Best Practices from San Francisco: Young Professionals for Sustainable Development Goals Seminar Series

The United Nations Association of the USA, San Francisco Chapter (UNA SF) partnered with the University of San Francisco School of Management’s Master of Nonprofit Administration Program (USF-SM-MNA) to offer a very successful program for young professionals who want to align their careers with UN Sustainable Development Goals. Based on participants’ evaluations, this program has the average self-assessed value for personal and professional development of 9 out of 10 and the Net Promoter Score of +86 (anything over +70 is considered exceptional). 

Participants consistently report that the program helped them get more clarity about their career path, feel more confident integrating SDGs into their career, learn about relevant networks & opportunities, build long-term peer support relationships, build long-term relationship with a mentor, make useful professional contacts with panelists, feel supported and inspired, experience a shift in perspective, and feel more grounded in their life purpose.

All program materials are now available in the Program Toolkit shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license with the hope to inspire other chapters of the United Nations Association of the USA and other organizations to set up similar programs by using all or some of the designs that have worked so well in San Francisco. Here are some of the best practices that chapters can learn from this program:

  • Sensing the needs of young professionals in chapters’ jurisdictions
  • Selecting UN-related issues and panelists that appeal to young professionals
  • Using the World Café process and Collective Narrative Methodology for engagement, assessment, and planning of chapters’ activities
  • Selecting and recruiting mentors for young professionals
  • Building partnerships with universities
  • Institutionalizing programs and initiatives to ensure continuity beyond the involvement of specific individuals
  • Building on successful prototypes tested by other chapters

This program was started in 2018 in response to requests from young professionals and graduate students who wanted to make more effective contributions to humanity’s progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through their careers. The idea of the program was inspired by the successful series of panel discussions and Global Café conversations on specific topics like Fair Trade, Global Health, etc. organized by the United Nations Association of the USA, Chicago Chapter. That series of Global Cafés in Chicago was well attended and much appreciated by both experts and young professionals who were interested in the specific issues discussed at each session.

Leveraging this success, USF-SM-MNA Director, Dr. Marco Tavanti, and UNA SF President, Mary Elizabeth Steiner, decided to launch a professional development program for mission-aligned young professionals that would include both panel discussions and the Global Café process (more commonly known as World Café). Fyodor Ovchinnikov was appointed Program Director and tasked with designing and testing a well-balanced program that would fit into four half-day sessions and serve a wide range of backgrounds and aspirations aligned with the United Nations Agenda 2030

The design process started with an intergenerational World Café with about 80 participants hosted during the celebration of the UN Humanitarian Day in August 2018. Participants discussed the realities of young professionals aligning their careers with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ways to support them in that process. Insights from these discussions shaped the general arc of the program: 

  1. Creating structures and a culture that nourish peer learning and peer support
  2. Exploring the mindset that grasps the systemic complexities of the SDGs at different scales
  3. Identifying essential new skills and ways to develop them
  4. Planning next steps to utilize the program as a springboard for taking participants’ support of the SDGs to the next level

Over the course of the program these topics are explored through panel discussions, one on one mentoring, self-study (reading, reflection, self-organized study groups, access to external learning and practice opportunities), and curated cohort-level reflection through World Café conversations documented using the Collective Narrative Methodology. Collective Narratives that represent group reflection after each session, individual assignment reports, and post-program survey results provide a rich body of qualitative and quantitative data that helps monitor the learning process and evolve the program for greater impact. You can find those collective narratives in the Program Toolkit.

Besides participating in the general training, participants can also sign up for an additional training in World Café facilitation and Collective Narrative Methodology. This additional training is recognized on the certificates of completion and it also provides an opportunity to step into a leadership role which is especially helpful for participants who would like to be more engaged with the convening organizations. For example, UNA SF’s new Secretary, Swagata Sen, was nominated for that position after she demonstrated exceptional leadership as one of the Hosts-In-Training of the seminar series. We also have program alumni who have joined Boards of other UNA chapters and engaged with the National Office through the UNA-USA Leadership Summit .


For more information and to download the Program Toolkit please visit

If you have any questions about the program, please contact UNA SF at