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Honoree Headshot
Jill Heneghan

Stephen Westbrooks

Executive Director — Southern Region

Location: St. Louis, MO
Founded: 1988
Industry: Community Development Finance

Over 15 years ago, at the outset of the Great Recession, Stephen Westbrooks started a career in corporate finance. Leveraging a newly minted MBA from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis, Westbrooks became skilled in the art of financial statement analysis for potential acquisition targets. His effort laid the groundwork for significant wealth creation for private equity investors.

Yet, outside the confines of corporate finance, most of the country was being ravaged by home foreclosure, unemployment and vanishing savings. Within this context, Westbrooks realized he wanted to leverage his skill set to serve the people and places that needed it most.

After some exploration, Westbrooks found the CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) industry. CDFIs play an important role in generating economic growth and opportunity in some of the nation’s most distressed communities.

After a couple of years working in the CDFI industry in New York City, Westbrooks returned to his hometown of St. Louis, where he started working in affordable housing. Eventually, he had an opportunity to work for IFF, one of the nation’s largest CDFIs, in its St. Louis office.

Westbrooks started at IFF as a senior lender in January 2016. The year prior, the office deployed approximately $3 million into the Missouri region. Westbrooks doubled capital deployment in his first year. By year two, he hit the $9 million benchmark.

Westbrooks combines both innovative thinking, creativity and courage to lead CDFI and make a significant impact on lives in some of St. Louis’s most economically challenged neighborhoods.

“My process starts with gaining clarity on what the actual problem may be, since it may be something other than what I'm observing at the surface,” he said. “Gaining clarity requires letting go of any assumptions I may have about the problem or potential solutions, cultivating effective questions, and then listening deeply to what I’m hearing. After I believe I have a firm understanding of the problem, I then decide if the problem can be solved. Not infrequently, the nature of a problem means it can only be managed, because it is the result of a natural tension that will always exist, but needs to be more effectively managed.”

By his fourth year, IFF had grown the annual deployment of flexible capital to more than $25 million. That same year, Westbrooks was promoted to executive director of the Southern region.

Since taking the lead, Westbrooks has grown the region from five employees to 10 and has overseen the deployment of an additional $40 million of flexible capital into the region’s most disinvested communities.

In 2020, Westbrooks led IFF to another record-setting project. This time, he led the deployment of $8 million for Places for People in St. Louis, an organization that provides access to mental health and other healthcare services to the area’s unhoused population.

“Stephen is committed to building on these foundations of community wins,” his team said. “He is working so that IFF will play a catalytic role in St. Louis, making significant progress in community development and helping unlock the vast potential of this city.”

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Stephen is an Eagle Scout.

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