Ben Steinberg came to Little Rock four years ago as a volunteer in Wesley Clark’s presidential campaign and never left the state.

In July 2004, he made a home in Arkansas as the president of Southern Financial Partners in Helena. “Our goal is to revitalize distressed rural communities,” the 40-year-old California native said.

Under his leadership, the affiliate of Southern Bancorp has helped leverage $52 million in grants, loans and public and private capital to improve life in Phillips County.

His interest in nonprofit economic development work dates back to nearly a decade of overseas assignments helping build a middle class in countries such as Armenia and Tanzania. Steinberg developed a passion for microfinance while doing field work in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. He witnessed the ripple effect of economic development that a program built on small non-traditional loans had on underserved markets. That experience whet his appetite for more of this type work and planted a desire that remained even after returning from abroad.

Since joining Southern Financial Partners, Steinberg has helped overhaul its loan portfolio, both increasing its size and improving its quality. At-risk loans dropped from more than 30 percent to about 6 percent. He is working to help replicate the success of the Phillips County Strategic Community Plan in rejuvenating local health care, housing, business, education and more.

“There is simply nothing better than using one’s energy and professional skills to serve as a catalyst to bring about positive change,” Steinberg said. He serves on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Community Development Advisory Council and the advisory boards for the Delta Cultural Center and Mid-South Delta LISC, which supports community development in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.