The Positive Deviance Initiative defines Positive Deviance as an approach that realizes “…that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.”
This methodology has been used by the Initiative in a wide variety of contexts. One of the first initiatives involved improving child nutrition in Viet Nam. Researchers to villages with high levels of child malnutrition found that not all children were malnourished. They studied the mothers with healthy children to see what these “positive deviants” were doing differently and then asked those women to teach the other women. Malnutrition was reduced.
Another action involved altering cultural perceptions towards female genital mutilation in Egypt and other countries. When women and men listened to stories of local women who had not been ‘cut’, were not promiscuous, and were able to marry, attitudes began to change. Change was further propelled by women who told their stories of how ‘cutting’ had ruined their lives.
A major problem in culture of honor societies, such as those in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the negative attitude of men towards women. Misogyny is rampant and fierce. How can positive deviance tackle this problem? Fortunately, we have an important example of positive deviance in Ziauddin Yousafzai.
Although raised in a very traditional family in a small community in Pakistan, Yousafzai valued education so much he decided to become an educator and open schools for both boys and girls. His first child was a daughter. Instead of ignoring her, he made sure she knew she was valued and that she received a quality education. Thanks to this positive deviant father, Malala has become a voice heard world-wide making the case for educating all girls everywhere.
Positive deviance is dangerous in regions controlled by the Taliban and like-minded men. What can we do to find and support positive deviants?