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Bob Hannan ’82: Crusading against poverty

Hannan '82 (far left), in Argentina.

When Bob Hannan '82 first visited Argentina back in 1998, the peso was as robust as the U.S. dollar and life in Buenos Aires was as vibrant as New York City.

So, imagine his dismay when he visited a much different Buenos Aires in late 2002. Argentina, at the time, was one year into an economic crisis that had left unemployment at close to 40 percent and had wiped out the savings of many middle-class families—forcing them to live in shantytowns called "villas miseries."

"By the end of my visit, I wanted to see if there were avenues to use my business experience to help support economic development projects there," says Hannan.

He certainly had the necessary credentials to help tackle this monumental problem. Graduating from Lehigh University with a degree in chemical engineering, Hannan earned an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago and went on to work for Exxon, Merrill Lynch, and then Charles Schwab.

By doing some private sector consulting projects to help pay his own bills, Hannan was able to join the operating team of Help Argentina Organization as a microfinance consultant. His charge was to set up a microfinance program to help some of Argentina's displaced middle-class families get back on their feet.

Microfinance is the concept of giving the poor access to small loans to facilitate economic independence. Help Argentina Organization's microfinance program enables a poor individual with a viable business idea to receive a small loan between $50 and $250 to start or to expand a micro-enterprise. These enterprises can be any kind of business, including bakeries, carpentry, clothing repair, etc.

Hannan will never forget how affected he was in mid-March 2005 when he met a woman roughly his own age named Claudia, who was living with her husband and three sons in the villas but was benefiting from the Help Argentina Organization microcredit program. The program allowed Claudia to buy a sewing machine and to start her own business, thus giving her family a chance to pull out of poverty.

"Without access to any credit, a person like Claudia couldn't change her life," recalls Hannan. "In that one day, I was totally inspired and vowed that in some way I was going to make a difference for thousands of women like her who didn't have access to microcredit."

To learn more about Help Argentina Organization, click here. If you need additional information before making a donation, e-mail Hannan at bobhannan@hotmail.com.

Andrea Tulcin

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Spring 2007


Posted on Thursday, April 05, 2007

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