Jugaad: It’s a common colloquial term in many regional languages in India that loosely translates to a flexible approach to problem-solving using limited resources, but what does it really mean?
For Trishala Pillai (BA ’16), jugaad came to her rescue when the wave of lockdowns hit Toronto in early 2020. Like millions of people around the world, she had no option but to make do with what she had. She believes it can play a considerable role in post-pandemic recovery and building inclusive communities. She is building a digital community centred around it (called Jugaad Community) to connect us to knowledge, people and products that do more and better with less (time, money, environmental damage).
Her latest podcast, Do More With Less, explores the many dimensions of modern-day Jugaad and its growing relevance in our resource-constrained world. For scholars and business leaders on her podcast, jugaad is frugally innovating to build faster, better and cheaper products and services. For some, it is about saving our planet by reducing our waste. For others, it is an everyday survival instinct.
When I spoke to Pillai about jugaad, my own understanding evolved. For me, it means one little action can make a lifetime of impact. Whichever meaning speaks to you and your circumstance, jugaad celebrates small efforts and revels in the amazing personal impact they can have.
On the podcast, Pillai interviews people who practice the essence of jugaad in their everyday life and through their work, so others can be inspired to take action. When I asked her how we can nurture a jugaad mindset and what we might gain from it, she had four suggestions:
- Use what’s available to you to create more value
- Take ownership
- Lean into low-tech
- Set your own standards for success
Use what’s available to you to create more value
Look around you. How can you use what is available to you creatively and resourcefully to solve a problem and create more value? For example, you don’t always need to spend on fancy equipment for your podcast. Although Pillai had a specialized podcast microphone, she didn’t use the expensive equipment used by many top-tier podcasters. Instead, she used free tools like Zoom, and Garage Band. She created her artwork on Canva. She hosted her podcast on Anchor.fm and promoted it for free on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. With just these free tools and social media, the podcast has seen amazing organic growth with thousands of social media followers and listeners worldwide.
A common theme Pillai noticed with all of her guests is, “taking ownership and not waiting until you are in a position of influence, or you've got an obnoxious amount of resources to do good.”
In episode 4 of Do More With Less, she speaks with the co-founders of Maker’s Asylum who led the celebrated M-19 initiative to help frontline workers at a time of severe PPE shortages in India.
While they knew they couldn’t solve the problem completely, they took action within their own sphere of influence; they rallied 300+ individuals and activated 42 cities, towns and villages through open source design. Just 49 days later, they had created one million masks for frontline workers at a time when resources were crunched.
Others found their circle of influence on social media. Vani Murthy started an Instagram account to share her journey of practicing sustainable living and composting from the comfort of her home. In a little over a year, she has more than 150,000 followers, and she is known as “India’s Composting Queen.”
Lean into low-tech
Our default stance is to respond to any challenge with technology. While technology is a huge enabler, it still takes time and money to build an effective and efficient experience. During the pandemic, we saw many countries lean into a jugaad mindset. Pillai points to Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto. When too many people gathered last summer, city staff simply drew chalk circles on the ground to mark safe distances for socializing during the pandemic. Those circles changed the interactions between people in the park, making it a safer space for everyone.
Set your own standards for personal success
Unfortunately, we often see this play out on social media. Our feeds are often filled with people’s achievements, new products and services. Based on others' posts, it’s easy to feel like you want more and more — like you are not good enough if you did not come out of this pandemic with a side hustle or a new interest. But Pillai reminds us that we should lean into our intuition (which is captured in the essence of jugaad) and set our own standards for success.