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Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth 
By Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu & Simone Ahuja
Random House India  
317 Pages,  344

 

“Innovation is going to be critical for India- not only for growth and competitive advantage, but also to ensure that our future development is sustainable and inclusive,” says Sam Pitroda in his introduction to Jugaad Innovation: A frugal and flexible approach to innovation for the 21st century. Indeed, as Pitroda, who ushered in India’s telecom revolution, notes, India faces a range of basic challenges in critical areas such as health, education, agriculture, energy and skills. Then, there is the demographic high point which can either turn into a dividend or a disaster, depending on how effectively opportunities are provided for 55 crore Indians below the age of 25. Affordable, innovative solutions to the many problems in a variety of sectors is of critical importance. As Indians, we are all familiar with the concept of jugaad. What this book by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja does is that it provides a fine analysis and compelling examples of innovations at the grassroots. Relegated to the sidelines as a quirky occurrence, jugaad has been brought centre-stage by the authors, urging us to look at its attributes and advantages more seriously. We present below an extract from the book.

- Editor

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius- and a lot of courage- to move in the opposite direction.

- Albert Einstein

We reached Ramakrishna Nagar, a village in the desert of Gujarat, after travelling 402.3 kilometres from Ahmedabad, the state’s capital. Our team- a Silicon Valley management consultant, and the founder of a Minneapolis advisory boutique and media firm- had set out a few months earlier on an extensive research and travel project. Our mission: to discover new approaches to innovation in emerging markets such as India that could help corporate leaders worldwide take on the complexity of our tough and turbulent times.

We came to Gujarat to meet with Professor Anil Gupta at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad. Professor Gupta runs the Honey Bee Network, a non-profit organization that identifies and cross-pollinates grassroots innovation all across India. Over more than two decades, Honey bee has populated a database of over ten thousand inventions of grassroots entrepreneurs who have created ingenious solutions for pressing socio-economic problems in their local communities. Professor Gupta suggested we meet with one of these rural entrepreneurs.

As we left an arrow-straight concrete highway to follow narrower and increasingly cratered gravel roads, the temperature rose to a debilitating 50 degrees. Stepping out of our air-conditioned jeep, we could feel the weight of the desert’s oppressive heat. Mansukh Prajapati greeted us warmly outside his workshop. A potter by trade, Prajapati had for years been experimenting with clay to produce a variety of durable goods, many of which were on display in the office outside his lab. We were parched- and grateful- when he asked us if we wanted water. We had run out of bottled water, and there wasn’t any sign of  a store or kiosk nearby to restock. He reached around to a faucet, handed us cups, and, beaming with pride, said, ‘Please have tis cold water- from my fridge.”

Baffled, we looked more closely at the terracotta box in front of us. It was made entirely of clay, except for a glass door and a plastic faucet at the bottom. While sipping the refreshingly cool water, we looked around and found no electrical cord, no battery- just clay. Amused by our expressions, Prajapati explained how this clay fridge– the Mitticool (mitti meaning earth)- works: water from an upper chamber seems through the side walls, cooling the lower food chamber through evaporation. The fridge consumes no electricity, is 100 percent biodegradable, and produces zero waste during its lifetime. An ingenious invention!

But this inventor and his personal story are even more impressive. Prajapati doesn’t work for NASA or Whirlpool, and he doesn’t have a PhD in quantum physics or an MBA from Harvard. In fact, he didn’t even finish high school. His R&D lab- a simple open-air room with clay in various stages arrayed on the floor and an over tucked in the corner- is a far cry from the sprawling campuses of GE and Whirlpool, which swarm with hundreds of engineers and scientists.
In 2001, an earthquake had devastated Prajapati’s village and the surrounding area. Reading a report of the devastation in the local newspaper, he noticed a photo caption: ‘Poor man’s fridge broken!’ The photo featured a smashed earthen pot commonly used by the villagers to fetch water and keep it cool.

And though the newspaper had called it a fridge in jest, it triggered Prajapati’s first eureka moment. Why not use clay, he thought, to make a real fridge for villagers- one that looks like a typical fridge, but is more affordable and doesn’t need electricity?  Over 50 crore Indians live without reliable electricity, including most of the people in Prajapati’s village. The positive health and lifestyle benefits of owning a fridge in a desert village where fruit, vegetables, and dairy are available only intermittently would be tremendous.

Prapati’s training as a potter, coupled with is intuition, told him that he was on to something. He experimented for several months and eventually had a viable version of the Mitticool that he began selling to people in his own village. The fridge- which costs around Rs. 2,000- was a hit. Prajapati  worked tirelessly on design improvements, and  began selling Mitticools across India first, and then internationally. He couldn’t keep up with the rising demand and had to find ways to scale up- fast.

Then he had a second eureka moment. Why not transform pottery from an artisanal craft to an industrial process? He leveraged his traditional knowledge of pottery to mass-produce goods that met modern consumer needs. Prajapati first developed an entirely new and more efficient method of working with clay. Then he began training women in his village in these industrial pottery techniques and finally hired them to work in his new factory. Soon a ‘mini’ Industrial Revolution in pottery was launched in this remote Indian village.
Mitticool was the first product that Prajapati mass-produced in his factory. He soon built other products from clay, such as a non-stick frying pan that retains heat longer than other frying pans and costs a mere Rs. 100. From one man and one idea, a frugal yet fruitful industry has grown, one that employs large numbers of people in Prajapati’s own community and serves consumers in India and abroad. Prajapati’s groundbreaking  invention, which deliver more value at less cost, have earned his accolades from all over the world- including the President of India. And Forbes magazine recently named him among the most influential rural Indian entrepreneurs, one of few to have made an impact on the lives of so many.

Jugaad: The Gutsy Art of Improving an Ingenious Solution

The Mitticool, an idea born out of adverse circumstances, shows how a resilient mindset can transform scarcity into opportunity. Combining limited resources and a never-say-die attitude, Prajapati tapped into his empathy and passion for his fellow community members to conjure up an ingenious solution that improved lives in Gujarat and beyond. Not only did he produce a cheap and effective cooling device, but he also created jobs for dozens of undereducated women. In doing so, Prajapati is both driving environmental and socio-economic sustainability in his community and ensuring the financial sustainability of his own business. Prajapati embodies the true spirit of jugaad.

Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi word that roughly translates as ‘an innovative fix; an improvised solution born from ingenuity and cleverness’. Jugaad is, quite simply, a unique way of thinking and acting in response to challenges; it is the gutsy art of spotting opportunities in the most adverse circumstances and resourcefully improvising solutions using simple means. Jugaad is about doing more with less. (We feature articles and videos on jugaad on our companion website: jugaadinnovation.com)

Jugaad is practised by almost all Indians in their daily lives to make the most of what they have. Jugaad applications include finding new uses for everyday objects- kitchens are replete with empty soft drink or pickle bottles reused as containers for water, spices, or lentils- or inventing new utilitarian tools using a diesel engine slapped onto a cart (interestingly, the origin of the world jugaad,  in Punjabi, literally describes such makeshift vehicles).

The word jugaad is also applied to any use of an ingenious way to ‘game the system’. For example, crores of cellphone users in India rely on ‘missed calls’ to communicate messages to each other using a prearranged protocol between the caller and receiver: a form of free textless text messaging. For example, your carpooling partner may give you a ‘missed call’ in the  morning indicating he has just left is house and is on his way to pick you up. Hence, the word jugaad carries a slightly negative connotation for some. But by and large, the entrepreneurial spirit of jugaad is practised by crores in India simply to improvise clever- and complete legitimate- solutions to everyday problems.

In this book, we delve into the frugal and flexible mindset of thousands  of ingenious  entrepreneurs and enterprises practicing jugaad to creatively address critical socio-economic issues in their communities. Jugaad innovators like Mansukh Prajapati view severe constraints, such as a lack of electricity, not as a debilitating challenge but as an opportunity to innovate and overcome these very constraints.

The entrepreneurial spirit of jugaad is not limited to India. It is widely practised in other emerging economies such as China and Brazil, where entrepreneurs are also pursuing growth in difficult circumstances. The Brazilians have their own word for this approach: jeitinho. The Chinese call it zizhu chuangxin. The Keynyans refer to it as jua kali. The French have a term too- Systeme D.

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