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Finding The Cure for Parkinson’s With The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s Debi Brooks

Haley Paskalides  |  August 21, 2023

How Debi Brooks went from Goldman Sachs to starting the Michael J. Fox Foundation and raising nearly $2 billion.

We all need to be able to find joy in our day-to-day and to be passionate about what we do for a living. Perhaps no one knows this better than Debi Brooks, co-founder of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, who made a career pivot to follow her dreams. 

Debi Brooks had what anyone would call an extremely successful career. She spent nearly a decade at Goldman Sachs and quickly rose through the ranks to become Vice President in the fixed income and asset management divisions. In her late 30s, she decided to go back to school and get a master’s degree in social work. She wanted to apply the knowledge she’d gained in the financial world to the capital-starved nonprofit space. Three years after getting her degree, she co-founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Under her leadership, the organization recently hit $2 billion dollars — yes, billion — raised to fund the research that will hopefully find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease in the very near future. 

After one meeting with Michael J. Fox, Debi says she was completely behind his vision for what the Michael J. Fox Foundation could be. She felt like their meeting was meant to be. The pair even ended up chatting for 40 minutes on the sidewalk after the interview!

“I heard about it out of the blue on Sunday,” she says. “By the following Monday, I was in the Spin City production offices in New York City, and it was the first day of work.” 

Debi got to work using her problem-solving skills to scale the organization and find the right focus for the generous donations that were pouring in. Those early years set the tone for impact.

“We’re going to be able to harness philanthropy capital in a way that we can speed Parkinson’s drug development,” she says. “That framing really set us on a course for what to build, how to build it, and to chart our course for impact.”

Debi talks about the foundation’s incredible breakthrough study to detect Parkinson’s before symptoms arise. She also talks about why she thinks the foundation continues to beat people’s expectations. There’s also her unique and sweet love story with her husband Jeff. 

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