We invite you to attend the Mount Madonna School (MMS)  Sustainable Development Seminar Series moderated by our high school students. Our students and the audience will participate in stimulating, intellectual conversations with our alumni and friends who are working on critical societal issues and advancing progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Evenings will be organized into three parts. The first part will be a presentation from our featured speakers about their work. The second will be a facilitated conversation between the speaker and our high school students. We will end the evening with questions and answers from the audience. Questions may be submitted during the talk via the chat or beforehand  (instructions included with your registration).

All donations benefit Mount Madonna School's Sustainable Development Goal-oriented educational programs and are tax-deductible.



Rethinking Traditional Gender in Classic Literature
June 3, 2021 / 7-8pm PST


Maria Dahvana Headley

Maria Dahvana Headley’s Beowulf: A New Translation is a feminist reworking of one of the oldest surviving texts. Beowulf has always been a tale of entitlement and encroachment, powerful men seeking to become more powerful, and one woman seeking justice for her child, but this version brings new context to an old story.

The Mere Wife follows the basic narrative arc of the original Beowulf but at the same time revises the epic into a women-centered story set in modern suburbia.

Rethinking and rewriting perspectives that have come to be accepted as truth, her novels empower the female and question the patriarchal stereotypes.

Join New York Times-bestselling author Headley and the MMS high school students as they explore the boundaries of gender and tradition. 

In partnership with Bookshop Santa Cruz, you may purchase copies of Maria's books here.

In partnership with

Bookshop Santa Cruz
Ryan Oliver.Headshot (1).jpg
Design for Equity: Disrupting Systemic Inequality Through Innovation in Education
May 20, 2021 / 7-8pm PST

Ryan Oliver

This experiential seminar cuts across multiple UN Development goals, but most directly relates to 4: Quality Education, 9: Industry, Innovation, Infrastructure, and 10: Reduced Inequality. We'll participate in a quick experiential dive into these topics through the Human-Centered Design approach uses in our work in the Bay Area and nationally. Participants are asked to engage actively in a rapid design experience related to education and equity, reflecting on what it would take to redesign systems and habits in our own lives to achieve a more equitable and interconnected society.

The Aloha+ Challenge: Hawaii’s Bold Sail Plan For Leading the Way Toward Meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
May 6, 2021 / 7-8pm PST

Usha Kilpatrick


Even before the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, Hawaii launched the Aloha+ Challenge, which as an unprecedented statewide commitment to achieve six interconnected sustainability goals, making it the first state in the nation to commit to achieving 100% renewable energy as well as a zero-emission and carbon neutral economy by 2045. The Aloha + Challenge is now recognized worldwide as a model locally driven framework to implement the UN SDG’s, which can be scaled to support place-based implementation of the global agenda. Why is Hawai’i the unlikely leader in the drive to meet the UN SDG’s? Its culture is kind, diversity matters, and the power of science and technology is rooted in indigenous knowledge.

FishWise: Sustaining Ocean Ecosystems and the People Who Depend on Them by Transforming Global Seafood Supply Chains
April 22, 2021 / 7-8pm PST

Tobias Aguirre

The oceans serve as the foundation for all life on the planet. They provide the air we breathe, the food many of us eat, and livelihoods and enjoyment for millions and millions of people. And yet, their sheer vastness, once seen as inexhaustible, makes them difficult to sustainably and equitably manage. Even worse, they are prone to illegal fishing, forced labor, and even modern slavery. Seafood, the world's most traded commodity, is both the problem and the solution. In this seminar, we will explore the roots of these challenges, innovative partnerships and solutions that hold great promise, and ways in which the achievement of SDG 14 Life Under Water might just hold the key to progress on all of the SDGs. The seminar will be led by FishWise CEO and Mount Madonna School alum Tobias Aguirre ('94) and will showcase how a local nonprofit can have global impact.

Sustainable Development: The Climate-Energy-Equity Nexus
April 15, 2021 / 7-8pm PST

Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh

This seminar will focus on the complex climate challenges posed by the substantial benefits of energy consumption. Well-being varies strongly with energy consumption, resulting in an enormous gap between low- and high-consuming populations. This energy poverty creates tremendous exposure to climate-related stresses such as droughts, floods, heat waves, and intense storms. The fact that pathways for closing the energy gap are likely to result in substantial climate changes, via the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs), also creates critical tensions between development priorities and climate policies. For example, one paradox is that apparently the most attainable means for an impoverished individual or country to decrease its aggregate climate stress is to increase the release of GHGs to the atmosphere.


With the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Paris Agreement, and national and non-state commitments to reach net-zero emissions within the next 3-4 decades, there is now ambition and urgency to transition to a low-carbon energy system while simultaneously increasing energy supply and access, and adapting to continued climate change. What is known and unknown about how to do all of those simultaneously will be discussed.

American Democracy, American Racism
March 18, 2021 / 7-8pm PST

Laxmi Wordham

The fight for democracy and the fight for equality have long been intertwined in the United States. In the wake of George Floyd's murder and the ongoing racial injustices impacting communities of color, Leadership Now put together an analysis that lays out the critical linkages between systemic racism and the flaws in our democratic system. The analysis demonstrates the ways in which voter participation, electoral systems, campaign finance, and representation in politics are both products of, and contributors to, structural racism.

Shifting Perspectives: Adventures in Tech Policy and Beyond
February 25, 2021 / 7-8pm PST

Amita Kuttner

Artificial intelligence, automation, and other emerging technologies are upending our ways of life. Policy and policymaking are generally reactive, and yet with the changes coming due to technology we need proactive policy. Approaches to influencing policy, and political conversation are intertwined with the underpinnings of how our societies are structured. What we need now is to reevaluate how we approach living life, and how we see SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.