In memory of Jerry Sternin: real change begins on the inside

By William Seidman Jerry Sternin, Brooklyn-born innovator, humanist, and pioneer of Positive Deviance and the Positive Deviance Initiative, died peacefully on December 11th at the age of 70. Visiting Lecturer and Director of the Positive Deviance Initiative at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, he and his wife, Monique Sternin, had also received a Ford Foundation Grant and a Rockefeller Foundation Grant to study and to further the applications of Positive Deviance. The Sternins’ work reached back to the work of Marian Zeitlin at Tufts in the 1980’s. Eventually the Sternins would work with communities in Southeast Asia and Africa, helping fight rural malnutrition there. Dozens of international and regional or local nongovernmental organizations (INGOs and NGOs) utilize Positive Deviance-based findings and programs in more than 30 countries. The truth of Sternin’s findings, and his radical approach to change, was simple enough: Real change begins on the inside – whether a family, a community, or an organization. He studied families and communities and proved that his theory worked. He died just several days before Positive Deviance, and his work to reduce the spread of the hospital-borne staph infection MRSA, was profiled in the New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas” issue. One of Sternin’s maxims, reported in the Times piece, asks us to solve problems by thinking about how we act, rather than acting upon how we think. We at Cerebyte use this in our coaching and in our assessments of the organizations we are fortunate enough to help. The challenge is to motivate others – the people who are not the positive deviants – to adapt the practices that work, and that have come from within the organization and deserve recognition and, then, adaptation.]]>

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