Before the Covid-19 pandemic began to paralyse large parts of the world, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ushered in the ‘Decade of Action’ to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

The Global Sustainable Development Report as well as the 2019 Secretary-General’s Sustainable Development Goals Report had both highlighted that despite considerable efforts the world wasn’t on track and a growing number of experts began to voice concerns about genuine commitment and effort underpinning the sustainable development response.

Then Covid-19 hit in full scale, amplifying the need for transformative change and leadership even further. As the Secretary-General subsequently highlighted in the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020, “the effects of COVID-19 are imperilling progress towards the SDGs and could set back years of development gains.”

As the world begins planning for a post-pandemic recovery, it is therefore crucial to seize the opportunity to “build back better” by creating more sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies. But this is easier said than done, and we at the UN System Staff College recognise this challenge; particularly for those whose job it is to turn the ambition of a sustainable future for all into a reality. Building back better requires us to actively pursue strategies to win for people and planet. There is no time for complacency; neither on substance nor on process. Sustainable development isn’t an option, it is a necessity, and we don’t need incremental change but transformation.

To support executive level leaders in sustainable development we therefore designed a new peer-support initiative, the UN Mastermind Groups.

The new initiative, open to a carefully selected group of alumni and resource persons focuses on professionals who are ‘centres of influence’ to discuss, brainstorm, share knowledge and explore solutions related to effective UN country team and/or sustainable development work. UN Mastermind groups are all about “putting leading minds together for a common purpose, i.e. sustainable development”. They promote the highest level of systems thinking, collaboration, innovative mindset, transformational change, and diversity.

Two distinct UN Mastermind Group Formats

As a pilot, the UNSSC Knowledge Centre for Sustainable Development launched two distinct UN Mastermind Groups; the UNCT Alumni Mastermind Group, and the UN Leaders for Sustainable Development Mastermind Group.

- The UNCT Alumni Mastermind group

Shaping a sustainable future post-Covid also closely ties in with the UN Development System Reform process. Following the endorsement of the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework as a core instrument for conceptualizing, planning and implementing the UN development activities at country level, UN Resident Coordinators, UN Country Teams and individual UN entities are exploring, testing and conceptualizing new ways of working together to contribute to better lives in dignity and prosperity on a healthy planet.

But at times, as we have learnt from senior leaders during our UNCT Leadership courses in Bonn, UNCT members (in any role) can also feel fairly isolated. This is where the UNCT Alumni Mastermind Group comes in. Through peer-to-peer engagement and mentoring, identified executive-level participants will ideate, discuss and reflect on their own leadership contributions and solutions towards a UN Development System whose impact is truly larger than the sum of its parts; and one that is expressly focused on impact for people and planet.

- The UN Leaders for Sustainable Development Mastermind group

To tackle sustainable development, climate change and other global challenges such as the current Covid-19 pandemic, governments, the business sector, academia, civil society and international organisations must work together. Facilitating interaction between and among senior executives representing different backgrounds is critical to foster this.

The UN Leaders for Sustainable Development Mastermind Group facilitates peer interaction between and among senior executive leaders from different walks of life to ideate, discuss and reflect on their leadership contributions and solutions towards the design, development and implementation of sustainable development pathways. Moreover, the UN Leaders for Sustainable Development Mastermind Group will also serve as an incubator for multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration.

What does participation in the UN Mastermind Group entail?

- Participation in a 3-month program with 6 x 90-minute virtual meetings§
- Meetings are 2 weeks apart with an opportunity for communication, support, and discussions outside mastermind group sessions via a dedicated platform
- Facilitated and hosted by an experienced Mastermind facilitator
- Interactive and engaging in style including regular breakout sessions and a chance to work in a variety of group settings
- Every participant will work on their own executive leadership challenge related to Sustainable Development during the program while supporting other group members
- The agenda belongs to the group (6-8 people), and each person’s participation is key. Peers provide feedback, help brainstorm new possibilities, and set up accountability structures that keep participants focused and on track.

Becoming part of the experience

Mastermind Group participants are carefully curated based on their track-record, willingness to give and/or their broader contribution to learning for sustainable development. Individual participants are then placed in carefully curated groups to ensure and allow for the most meaningful experience inspiring true change as an outcome.

Participation of selected participants is free of charge thanks to the generous contribution of the Federal Republic of Germany.

As we are at the beginning of the journey, we seek to attract the best senior executive candidates for the UN Mastermind experience (within and outside of the UN system). So if you feel this matches your profile and you would like to be considered for the UN Mastermind candidate list, please write to

We look forward to welcoming you to our UN Mastermind community!