Unlocking Solutions Through Positive Deviance in Palestine

BY Hadeel Abdo | February 6, 2019|Comments 0

To accelerate joint learning through experimenting innovative methods into our work, several UN agencies, funds and programmes working in Palestine opened the Palestine Innovation Lab spearheaded by UN Women in the spring of 2018. Change leaders and facilitators from the Welfare Improvement Network supported us with the initial setting and operation of the lab.

Five UN agencies quickly adopted the Positive Deviance approach to discover successful behaviours that individuals (‘positive deviants’) practice in their own community, often against the grain of harmful norms. Adopting the positive deviance approach requires a paradigm shift: define the problem and therein lies the solution. Picture a half-filled glass: if the problem is the empty half, the solution is the full half. This approach is challenging us to reimagine how change can come from within the community itself.

Positive deviants: a solution from within

The first step before identifying positive deviants is to recognize that there is an existing problem. Defining the problem may seem simple but it is not. With the positive deviance approach, you have to push deeper to understand the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ of a problem. Without defining a concrete problem, it is very difficult to unlock solutions.

Experimenting with the positive deviance approach

The Innovation Lab is currently applying positive deviance to existing projects from UN Women, UNDP, UNICEF, UN-Habitat and UNODC. This experiment is helping the organizations to unveil and implement sustainable solutions to complex problems in Palestine.

Men championing gender equality

In Palestine, UN Women is working with local community-based organizations to identify men who, contrary to common practice, support the right of women to inherit property, share household work and childcare with their wives. These men are both the solution to the problem and the solution provider, actively encouraging their peers to change their behaviour to advance gender equality. Their strategies are direct and personal: knocking on people’s doors, giving lectures, and drawing attention to  the importance of gender equality on social media.

For example, Yousef Nassar, a radio-show host, is using his platform to talk about how men can promote gender equality at home and workplace. In the southern part of Gaza, an Imam from the local community uses the Friday prayers to encourage young people and their families to refrain from early marriage. As a result, a number of couples have decided to postpone marriage until the age of 18.

UN Women is also raising awareness on women’s equal access to economic opportunities and decent work using the positive deviance approach – putting forward women entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Fostering inclusive leaders

As part of the ‘Al Fakhoora Dynamic Futures Programme’, UNDP identified 30 young post-secondary female and male students from underserved backgrounds as positive deviants. Through the initiative, the students will have a better chance to realize their full potential and overcome their socioeconomic, political and cultural limitations, while encouraging peers from their own community to adopt positive behaviours.    

Together with PalVision, a local NGO with a focus on youth, UNICEF is working to reduce violence and harassment by male students at a local school in Bethany in East Jerusalem. In the town of Barta’a in Area C, West Bank, UN-Habitat is supporting the Palestinian local authorities to deliver planning functions to communities at risk of displacement in the Israeli Controlled Area C.

UNODC is promoting youth crime prevention through sports, in partnership with the Higher Council for Youth and Sport, to identify sports coaches and teachers who demonstrated a strong sensitivity towards gender issues. The ‘positive deviants’, with the support of the community-based organizations, have begun to design strategies to amplify positive behaviours within their own community to promote gender equality.

Our role in positive deviance approach

To ensure that communities have a total ownership over the process, we should take on the role of observers, not as experts or implementers. That is the beauty, or challenge, of the positive deviance approach. We have to patiently wait for the positive deviants to bring the changes from within and themselves.

What we learned through applying positive deviance in Palestine is that ‘positive deviants’ should be from the community itself. Listening to what neighbours have to say about changing certain behaviours resonates more than having outsiders say the same thing. This is the power of positive deviance. The “experts” or “outsiders” from international agencies and civil society organizations should simply be positioned observers of the process, and the community should take centre stage, becoming both the implementers and recipients of change.

Have you used positive deviance approach to implement a project? If so, please share your experience with us!

Authors


Hadeel Abdo Hadeel is a Project Coordinator at UN Women. You can follow her on Twitter.

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