If poverty was a monster, it would be one of those three-headed fiends who multiples every time you try to chop the head off. To fight this monster, you just have your bare hands. The odds are really stacked against you, and every attempt to overcome the monstrous entity of poverty is futile. This is what I felt when I was working on a project on women’s financial inclusion and was standing in the middle of a field destroyed by the floods in Qamber Shahdatkot. Looking over the vast expanse of nothingness around me made me think, “How can people who are affected by an intersection of problems find the will or desire to problem solve? There’s no winning here.”
I was wrong.
As soon as I started entering the homes of people living in abject poverty, I was blown away by the kinds of innovations I saw that used the most basic of items. It reminded me of the word Jugaar, often used colloquially to describe innovative fixes or “improvised solution[s] born from ingenuity and cleverness.’’  And I soon found out there’s a book on it! According to Navi Radjou et al in the book Jugaad Innovation, it’s deep marginalization and scarcity of resources that trigger the most creative problem solving techniques. 
“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.” 
Taking the example of India, Radjou highlights how the innovations that you often find are unique because they’re frugal, flexible and inclusive. Jugaar methods take the cost out of the question and innovate solutions while turning scarcity into opportunity. They are also good at improvising solutions and don’t stick to one plan or another as a response to the unpredictable environment under which they operate. And finally, Jugaar Innovations are focused on people who are excluded from the formal economy. 
Below are examples of Jugaar Innovations that I found across rural Pakistan in South Punjab, Sindh and KPK where people on the margins who had low literacy (general, tech and financial), low tech usage and access, and scarce resources innovated solutions for their daily problems.
#1: Plastic shopping bag charpai
I saw this charpai in South Punjab, in the outskirts of Bahawalpur. It looked like a normal charpai on the first glance, but upon inspection, it turned out to be made from plastic shopping bags. People in the village saw that there was an influx of shopping bags that could be utilised for something as basic as a charpai.
#2: Packaging Charpai
These charpais were made from toffee and chips wrappers, also seen in Bahawalpur!
#3: Plastic straw handfan
Similar to the charpai, women in Bahawalpur make these handfans out of plastic straws and make patterns out of thread on the straws.
#4: Packaging handfans
Women also sew together juice or henna packaging to make handfans. When I asked the women about the fans, they said they make fancier ones for girls’ dowries.
#5: Automatic door closer
In Swabi, I saw a rubber sandal tied to one end and a bottle filled with liquid on the other. This was an automatic door closer, ingeniously designed so that whenever someone opens the door, the door closes on its own without smashing violently in the gate.
#6: Coding system for saving contacts
Whenever we go into the field, a general test that we conduct to assess tech literacy is asking participants to show us how they save contacts. I found that participants with low literacy had a creative solution for not knowing how to type words. They came up with a code system to save contacts. What seems like random gibberish to us, or a random assortment of numbers is actually a code for a particular contact. So for example, ‘Anid’ is the participants husband, Waqas 333 is the participants brother in law etc. We saw this technique used by farmers, as well as women entrepreneurs and it’s a jugaar solution to not knowing how to read or write.
In all of the examples above, we see how people have tackled the problems of scarcity and low literacy by making use of resources which are easily available to them. Items such as plastic shopping bags, wrappers or bottles are found in abundance in rural settings because of the poor waste management system present there and because of plastic’s low biodegradability. We see how people then use an excess of these resources to their advantage. They upcycle plastic to create ingenious solutions to simple everyday problems like making furniture, or making a door automatically close without having someone to close it.
We see how these examples employ the three characteristics of jugaar innovation:
- Frugality - where people are using low cost items such as upcycled packaging to create everyday objects.
- Flexibility - where they improvise different ways to make the same thing; handfans with either straws or wrappers, charpais made from several different items.
- Inclusivity - because these solutions include people from low-literate, low-income areas so that they can also reap the benefits of everyday objects.
Jugaar innovation is a testament to people’s creativity and ingenuity. We learn that even the most resource constrained places possess the opportunity to make something useful. Scarcity is opportunity, and something can always be made out of nothing.
Jugaad Innovation: Jaideep Prabhu at TEDxUCL, Tedx, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNhGbfljtq0.
Radjou, Navi. Jugaad Innovation: A Frugal and Flexible Approach to Innovation for the 21st Century. Random House India, 2012.