid for nearly 20 years. He focused his educational background on this field, culminating with a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling from the University of Akron in Ohio. “I thought this was something I was good at. I felt like I could contribute and help a lot of people,” said Egan.
In 1995, Egan began working at a community mental health center in Cleveland, his first position out of college. A year later, he became a supervisor at Cleveland Healthcare for the Homeless, where he discovered his affinity for administration in nonprofit work. This was followed by a move to Arizona in 1998, and his tenure at Catholic Charities Community Services as director of program operations until 2011.
“Maybe I wasn’t directly doing the on-the-ground work anymore, but I was able provide leadership and strategic direction,” said Egan. “You can’t get where you’re going if you don’t know where you want to go.” Esperança’s programs extend around the globe. Though primarily active in Latin America, specifically Bolivia and Nicaragua, the organization also provides education and medical services to poverty-stricken communities in Mozambique, Africa, and in Phoenix.
This includes clean water and sanitation practices, disease prevention, sustainable home building and improved farming techniques. “It’s all the basics: food, water, housing and health,” said Egan, who identified Volunteer Surgical Program as Esperança’s standout service. This initiative sends medical personal abroad for one- to two-week periods, for the purpose of providing medical care in otherwise inaccessible communities. “In that time, they’re going to do 40 to 50 surgeries,” said Egan, which is equitable to “hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of surgery” if preformed in the U.S. He said Esperanca is able to provide these services for a cost of only “about $7,000” per trip.
Egan said surgeons abroad often must think on their feet, as they are forced to contend with subpar operating conditions and severe resource limitations. He believes in prioritizing the efforts to combat international poverty. “We spend millions of dollars on one machine in the United States that does one, specific purpose,” he said. “But when you’re working in the developing world, they don’t even have money for clean sheets or hospital beds.”
Still, Egan conceded the task of combating international poverty remains daunting at times. “My biggest barrier is finding people who have a world vision, that have an interest in the developing world,” he said. “The least favorite part of my job is that there’s always going to be more need than I have the resources to meet. So you have to prioritize, and you can’t do everything that you need to do.” Despite this, Egan remains adamant about continuing Esperança’s fight for health and education abroad.
“You can literally see an entire community transformed from the work that we’ve done,” he said. He hopes to expand the organization’s efforts to new countries and increase its local awareness and efforts. “You can tell the suffering they had is just relieved,” he said, referring to the facial expressions of post operation patients, “and that’s really rewarding.”
Hometown: Buffalo, N.Y.
Family: Wife, Kim; son, Sawyer
Organizations: Organization for Nonprofit Executives (board of directors), Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, Association of Fundraising Professionals
Personal Motto: Big problems can’t be solved by one individual organization. It’s going to take a community.
Can’t Live without: Television
Favorite Film: “Star Wars”
Favorite Book: “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins
Favorite Shows: Sports, “Community” and “Modern Family”
Favorite Sport: Football
Favorite Team: I’m a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan.