The way Nepal’s law and order operates is usually surprising to people, given that the political system is riddled with chaos and mayhem. Even though it possesses all the indicators of a failing economy, it is commendable that Nepal is still growing at a nominal rate. We are used to optimistically leaving our fate, including Nepal’s fate, in the hands of the Gods. I have realized that it is not just Gods and miracles that have brought us this far, but something that we have unknowingly inherited from our ancestors. It is what I believe summarizes the entire essence of the country’s thriving operability – Jugaad.
THE NEPALI WAY OF LIFE
We Nepalis have been practicing this art in our daily lives since the time of our forefathers. We have somewhat been socially conditioned into developing a calm and patient attitude – accepting what we have and making the most of it.
One can say that the proverb ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ has been well ingrained in us. We have therefore managed to master the art of survival through the use of improvised or make shift solutions, using scarce resources at our disposal to address our endless social and economic problems.
WITHIN THE GOVERNMENT
Political instability and poor development are the overarching problems faced by the country, both of which are further hindered due to the lack of vision and planning for the future among our elected leaders. Their mantra so far has been to confront problems in an ad-hoc manner. The political parties may have vastly differing perspectives over issues, but when met with an unexpected hindrance that could jeopardize their political position, they mostly rely on their innate ability to improvise and come up with a temporarily effective solution at the time. Therefore, our political leaders are the biggest jugaads who can swiftly deal with unforeseen challenges and seize the opportunities that arise from them solely so they can remain in power.
While our political leaders lead the pack, our bureaucrats and government officials do not lag very far behind. It is a daunting task to accomplish official paperwork and formalities in the various government offices. In light of such circumstances, we have brokers who have seized the opportunity to provide these services efficiently and economically. They have resourcefully improvised solutions for people who do not mind spending an extra dime on “tea and coffee expenses” in collaboration with government officials. By paying an extra fee justified as an opportunity cost for the energy and time, brokers have guided us to adopt the jugaad way to get our work done at super-sonic speed, but engaging in dubious practices often involving getting around the law in some manner. By demonstrating agility and their innate ability and connections, these brokers have anticipated the obstacles and seized unexpected opportunities thus, qualifying them as jugaads.
In addition to jugaads, we also have the positive side of jugaad, the jugaad innovators, i.e. those individuals that have developed fairly good “value for money” solutions in the most adverse circumstances using organic strategies that are emergent and modeled around the common man’s needs. Examples of these kinds of innovators are plentiful in Nepal. Take for instance the women who have come together to form co-operatives and commercialize food items like the sel/roti, meat and pickles and even run traditional eateries in Kirtipur; the fairly educated mechanics in Nepal who can fix any problem with your vehicles at the most affordable cost, and even companies like harilo.com that have made access to, and purchase of goods from different US and UK based sites possible by simplifying payments and logistics. They all work with the skill sets they have and make the best out of the situation, often reaping the profits of an otherwise overlooked market.
There are several innovations we come across in our daily lives, but only a few have made a big impact. These include the innovators of the smokeless chulos (cooking stoves), which are popular in the rural hills and mountains, which uses less than half the firewood needed for the traditional chulos, meanwhile generating more heat and being nearly smokeless. In addition, they also function as a heating system providing hot water and space heating. Most of all, they are cost efficient and promote better health conditions with their low emissions of carbon.
Another example is the development of Arsenic Biosand filters. This is especially used in the Terai districts where the ground water is contaminated with arsenic particles that have posed severe health hazards in the community. The development of Arsenic Biosand filters, which is an adaptation of the Biosand filter, has helped the people of Terai access clean drinking water at an affordable rate.
Similarly, at a time when the country is facing acute power shortages, there are few remote villages with access to electricity without being connected to the power grid or any of the “groups” of Nepal Electricity Authority. These villages have come together and harnessed electricity through the micro-hydel projects. The projects are run by the village committees who oversee the maintenance, management and service charge making this model more reliable and cheaper.
There are no exceptions to the rule in jugaad because each one of us adopts some means of jugaad in our everyday life. It is a tool that can be used for good if in the right hands and bad if it lands in the wrong hands. More than anything, it is crucial to be aware about which side of the fence we are on when adopting jugaad at any point in our lives, both on professional and personal levels.
*Jugaad (जुगाड़) is a colloquial Hindi- Urdu word that can mean an innovative fix or a simple work-around.