I really love this term. It seems to hold contradiction in itself, as our (at least my own) conception of deviants is usually a negative one! To deviate, however, simply means to do differently. So ask the question – where is someone doing something different that has a positive impact? Here is a lovely article on the power of positive deviants.
What I love about this story is how it highlights letting change come from within a community. We may know from the outside of a community that behaviors x, y, and z would help them. However, trying to impose those activities tends to fail. When we find those that are within the community that are doing things differently than the others that align with the behavior shifts that would lead to longer life or greater health and opportunity, we can point to those and allow peer influence (remember your Cialdini) to work its magic.
Where is positive deviance in your own life? Where do you do something right/well that you want to do in other areas of your life? Where do you see positive deviance around you? How can you encourage more of what works?
I first heard about this term about 5 years ago – from two mavens: Drake Zimmerman and Tom Munnecke. Nods to them both.
SIDENOTE: My concern here – the caveat, is using this sort of methodology to export culture. Helping people learn how to make money and thus join OUR system may not be what is most useful to us or to them. This is a case in which we might look inside our own culture and find positive deviants. Who is able to live best while relying on financial capital the least? How do they do that? Rather than – if everyone in the world has more money, we will all be better off. The whole poverty alleviation project is a misguided ego-centric approach to better world building. Make people better off – regardless of whether that involves money or not. And do not measure “well-off” by monetary standards. Some of the poorest people I have seen own the biggest houses, fastest cars, and handle the most money.