Elizabeth Sawin, PhD

Dr. Sawin headshot facing forward wearing a red scarf and purple top

Elizabeth Sawin, PhD

Founder & Director

Twitter: @bethsawin

Dr. Elizabeth Sawin is the Director of Multisolving Institute. Beth is an expert on multisolving, actions that address equity, climate change health, well-being, and economic vitality as integrated issues. She developed the concept after studying bright spots around the world where people created systems change by building connections across silos. In 2021, Beth founded Multisolving Institute to share this research and to develop tools tailored for multisolving. 

Beth has dedicated her career to the theory and practice of creating change in complex systems. She trained in system dynamics computer simulation with Donella Meadows at Sustainability Institute. At the Institute, she also supported sustainability leaders from around the world as they used system approaches to conserve land, enact climate policy, restore rivers, promote healthy communities, and more.

Prior to founding Multisolving Institute, Beth co-founded the think tank Climate Interactive to develop tools for grappling with the complexity of the climate system. She led Climate Interactive’s efforts to integrate measures of equity, health, and well-being into decision-support computer simulations.

Beth writes and speaks about multisolving and leadership in complex systems for both national and international audiences. Her writing has been published in Non-Profit Quarterly, The Stanford Social Innovation Review, U. S. News, The Daily Climate, and System Dynamics Review. Her work has been widely covered including in the New York Times and the Washington Post.  Her book Multisolving: Creating Systems Change in a Fractured World will be published by Island Press in late 2024.

She has two adult daughters and lives in rural Vermont where she and her husband grow as much of their food as they can manage.

Advisory Boards

That opened a new front of research at Climate Interactive: what else would improve around the world if countries truly transitioned away from fossil fuels? From improvements in air quality to energy security we documented many co-benefits of climate action, and incorporated some of them into Climate Interactive’s well known computer simulation, En-ROADS.

But, the multiple benefits of actions to protect the climate remain mostly theoretical without ways of overcoming the obstacles to multisolving. That’s why, from the beginning of our work we have collaborated with others to understand the bright spots of multisolving around the world and to pilot multisolving approaches. First in Milwaukee in partnership with the Milwuakee Metropolitan Sewerage District and then in Atlanta, with Partnership for Southern Equity, we began to see what was possible by bringing the different parts of a system together in pursuit of actions and investments that lifted up many goals at once.

From this action research, along with a series of case studies of multisolving projects, we began to see attitudes and approaches that are in common across a wide diversity of multisolving projects, a topic we wrote about in Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Then came 2020. Pandemic. Escalating climate change impacts. Dire warnings about biodiversity loss. And more and more folks connecting the dots between each of these issues and structural inequity. Invitations to write, speak, and teach about multisolving came fast and furious and with it the possibility that what we’ve learned from multisolving bright spots could help support leaders around the world to respond to crises with multisolving. That spark led to the launch of the Multisolving Institute and our mission of supporting leaders as they pursue multisolving approaches