Changing the Norms of Medicine and Health

The Power of Positive Deviance

During the 2010 Alvin F. Poussaint Visiting Lecture, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., spoke about her personal journey from an African-American medical school student during the 1970s to her current position at the largest private Foundation dedicated to improving health and health care for Americans.

In describing her life story, Lavizzo-Mourey highlighted the profound impact that Poussaint and other African-American doctors had on her professional career choices, as well as the goals of the Foundation. Lavizzo-Mourey also discussed the notion of "positive deviance," a practice by which leaders step "outside of the box" and focus on positive ways of thinking and acting to overcome challenges and obstacles. She spoke about the neglected and underserved neighborhoods in North Philadelphia—"incubators of childhood and adult obesity"—and the commitment RWJF has made to support research, community-based prevention, testing of new models and measuring progress in the fight to reduce the epidemic of obesity among American adults and children.