‘Jugaad’: The Classic Indian Way of Getting The Job Done

Definition of ‘Jugaad‘ from Urban Dictionary

“Jugaad,” loosely translates as “the gutsy art of overcoming harsh constraints by improvising an effective solution using limited resources.” It is the Hindi word for frugal improvisation and arguably a much-needed antidote to the complexity of India: a country of mind-blogging diversity and ubiquitous scarcity.

The word came to the forefront in 2010 in the run up to the Commonwealth games when the preparations were well behind schedule, slip-shod at best and scams concerning the games were being unearthed on a daily basis. However almost overnight and miraculously everything fell into place on the day of the games. This miracle was attributed to India’s penchant for Jugaad.

Despite the end of the Neta-Babu Raj in the early 1990s, India continues to be plagued with policy paralysis, corruption, and excess red tape. This highly resource-constrained and chaotic environment has led to a new tact of getting things done i.e. Juggad. 81% of Indian Businessmen attribute their success to jugaad. These entrepreneurs exercise jugaad to develop market-relevant goods and services, which are intrinsically affordable therefore sustainable. These innovators are modern-day alchemists who transform adversity into opportunity.

One avatar of jugaad is “frugal engineering”, which has been epitomized in the Tata Nano, the cheapest car in the world. It has been argued that its is jugaad which has facilitated India’s telecom companies in providing calls at 60 paise a minute, the cheapest in the world. Similarly jugaad has also enabled Narayana Hrudayalaya and Shankara Nethralaya to provide the cheapest heart and eye treatment in the world.

Jugaad innovators circumvent linear, structured, pre-planned, time-consuming and expensive R&D processes. Their approach is more fluid and cost efficient and it infuses key capabilities such as frugality, inclusivity, collaboration, and adaptability, which is exactly what is needed in a hypercompetitive and fast-moving world. Moreover Jugaad is increasingly becoming a global approach because rules and regulations, policies and procedures tend to weigh down initiative, resourcefulness and innovation. Jugaad is known as DIY in the US, Gambiarra in Brazil, zizhu chuangxin in China, and Systeme D in France.

On the other hand, by its very nature Jugaad implies an inability to plan, to look ahead and envision.  It can be argued that we as a country are caught in the mire of low cost, and cheap products. We as a society are much more comfortable in tweaking, taping things to make them work, applying a dash of tar to a caved in road, and holding together a scooter engine with little iron pieces and scotch tape. However, these Quick-fix solutions are short term in nature and can never have the kind of far-reaching and wholesome impact that true innovation does. Take Jugaad itself, the rural vehicle contains a retrofitted diesel engine originally intended to power agricultural irrigation pumps. It is slow and unsafe but it can haul 15-20 people and extremely cheap. It has been hailed as a cost effective transportation solution for rural Indians. But don’t the rural folk of a potential economic super power deserve better means of transportation?

Caught in the morass of low cost, cheap products, we embrace jugaad perhaps because as a society, tweaking things, and taping them up to make them work, that’s what we carouse in. Ensuring a new road does not cave in or wash away with the first monsoon showers by adhering to strict standards of quality and discipline of construction is alien to us. Which is why, we celebrate and salute our penchant to muddle through. Jugaad has incited celebrating expediency, shortcuts, shoddiness and a predilection for taking a winding and corrupt course where a straight road would suffice.

Jugaad is India’s talent for muddling through and it is indisputably a valuable talent as it has been a saving grace through the numerous crises, which would have destabilized another country with so many contradictions and paradoxes. However we need to be careful not to take this talent for granted and let complacency, shoddiness, and corruption inhibit the true potential of India.

Fairy Tales have abracadabra, and India has jugaad. 

-By Kartikeya Agarwal

About Kartikeya:

I hold First Class Honors LLB Degree from a leading University in the UK. Presently working at a Tier 1 Corporate Law Firm and specializing in litigation with regards to Mergers & Acquisition and Corporate Finance. Prior to this, I helped set up the pro bono department for a leading corporate law firm in the UK.

I have a passion for social enterprise, which has led me to undertake various grass root developmental project in various villages in India and Africa. I have also worked for the Dalai Lama Foundation in Dharamsala and Muhammad Yunus run Grameen Bank.

I have always been a confident speaker and have participated in various MUN’s, Debates and Moots internationally. I have a special affinity to Politics, Economics, International Relations, Public Policy and Entrepreneurship.

I am Backpacker at heart, and love anything to do with food, drinking and well more drinking. I have a special weakness for travelling to politically and socially unstable regions and engaging in life endangering adventure sports. Moreover, I am a huge Formula 1 fan and absolutely love playing rugby and golf.