Although this blog has been silent for a while as I wrestle with two semesters’ worth of teaching in one, I’ve continued to follow others. One of the most memorable has been Cherian Joseph’s fantastic description of “Jugaad” or the art of frugal innovation in India for the Acumen blog.
As he says, India invokes you to “adjust” from the moment you set foot on its soil (this is also a persistent theme for Suketa Mehta in Maximum City). Rather than resulting in bitterness or resignation, Joseph suggests this leads to a new class of innovation born of necessity and conceived, designed and enacted by everyday people. As he says, this is “a class not led by scientists using expensive resources, but one led by every housewife, street hawker, farmer, transporter or trader. Here innovation is led by creativity, common sense and, more importantly, the need to survive. There is even a colloquial name for this class of innovation for adjustment –Jugaad (…) a workaround solution with limited resources.”
Those of you familiar with this blog will know of my passion for low-tech social innovation, and it strikes me that jugaad is one such example of that: a class of innovation perfectly attuned to our age of austerity. Of course in the UK our needs, such as they are, are not as pressing as those Joseph describes in India. And yet we too are responding to new challenges as state cutbacks begin to bite and our ability to meet social needs diminishes. This requires ingenuity of a different kind: not in enabling basic functionality, but in creatively mobilising our social resources to find collective solutions to unemployment, healthcare and the environment. It is the spirit of jugaad – of not waiting for agencies or higher powers to intervene on our behalf but to conceive of our own solutions – that we need to seize here.