Friday, July 23, 2010

A tale of two Vehicles: the Jaguar and the Jugaad

This recent NYTimes op-ed highlights the ingenious Jugaad, a familiar sight in rural India:

(Click to enlarge)
... Then there is the jugaad (pronounced jew-gaar), which is nothing like a Jaguar.

It is, for one thing, illegal: a truck tossed together, saladlike, in the sheds of northern India, beyond regulators’ view. Parts from old jeeps are cut and welded and combined with wooden planks to form a chassis. An engine commonly used for irrigation pumps is attached.
Actual bells and whistles may be added as adornments, and the wheels are painted by hand.

The truck gives India’s village dwellers a cheap ride: 10 cents for a half-hour journey with a few dozen others. So compelling is their business logic that jugaads have become popular in dowries.

The truck may be obscure, but the culture behind it is now a management fad. Jugaad, not as noun but as verb, is suddenly the talk of consulting firms like McKinsey and companies like Best Buy in the United States.

The slang Hindi verb “jugaad,” as translated for managers, means to make something much like a jugaad. It is to be innovative despite scarcity — a winning formula for hard economic times.
Management gurus cite India’s ultra-low-cost creations as inspiration: the $800 electrocardiogram, the $24 water filter, the $2,500 car, the $100 electricity inverter, the $12 solar lamp.

But these represent only a sliver of what jugaad is. It is more than frugal innovation; jugaad is a way of life, here as elsewhere, that has anticipated important movements of the 21st century, from open-source technology to cultural fusion. From years of observation in India, some core tenets emerge, many of use beyond the business world.

FATALISTIC CREATIVITY: India is not an easy place, and to be fatalistically creative is to transcend its hardships. It is to chafe daily against the way things run; to resist the idealistic temptation to change all that; and to strive instead for success and solutions within the constraints.

... MARKET HUMANISM: Jugaad, as a truck and a way of life, involves a capitalism different from the market philosophy that informs the West — and one that prefigured the interesting new directions that capitalism is taking today.

... ANYONE SOURCING: The black-and-yellow Mumbai taxi, an exemplar of jugaad, was crowd-sourced before Wikipedia and open source before Firefox.

... BOTH-AND TRUTHS: A.K. Ramanujan, the late Indian folklorist, once asked whether there was a specially Indian way of thinking. His conclusion was that Westerners were more comfortable with truths applied universally to every case, while Indians resisted the universal, preferring situation-specific solutions. This is philosophical jugaad: an approach to human dilemmas that rejects the either-or.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

mKRISHI: A multi-lingual platform for farmers

This innovative mobile platform lets farmers send data and images to experts and policy makers. In addition to benefiting individual farmers, the crowdsourced and technology-driven data collection has the potential to catch and quickly resolve problems that plague India's large agriculture sector:
mKRISHI is developed by Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) as an innovative platform to offer personalized and integrated services to farmers. TCS mKRISHI platform combines multiple technologies to bring vital information regarding local weather, fertilizer requirements based on soil conditions, pest control, and current food grain prices in local markets in a rich content format to the farmer’s low-end mobile handsets. It allows farmers to send queries in their local languages, as well as images and voice activated SMS through a mobile phone and provides personal responses with advice or relevant information in these languages.

... Some of the key benefits to farmers are:

* Advice on pesticides/fertilizers, such as how much and when to spray
* Advice on when to harvest in relation to weather to limit crop damage
* Combining yields allows efficient collection of goods
* Market prices made available so they can choose where and when to sell
* Current pricing information for NCDEX, future prices and global rates
* Bankers can use the mKRISHI programme – enabling more rapid loan payments to farmers
* Useful information such as rural Yellow pages, as well as bus times and railway reservations could improve farmers’ activities.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Solar powered ATM's

A series of energy efficient ATM's that rely on biometric authentication, Vortex Gramateller ATM's are currently deployed in just under 100 locations in rural India. The ATM's can accept and dispense soiled (or "teller-grade") notes, a must-have feature in rural India: