‘The Road Less Travelled By’- Insights of a Positive Deviance Facilitator
It was a balmy Sunday afternoon and I was flipping pages of an old book. I found a tattered white paper withered amidst the pages of the book. It had some scribbles and doodles dating back to my primary school days that were some 12 years ago. The timeworn memoir jogged through my memory lane to remind me of the poem I had studied long back and whose imprint the paper carried. It read, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” The snippet instigated in me a rush to do the lesser done, experience the lesser experienced andtake the road less travelled by. The Positive Deviance (PD) inquiry came around as the opportunity that I was seeking for and carried the very essence of ‘the road less travelled by’.
Embarking on a journey to find ‘Positive Deviant Women Entrepreneurs*’ in the rural region of India’s most crushing poverty, Uttar Pradesh. The Change Designers were on a quest to look for women entrepreneurs who are successful against all odds. The flip to explore ‘micro behaviors’ of such women entrepreneurs marked the beginning of this journey. There were instances when I perceived the expedition as an ordeal, only to gather the intense, intuitive and positive smiles the very next moment that changed my life for the better. I came all empty handed only to carry with myself more power and wisdom, all to give it back to the women who bestowed it on me, preserving the very essence of positive deviance!
This passage comes up as a manifestation of my ardent desire to give an account of the relationship I shared with the women that I spent time with and is a saga of their astute micro behaviors. Chaubeypur and Mejaroad were meadows of enthrall and experience worth a lifetime!
“Stepping right onto the fields for the PD project was in itself a challenge for me. Observing and collecting data came much later after I breathed in the ‘dynamism’ set in the equitable atmosphere.“
Stepping right onto the fields for the PD project was in itself a challenge for me. Observing and collecting data came much later after I breathed in the ‘dynamism’ set in the equitable atmosphere. The development reality I experienced on the fields helped me ground myself in the context of the people there, adding to my motivation and self- development. The more time I spent on the field, the more I investigated and questioned about the need for the research and much later about the data and its results. It took me time to deal with uncertainties (on the ground), preparedness (for engaging women) and mitigations.
The expedition to hunt through uncommon PD behaviors in Mejaroad and Chaubeypur areas of Uttar Pradesh began with creating a master list of key entrepreneurial behaviors to be able to sift the uncommon ones using ‘Patte’ – the card game. It was a fascinating way of engaging the audience of non –Positive Deviant women entrepreneurs. With each card (behavior) entailing a story of its own was none less than sheer magnetism, attracting women to spend time with us, other women and most importantly with their own selves. The overall purpose of the game to engage women to introspect their work regimes, entrepreneurial practices and eventually classify a card (behavior) as a common or uncommon practice was in itself magic. Women would share experiences of how they sneaked out of the houses stealthily to learn a new skill or would often narrate incidences of other women who stood out as one among the thousands.
“Each day we would exhaust our energies in the glaring sun to espy ‘those few uncommon behaviors’ spending hours engaging women. The intensive ‘inside-out’ process was a game changer!”
Each day we would exhaust our energies in the glaring sun to espy ‘those few uncommon behaviors’ spending hours engaging women. The intensive ‘inside-out’ process was a game changer! Women would proffer us incidences, narratives, behaviors and hence answers to the deck of cards (behaviors) that seemed impossible in the very beginning. The women had the wisdom to effectively address intractable complex problems through a process of self-discovery leading to culturally appropriate solutions.
I stepped bare footed on to the ground but as I returned, I gathered dispersed knowledge from such women that filled me up with intuitions, intensity, positivity and more power. The PD women were absolute magic in them selves. The hardest hit poverty areas of Chaubeypur and Meja road with desperate resources witness an array of potentially strong women entrepreneurs. Travelling amidst the countryside away from the unruly winds and commotion became a journey of a lifetime! ‘Make hay while the sun shines’ made so much sense while we tried gathering and engaging women from as early as 6 in the morning, finding answers, only to bestow them back as assimilated solutions, making their work and life worth the living! This journey gave me wisdom, fondly called ‘Lok Vidya’, experiences and values to cherish for a lifetime!
*A Positive Deviance inquiry flipped the conventional standards of research from “Why do women entrepreneurs fail in India?” or “What are the barriers faced by women entrepreneurs?” to “Why do some women succeed at entrepreneurial activities by what do they DO?” The Change Designers, in partnership with Social Justice Initiative at The University of Texas, El Paso and Inland University of Applied Sciences, Norway found successful women entrepreneurs in Uttar Pradesh, India who have overcome complex odds and carried out the search for positive deviant behaviors with leading Microfinance Institute, CASHPOR. Innovative research methodologies such as discovery and action dialogues, improve prototyping, storytelling and games were used to elicit tacit behaviors of successful women entrepreneurs.