Social innovation leaders tend to have a lot in common. They are entrepreneurs who seek to bridge the social economic divide between frontier markets and developing nations. They have considerable design thinking skills. And they are not afraid to engage with the latest technologies to get things done. Some are even frugal innovators; they possess Jugaad—a “do the most with less” mindset that has led to an impressive number of low-cost solutions designed explicitly for markets that others believe are inaccessible or not worth the effort.
To leverage these traits to their full potential, however, we need not just a Jugaad approach to innovation, but also a Jugaad approach to leadership—a way of leading that takes the concept of frugal innovation (captured and made popular by Navi Radjou), and makes it an organizational way of being that can thrive in an age of uncertainty and in fact represents a new business paradigm.
Jugaad leadership is a refreshing departure from the seemingly ingrained American view of what being a leader entails. Americans still tend to treat their political and corporate elites as celebrities, and the notion of developing into a “leader” in America has given rise to a thriving industry.
Jugaad leaders, by contrast, are like shadow dancers. They are not looking to be immortalized or celebrated. Instead, they are using their information and communication technology skills and collaborative mindsets to create unique value-chain propositions that may help other leaders emerge—sustainable business models and crowd-centered solutions, technologies, and platforms that will improve access to food, healthcare, education, broadband, and entrepreneurial opportunity.
Consider how Inwi, a telecom carrier in Morocco, managed to meet pent-up demand for a new form of public relations and simultaneously become a source of frugal social innovation. In 2011, the company’s leaders launched a “volunteer week” project on Inwi’s website, whereby customers were asked at point of sale to volunteer time to Moroccan charities in charge of helping orphans, homeless families, nonprofit schools, and hospitals for low-income families. The idea behind this project (called "Dir Iddik" or “put your hands together”) was to raise awareness among digital natives and connect them with nonprofit organizations. The initiative’s popularity took the company by surprise, and it quickly spread nationwide. (By the end of 2014, more than 65 foundations benefited from Inwi’s coast-to-coast initiative.)
The company also organized a televised telethon, not with the intention of selling airtime or long-distance bundles, but to collect time pledges from thousands more volunteers. More than 15,000 volunteers signed up during the telethon to donate their time to social projects.
Building on the success of that first cross-channel campaign, Inwi launched an e-madrassa project (an e-school)—a fun and free learning platform to promote digital literacy that has generated more than 1 million views from around the world including from France, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Spain, and Tunisia.
Inwi’s socially responsible initiatives have had a tremendous impact on the beneficiaries, the benefactors, and the brand. This is a typical example of Jugaad leadership. At the bare minimum cost, the company generated rewards far beyond its expectations; the company has now cemented its brand equity and reputation as an avant-garde social innovation leader. Why? Because connecting the unconnected is the essence of its core business.
Developing Jugaad Leadership Behaviors
What modern companies need nowadays is a whole new breed of chief officers—CEOs, CIOs, CTOs, CFOs, and so on—who eat, breathe, speak, and mostly act in a frugal way within their ecosystems, and who can simultaneously think expansively about their organizations’ greater potential in the world. Frugal leadership within modern organizations is about synchronizing lean thinking with social responsibility in mind, and turning lean-inspired solutions into a leader-sharing business model and culture.
But understanding what French Africa calls “System D” (to manage with what you have) and what Indians designate as Jugaad, and being able to implement it—as a corporate philosophy from front line through boardroom—is quite a challenge.
In the age of disruptive innovation and social unrest, many organizational structures are still built on rather old and rusted scaffoldings, which bear the burden of the past but might not weather the nonlinear changes of a butterfly effect. And sustainability is not about what’s written in bold in the “corporate mission statement” as much as it is about being genuinely responsible at all (and for all) costs. Just as people find time to practice yoga several times a week without asking for extra air miles or travel expenses for doing so, CEOs should be able to care about everyone’s bottom line, as the world is heading toward a chaotic social economic order where person-to-person connections can disrupt the most resilient business model while the needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations remain acute.
Frugal leadership in the digital age is an eco-systemic attitude, a leaderless source of value creation where flat-minded corporations rely on frugal thinking, best practices, and participative management to reduce inequalities around the world through sustainable business models and frameworks. For businesses, there is no better way to generate recurrent benefits and revenues, or to expand the spectrum of your audience far beyond what any superficial, botoxed marketing or branding plot would achieve.