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Jugaad: Engineering solutions, improving lives – desi ishtyle

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How Santosh Ostwal quit his job, did some jugaad and bettered over 10,000 lives. [Economist blog]

Couple of year back I had a post on “Indian farmers texting their way to prosperity” in which I discussed the likelihood of wireless technological innovations happening in rural Indian with almost zero Internet and computer involvement.

People complain about the folks in rural and backward areas of India getting left out of the information gold rush. That is a pretty myopic view because you don’t have to sit in front of a computer with keyboard and mouse for “information”. That is so 90s. Pretty much anyone in India, who earns some amount of money, can afford a mobile phone these days, and that is not hyperbole. And guess what the easiest and most convenient way to access information is? An entire set of people numbering greater than the population of the USA are bypassing computers altogether, but still getting information. Hope some entrepreneur minded person is listening.

This thought process stems from the concept of jugaad a.k.a the ability to make the most of existing resources and improvise and innovate. The timing of that post was right around the big crash and most of the world had not yet started feeling the complete effect of the recession engulfing the globe. Fast forward two years, frugal is in. Entrepreneurs are embracing lean practices is kick start their business ventures. Jugaad has arrived on the main stage. But what would one do jugaad for? To save the world or build the next Facebook app?

If it were up to Santosh Ostwal, his answer would be to save the world. The [Economist blog] has an incredible story of how one man applied his engineering ingenuity to help farmers in rural India at great personal cost.

Ostwal first stumbled on this problem when he visited his grandfather.

In 1981 Mr Ostwal, then an adolescent, visited his family’s village near Pune during his summer vacation. Every midnight, his 82-year-old grandfather (who had lost a leg to gangrene and walked with a stick) would walk a mile to switch on the water-pump to ensure that his oranges were ready to ship the next morning.

His first solution a.k.a jugaad was simple but effective.

He started with a $2 alarm clock. The farmer set a time, and the sound of the alarm fed into an interface that signaled the coil of the pump’s starter. It was a user-friendly technique, but the alarm could be set only once; the farmer still had to walk to his fields to switch the pump off. Mr Ostwal would scooter to the fields himself at midnight and take out his multi-meter and oscilloscope, and he began to win the farmers over.

His second jugaad ran into some hilariously suspicious babudom.

In 1998, he abandoned the alarm clock and considered a remote control that would use a radio frequency allocated to him by the ministry of communications. He first had to convince the ministry that his remote control was not capable of deploying a bomb and that he could be trusted with it.

By 2001, he had quit his job, lost his apartment and was literally leading a hand-to-mouth existence. However, the desire for a solution spurred him on.

For about 9 months, I was not having any bread and butter at all. Me, my wife and my two kids… I was driven out of the house by the house owner and really came on the road in 2002. I was unable to fuel my innovations anymore. Sustainability was totally finished. But (at the time) thanks to mobile phone technology, one fine morning of Ganesh Chaturthi in 2003, I thought to myself, ‘why do I have to go for these licenses? Why can’t I try the same technology by using wireless connectivity of the mobile phone? I immediately tried the same technology with wireless connectivity of the mobile and surprisingly, I can tell you within 15 minutes, I got the result using the bulky Motorolla T 180 mobile ha ha ha! So instead of investing in a license, I piggy-backed on the wireless connectivity of the mobile phone.

Per Ostwal, the biggest impediment he faced besides lack of funds and resources, was resistance from the very farmers he was trying to help.

Farmers were not accepting this as a problem of theirs. They would tell me that this is routine work for us and our sons. Why do you worry so much? Walking a couple of miles daily is no big deal. What other work do we and our sons have? Let them work hard and appreciate the food that they get at the end of each day!

However, he did not let any of this disrupt his pursuit for a solution to the problem that plagued him from childhood. There is a happy ending to this story.

Today his solution – a mobile-phone adaptation that triggers irrigation pumps remotely – is saving water in India and helping more than 10,000 farmers avoid several taxing, dangerous long walks a day.

Do you know of any other inspiring entrepreneurial stories like these? Please share them with us in the space below.

Miscellaneous links:

TVS Motors to enter the US market?

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It looks like TVS Motors is all set to enter the US market with its motorcycle, Apache RTR (Racing Throttle Technology), and no I’m not kidding with the name. After Tata and Mahindra, TVS will be third company to sell in the recent past, talking about seeling its wares outside India. Bike enthusiasts would remember that Enfield has long been a staple of the American motorcycle scene.


According to the Economic Times

The Chennai-based two-wheeler company has cleared the mandatory technical and emission tests for its bike and plans to launch it later this year.

TVS Motor president (marketing & sales) HS Goindi told ET: “We are in the launching mode, and finalising our entry into the US market. Our bike has met all stringent technical norms in the US and we have also appointed distributor to sell our products in the market.”

For the uninitiated, TVS motors has had a lon g standing partnership with Suzuki motors. Most Indians will remember the co-branded TVS Suzuki bikes from a decade ago.

The RTR has decent specs for India, but it will be a slow and very basic entry bike into the US. It has a 174 CC single cylinder air cooled engine mated to a 5 speed gearbox. Disk brakes on both ends that stop a kerb weight of 300 pounds. More details on the bike can be found here.

There is a long (about 5 mts.) youtube video from the company after the break that explains the RTR acronym and everything else about the bike. I’m not sure if this is a great idea, but combined with higher fuel costs and people tired of trying to find parking in the cities, this just might work. What do you think?

After companies started doing it, American workers now outsource their jobs.

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More American Workers Outsourcing Own Jobs Overseas

I know its from The Onion, but I don’t see why it could not become a real thing. Srsly.

Happy 50th Birthday, Lijjat

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You often had them with lunch or dinner. Sometimes with chai or snacks. Sometimes in the middle of the night, when everyone was fast asleep you tiptoed across the kitchen and dug into the dabba containing fried papads from dinner.

Fry ‘em or roast ‘em, Lijjat papad which for long has been a staple diet of Indian households, turns 50. [BBC] (via Über Desi’s twitter)

She seems more agile and active than her grandchildren.
“I don’t want to stop working,” she says with youthful determination.
Mrs Popat is the only survivor of a group of semi-literate Gujarati housewives who founded Lijjat Papad 50 years ago.
She will be celebrating the Lijjat golden jubilee on 15 March with 45,000 other women who are part of the women-only co-operative.

The cool part about Lijjat papads, besides their scrumptiousness, is their history.

Mrs Popat says: “We were semi-literate which restricted our chances to get jobs. But we realised our papad-making expertise could be used to earn small amounts of money to help our husbands reduce their financial responsibility.”

On 15 March 1959, they gathered on the terrace of an old building in a crowded South Mumbai locality and rolled out four packets of papads to sell.

The “seven sisters”, as they are fondly remembered, started production with the princely sum of 80 rupees (now $1.50), borrowed from a good Samaritan, Chaganlal Karamsi Parekh, a social worker with entrepreneurial brains

Unlike similar social efforts, Lijjat’s success lies in the sustainability of its model. For one Lijjat has a whopping workforce of 45,000 and over $100 million in revenue. The all-women workforce consists of mostly rural, illiterate but skilled women. The skill – papad making – has enabled most of these women to become financially independent.

So here’s to you, Lijjat, the real papad. He he he, Lijjat Papad.

Rescue me!

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Dear Government,

We have not connected for some time now. I have been quite faithful in my communication with you. I even send you a yearly update via my tax forms, and always, always enclose a hefty check. You don’t call, don’t write – except to send me cold, form letters telling me what I owe you. I give, and I give and I give and get nothing in return. This will not do. It has to be a two-way street else this relationship can’t last. However, I do not want to let so many years of investment (all mine) in our relationship go to waste so I am making the first move here – work with me.

Let me start by catching you up on how things have been with me. Not too good I am afraid. Prices are going up like Rakhi Sawant’s hemlines and things just aren’t the way they used to be. For example, this morning I emptied my wallet to fill up the gas tank on my car. The price on the pump changed twenty times upward as I watched. I am not complaining. After all, Kathy Fuld – wife of Lehman Brothers’ CEO Richard Fuld has to sell her $ 20 million art collection (link). Compared to that kind of loss, my sacrifices of food, clothing and shelter are nothing, nothing! Poor Mrs.Fuld- I feel for her deeply. After all, one must have beauty in one’s life – else what is left to live for?

Thats why I am thrilled to hear that you are doing something to help others like the Fulds and passing a $750 billion bailout bill so that other CEOs do not face the same fate as Mr.Fuld and his family did. CEOs like Alan Fishman – who lost his job in just 18 days. (link) Poor Alan. (Actually not so poor, since he did make $ 13.65 million! After all its not his fault that the bank collapsed – or is it? Never mind – one should not delve too deeply into these things. Read the rest of this entry »

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