By Myrophora Koureas, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program
I first heard of ‘innovation by constraint’ during a pre-departure information session for the India Pilot Program as part of my MBA. The premise sounded straightforward, doing more with less. In preparation for our project work with 40K, I began researching this very foreign concept.
Developed in India, ‘Jugaad Innovation’, also referred to as ‘Frugal Innovation’, is reminding the West that constraint leads to innovative solutions. According to Professor Jaideep Prabhu, a frugal, inclusive and flexible approach to problem solving leads to innovative solutions. The idea of being frugal, although straightforward, was difficult for me to comprehend because typically one of my first questions when presented with a challenge or project is ‘what’s our budget?’
Arriving in Bangalore, I was quickly struck by the extremes and contrasts. The obvious being extreme poverty juxtaposed with obscene wealth. For less than a cup of coffee in Sydney, 40K is delivering technology enabled English classes to students in rural India. That’s the monthly cost per student for 75 minute classes after school. All while an ex-minister hosts his daughter’s wedding and foots the $5 billion rupee bill.
Then there is the technical versus the manual. Although Bangalore is the tech hub of India, whole businesses have remained untouched by technological advancement. One such example is the dhobi ghat in Malleswaram, otherwise known as the Washerman’s Village, where laundry has been washed by hand for the past 100 years. There is a real sophistication in the simplicity of operations management there. The system depends on the people and there are no complex processes to track inventory or deliveries. The dhobi ghat delivers a superior service similar to the Mumbai’s dabbawalas, for anyone who’s seen The Lunchbox.
Spending time in the villages, interacting with 40K PLUS teachers, students and their families helped me understand the way the program is transforming lives. The parents and grandparents were clear, that by learning English their children would be able to access a range of opportunities not otherwise available to them. Recently, 40K won the 2016 SEA Social Enterprise Innovation Award. The 40K PLUS program, having overcome challenges with internet connectivity, electricity and pricing, uses technology to achieve educational access in rural areas. The 40K PLUS innovation is frugal but the social impact it achieves is not.
My visit to India has inspired me to find ways to do more with less. Rather than complex process engineering, I am now more than ever interested in the role of people in service delivery and I’ve replaced questions about on-budget delivery with the impact to be achieved.