GHIC 2020: Global Health & Innovation Conference
April 4-5, 2020 at Yale University and the Historic Shubert Theater
New Haven, Connecticut

Unite for Sight’s 2010 Global Health & Innovation Conference

Blog Report By Abby Hannifan, Unite For Sight Global Health Leadership Intern

Lessons Learned and Approaches That Work Session

The presentations in this session were as follows:

The presentations in this session were as follows:

Before coming to this conference I had heard of Positive Deviance while browsing the blog of Vanderbilt graduate Mark Hand, who spear-headed Manna Project International’s second global site outside Quito, Ecuador. In an interview with alldaybuffet—a social action blogger aiming “to change the world through creativity and business” by incubating, advising, and investing in for-profit/for-good companies—Mark explained Manna’s use of two of the most promising community development strategies: Asset-Based Community Development and Positive Deviance. I’d like to hash out these two definitions a little more before commenting on Lisa’s presentation.

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is an approach developed by John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann of Northwestern University. First Lady Michelle Obama is also a faculty member and strong ally of the ABCD approach. At the center of this development philosophy is a consideration of local assets, instead of community needs or deficiencies, as the key determinant of sustainable community development. Using appreciative inquiry, a developer takes a capacity inventory of community members by asking questions like, “What are the strengths of your community? What do you want to see done in your community? How can you personally contribute to the realization of your dreams for your community?” instead of, “What do you need? What is not working here? What are you lacking?” This puts the power of envisioning a new reality in the hands of community members—the local experts who best understand their unique cultural landscape, and who will eventually have complete responsibility for sustaining a project’s continual progression. By “(b)uilding on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions,” the ABCD model promises that community members will be highly motivated to actively participate in project design and implementation and take ownership of the project’s evolution.(1) If you would like to learn more about sustainable international community development and the ABCD technique, check out Northwestern University’s Global Engagement Summer Institute. I participated in this mind-shifting program last summer as an intern with St. Francis Health Care Services in Jinja, Uganda, and ended up training villagers how to grow mushrooms as a small-scale microenterprise solution to poverty.

Positive Deviance is similar to ABCD in that it identifies the assets of a community and accentuates them to craft successful community development programs. It is “based on the observation 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.”(2) Put simply, Positive Deviance takes what’s working and amplifies it on a larger scale. Lisa illustrated just this in her presentation by discussing the following situation:

The third floor of a certain hospital had a bad record of not wearing gloves, compromising standard sanitary expectations. Administrators realized this and started posting signs in hallways and patient doors, reminding health professionals to wear gloves. Classes on health safety were also required for all staff. Surprisingly, no improvement was made. Then administrators heard that the staff on the sixth floor had an excellent glove-wearing record. It was then that they realized they had been trying to solve the wrong problem—it wasn’t that staff on the third floor didn’t know proper health safety … it was that gloves were not always readily available, and often required finding an elusive key and unlocking a storage closet, tasks that were time-consuming and inconvenient. The sixth floor circumvented this complication by having candy stripers refill glove boxes—which were placed in more accessible areas— as part of their job description. The third floor problem could NOT have been solved, however, by simply transferring the sixth floor solution. As Lisa said, “Local, individually developed, accommodated strategies are the only way to go.” The only transfer she recommended was that of the conversation that allowed the sixth floor to arrive at their solution—one that probably involved definition of the true, underlying problem and interaction between front-line workers (who understand better the epidemiology of certain issues on the floor) and administrators to implement a solution.

Jane from JHPIEGO extended this discussion of creating local solutions by stating at the end of her presentation, “We have to get communities to speak to their own problems. They are the experts.” As she suggests, this is as simple as asking community members, “What do you think fuels this problem, and how can we address it?”

Key Takeaways


(1) “Welcome to ABCD.” The Asset-Based Community Development Institute. Accessed on 14 May 2010 <>.

(2) “What is Positive Deviance?” Positive Deviance Initiative: Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Accessed on 14 May 2010 <>.