Jugaad Innovation and the New Year Ahead

When I first returned to Philadelphia at the beginning of August, I was amazed. The streets looked so clean and the cloudless sky radiated. Students had not yet arrived on campus, so Philadelphia was a welcome respite from my last few days in Delhi, trying to shove my way through crowds and hail autos.


India challenged me in many ways and taught me about my own resilience to difficult circumstances. Traveling through Agra during my final week exposed me to indescribable images – of children playing naked in the streets and houses visibly deteriorating behind piles of trash. I still find myself reflecting on my gratitude for the abundance we have here at Penn – in opportunities, resources, and comfort.


This year, I am researching jugaad innovations in India for my Wharton Research Scholars project. Jugaad innovation describes the process of searching for solutions under resource constraints, while exceeding quality and performance standards. Examples include:

  • Aravind Eyecare, a network of eye hospitals founded by Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy that performs around 1,000 cataract surgeries per day for $30 each (US price: $3000)
  • Jaipur Foot, a high-quality rubber-based prosthetic leg that retails for $28 (US price: $8000)
  • Dabbawalas, a hot meal system run by bikers in Mumbai which delivers 175,000 tiffin boxes per day with a rate of 3.4 errors per million
  • Vortex Engineering, the producer of solar-powered ATMs that bring banking services to remote villages
  • Mitticool, a low-cost, eco-friendly clay refrigerator that runs without electricity
  • Tata Motors, which produced the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car launched for $2000 in 2009
  • The Indian Space Research Organization, which sent the Mangalyaan space craft to Mars for $73 million (less than the cost of Boeing’s cheapest commercial airplane)

After reading around 30 books and articles and creating a database of product, process, and business model innovations, my current plan is to return to India over winter break to interview companies and produce case studies. From a business perspective, I am very optimistic about India’s future – it holds so much potential – and look forward to further incorporating the lessons I learned this summer into my academic pursuits.


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About Leah Davidson

Class of 2016, intending to concentrate in management and finance in Wharton. Intern at IFMR IRCS in Chennai, India in summer 2014.