Jugaad: A Very Indian Solution to A Canadian Problem


By: Shawn Fulham

When you are walking down the streets of Delhi India in the hot morning sun, there is a lot that can catch your eye. Servants cleaning laundry on the rooftops, local vendors setting up their shops in the main bazaar, cows chewing cud, looking uninterested while morning commuters swerve to avoid a collision with the sacred animal. But this morning, something different caught my eye, something that would lead to this article, buying a new book ,and reflections on Canada, and the people and businesses back home.

Between all the commotion and blaring horns, a car had emerged in the distance. The heap of metal and rust may have once served as a car however, is now it is the furthest thing from it. Only the rear half off the vehicle remained with a series of planks, screws, and rope that was being towed by a large bull with two very proud men sitting in the back seats. I later found out that India is the king of this type of frugal innovation, which is referred to as Jugaad.

Jugaad is a colloquial Punjabi-Dogri word that can mean an innovative fix or a simple work-around used for solutions that bend rules, or a resource that can be used as such, or a person who can solve a complicated issue.

If you ask a Canadian, how do you fit a square peg in a round hole? The Canadian would say that it is impossible under the circumstances. Now, ask an Indian the same questions and they will find whatever tool they need, and file, or chisel the square peg down till it fits in the round hole. This is the idea behind Jugaad.

Wikipedia explains Jugaad as an “increasingly accepted management technique recognised all over the world as an acceptable form of frugal engineering at peak in India. Companies in India are adopting Jugaad as a practise to reduce research and development costs. Jugaad also applies to any kind of creative, out of the box thinking or life hacking, which maximises resources for a company and its stakeholders.” It is this idea of Jugaad that I believe should be brought to Canada.

In a book called Jugaad Innovation by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu & Simone Ahuja, the authors suggest that Western corporations can no longer rely on the old formula that sustained innovation and growth for decades: a mix of top-down strategies, expensive R&D projects and rigid, highly structured innovation processes. Jugaad Innovation argues that the West must look to places like India, China, and Africa for a new, bottom-up approach to frugal and flexible innovation.

Jugraad Innovation is based off of six principles
• Seek opportunity in adversity
• Do more with less
• Think and act flexibly
• Keep it simple
• Include the margin
• Follow your heart

The results of such Jugaad innovations can sometimes be comical:

To find more of these Jugaad innovation check out this link where the photos where found.

But other Jugaad inventors are literally changing the world, with cheaper, effective and scalable innovations like:

Electric Nano car
The Tata Nano is the best known frugal innovation, bursting onto the scene as the world’s cheapest family car. The company’s chairman, Ratan Tata, was explicit in the car’s social aim: to get families off precarious scooters (often bearing four or five people plus baggage) and into safer cars. But increasing the number of cars on India’s already crowded and polluted streets is hardly a recipe for positive environmental change. That said, work is underway to develop an electric Nano. If powered by India’s abundant sunlight, this could change the narrative dramatically.

Clean, green lighting
In rural Karnataka, Harish Hande brought solar power to over 150,000 poor households by devising a viable pay-as-you-go model. Customers either buy or rent solar lights with the help of a loan. By partnering with banks and local entrepreneurs to create this ecosystem, Hande’s company, SELCO, is providing clean, bright electric light well below the cost of kerosene (the normal lighting fuel for millions of Indians) to people earning barely $50-100 a month, and all without a rupee in subsidy.

There are thousands and thousands of these amazing inventors and their Jugaad innovations in India, all while Canada is complacently content with low productivity, our weak innovation rate, and our ever-growing national debt. What can Canada’s startups and large multinationals learn from Jugaad innovation? In my short time in India, these stories provided a reason to pause and think about how throwing money at solutions don’t always come up with the most innovative ideas. While our Canadian organisations are enjoying a resource rich environment, Jugaad entrepreneurs are able to do much more with much less, and that is the power of India, and a reason to experience this beautiful country.

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