A Letter from Our President & CEO


The iconic leader Nelson Mandela once said, “You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.”

During the past year, we took those words to heart at FOCUS and set out to make changes in our programs, our operations, and our membership and alumni support, all designed to impact our region for the better.

We listened to what our alumni, members and program participants said about their experiences and their goals. We studied the issues that dominate the headlines and those that don’t get the attention they deserve. We examined every aspect of our organization, asked tough questions, made some difficult decisions, and added intriguing events. We renewed our commitment to develop civic leaders who have the opportunities and connections to make a real impact.

One example is our Emerging Leaders program. As a result of our evaluations, we added a civic action component in which participants work with local nonprofits and others on strategic issues. Our Impact Fellows tackled the regional health care safety net through a racial equity lens, with unparalleled access to regional experts, agencies and organizations. We expanded our civic leadership education, sponsoring 27 forums and events on topics ranging from the future of policing to digital change makers and deconstructing the trope of the angry black woman. We increased the number of alumni events to provide more opportunities to connect and grow.

We welcomed six new schools to our Youth Leadership program. Our 21st annual What’s Right with the Region awards honored 20 outstanding individuals, organizations and initiatives, and we bestowed the prestigious Leadership Award on Dennis Lower, CEO of Cortex. We debuted a new website featuring stories of successful alumni who are making a difference in our community. In May, we celebrated 344 new program graduates at our inaugural program graduation ceremony.

Many of these achievements are documented more completely throughout this Annual Report. What is most exciting, however, is what is yet to come. Our work during the past year has set the stage for us to view leadership in new and different ways. We are focusing our resources in those areas and programs – educating and connecting leaders and facilitating important conversations – where we can and will have the greatest impact.

There’s never been a better time to be a part of FOCUS St. Louis. As always, I am grateful for the work and support of so many – our board members, generous donors, talented staff, and the thousands of program graduates – who inspire us to be better every day.


Dr. Yemi Akande-Bartsch
President & CEO
FOCUS St. Louis


If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
— John Quincy Adams