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Professional Development

Fellows gather regularly for one of the highlights of the Fellowship program— our professional development retreats.

Professional development is a significant component of the Fellowship experience, and one that is designed to build the skills and knowledge of the Fellows. During these trainings, Fellows are challenged to think about big ideas—what power and inclusion mean, the role nonprofits play in public policy, or the widespread effects of income inequality.

While we have historically met twice a year for 4-day retreats, the Covid pandemic has required us to adapt. Currently, Fellows meet online approximately every month for 2-hour virtual trainings. As soon as it is possible to travel and meet  in person safely, we plan to resume in-person retreats. 

Host supervisors and Fellows play a major role in designing and focusing the trainings so that they reflect the interests and needs of the current cohort of Fellows. Together, they help to identify topics that are most valuable to the cohort and participate in setting the agenda and planning the presentation and activities.

This year, for example, our online trainings will include:  

  • A panel discussion with alumni Fellows about navigating early stages of social impact careers.
  • A conversation about climate change/environmental justice with staff from the Trust for Public Land and FAO Schwarz alumni Fellows working in this sector.
  • A professional development session that will provide Fellows space to explore the importance of more equitable and inclusive spaces and accessibility in institutions and organizations.

Other professional leadership trainings have included hands-on workshops, skill development, site visits, and opportunities for reflection. 

Fellows gain practical skills, too. They learn how to deploy the power of community organizing, hone their presentation skills, and develop a strong leadership style. Fellows also connect with other current Fellows to learn about their work at their own host organizations and gain exposure to other critical social issues.

In addition, Fellows meet with special guests from leading social impact nonprofits and experts in organizational development, policy, and education. FAO Schwarz Fellows, for example, have met with Gerald Chertavian, CEO and Founder of Year Up, a non-profit organization that provides intensive professional education to underserved young adults, and with Yael Lehmann, when she was the President & CEO of The Food Trust, which strives to make healthy food available to all.

A fellow makes a presentation to a large group

Gaining a Wider Perspective

The goal of the Fellowship retreats is to give you the chance to step back from day-to-day challenges and responsibilities and consider the larger landscape of social impact. How do leaders solve social problems? How do you effectively address inequalities in the short term while you’re working toward long-term solutions? How do social impact leaders navigate competing demands?

Retreats contribute to a sense of community among the FAO Schwarz Fellows. The camaraderie of the cohort is an important component of the Fellowship experience—one that every Fellow comes to treasure. Retreats include team-building activities and plenty of informal time together for more casual conversations. You’ll have lots of time to socialize with your cohort and meet with alumni Fellows.

At the end of the four days, you’ll return to your host organization with a deeper understanding of social impact work. With new friends and a richer network, you’ll be refreshed and renewed and ready to apply new skills and knowledge for greater impact in your organization and community.


A fellow gives a presentation with slides

Retreat Schedule


FAO Schwarz Fellowship hosts Fellow orientations.


Fall professional development retreat. Locations rotate among host cities.


Spring professional development retreat. Locations rotate among host cities.

"Lately I have been thinking about how the FAO Schwarz Fellowship has set me up to be a strategic thinker when it comes to my professional development. I find myself being excited to ask to take on different projects even when they fall outside of the scope of my role. This keeps me learning and growing and finding new passions within my work."
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Karen Wilber
FAO Schwarz Fellow at uAspire  in Boston | 2018

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