A Fine Book By On The Business Solution To Poverty---Adding Positive Deviance To The Mix Would Be A Grand Idea
Paul Polak and Mal Warwick’s new book, The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers, promises a lot and delivers a lot on how people can make more money and get out of poverty. In particular, having thought about food and ag in developing countries, I loved their idea of the "last 500 feet." No matter how hard you try, if the person can't get your product because you can't deliver it to the last 500 feet then, the first 2200 miles that you did get done, just don't matter much.
I picked up and read the book because many of the examples are from people living in poverty who also farming at a subsistence level. The book lays out things that can be done from the inside out with water and electric lighting and other basic necessities.
I think their approach is good, and their book has value. But, I think there also need to be a lot more work done on the positive deviance stories of people who are naturally lifting themselves out of poverty using food and ag. There have to be some, and the things those people do are the things their friends and neighbors would do. All top down strategies or outside in strategies all have one huge IF: What if nobody in the system follows through and does the new behavior? Peer to peer change strategies are more like swapping recipes, "OK, I know you, you know me, I don't know if chocolate chip gingerbread cookies will be good or bad, but I'll give them a try."
With positive deviance, it's like that, once people see people they relate to behaving in a way that works better, they seem to be more willing to give the new behavior a try and a chance.
As Zivi Griliches, who studied the adoption of hybrid corn pointed out so well, ""On the whole, taking account of uncertainty and the fact that the spread of knowledge is not instantaneous, farmers have behaved in a fashion consistent with the idea of profit maximization." And this is particularly true after they see their neighbors making money at it….