In Japan, manufacturing facilities use “green curtains”—living panels of climbing plants—to clean the air, provide vegetables for company cafeterias, and reduce energy use for cooling. A walk-to-school program in the United Kingdom fights a decline in childhood physical activity while reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. A food-gleaning program staffed by young volunteers and families facing food insecurity in Spain addresses food waste, hunger, and a desire for sustainability.

Each of these is a real-life example of what I call “multisolving”—where people pool expertise, funding, and political will to solve multiple problems with a single investment of time and money.

Multisolving projects—no matter their scale, sector, or stage of development—tend to commit to three principles:

  1. Everyone matters; everyone is needed. Multisolvers insist that the well-being of workers is central and so is the protection of the global climate. Tackling problems together requires that we join perspectives, experiences, knowledge, and expertise.
  2. We can succeed by addressing tough problems in an integrated fashion. Multisolvers dare to imagine that problems might be easier to solve together rather than one by one.
  3. Large solutions start small; growth results from learning and connecting. The projects we studied grew in impact, budget, and partnerships via idiosyncratic pathways that depended on relationships, chance connections, and moments of inspiration.

Growing out of these three principles, we saw multisolvers employing similar practices, often cycling through them in rounds of iteration and growth that extend over periods of months or years.

  1. Welcoming. If you are embarking on a project that will require partners across sectors, you should expect that, years into your project, you will be working with people and sectors you may not have imagined initially.
  2. Learning and documenting. Multisolving projects invest in learning, and they act on what they learn, sometimes by changing direction.
  3. Storytelling. Telling a story of what is possible and what is already being achieved brings more partners and resources to multisolving efforts, especially when the stories incorporate data about diverse benefits of the project.

Read the full article about cross-sectoral collaboration by Elizabeth Sawin at Stanford Social Innovation Review.