Generate breakthrough growth with 'jugaad' accountability

Thomas Tweh, a community leader in West Point, Liberia, applies his innovative idea to help resolve legal issues in his neighborhood. Photo by: Morgana Wingard / Accountability Lab

In Liberia, the Daily Talk is a jugaad — or creative, improvised — citizen journalism solution. In a country where newspapers are too expensive and the Internet is inaccessible for many, the Accountability Lab is supporting a group of citizen journalists to provide civic education information through chalk billboards at busy intersections in urban areas. The information is relayed in simple Liberian English, pictures and photos so everyone can understand, and it generates debate and discussion among the thousands of passersby every day.

During the ongoing Ebola crisis, for example, the billboards have been used to explain critical information on the location and operation of treatment centers.

Western corporations must turn to developing countries — in South Asia, Africa and elsewhere — to understand how to innovate and survive in a hypercompetitive world. It is in these contexts that jugaad solutions are allowing entrepreneurs and businesses to build markets, generate growth and solve intractable problems, according to “Jugaad Innovation,” a book that argues for this new approach to frugal and flexible innovation.

Think of M-PESA in Kenya, for example — an SMS-based system which allows people to save, spend and transfer money even without a bank account; or Revolo, an Indian low-cost conversion tool that turns gas powered cars into hybrids. “Jugaad Innovation” authors suggest that many Western multinationals have become too expensive, inflexible and insular to compete with these low-cost, high-impact models for change.

The same could be said for efforts to bolster accountability in the developing world. Large Western projects to build open, transparent governments, with some exceptions, have become hidebound by rules, procedures and processes. These initiatives often become hugely expensive, contracting processes without demonstrating any clear long-term impact on governance.

For example, an independent audit of two USAID projects in Afghanistan, the Economic Growth and Governance Initiative and the Afghan Civil Service Support, indicated mixed results and deep weaknesses in performance management processes despite spending over $176 million. Moreover, in many cases the idea of failure is anathema to organizational culture; learning is not internalized and staff turnover is high, meaning mistakes are continually repeated.

Applying the jugaad mindset to accountability, we need to move away from these outmoded, supply-driven projects and instead support simple, bottom-up and cost effective tools for integrity. At the Accountability Lab, we are trying to do just that by identifying ideas that can help citizens gather the information they need to hold their governments accountable, and in turn unleash the social and economic potential of their countries.

An example would be Nalibeli, a free wiki tool we have supported in Nepal, which perfectly encapsulates the jugaad mindset. Just as Facebook demonstrates the importance of interface simplicity, Nalibeli is a straightforward platform that allows citizens across the country to crowdsource information on public services, helping them to better navigate government and make more informed decisions.

To date, the Nalibeli community of volunteers has developed over 1,000 pages of information that was never previously centralized in once place, on topics like how to get a birth certificate, renew a driver’s license or file a complaint at a local government office. This ensures Nepalis know to demand proper procedures and saves time, money and hassle. Nalibeli has cost less than $5,000 and is proving extremely popular, with over 250,000 hits in the past six months.

These projects are proving effective because they work closely from the ground up with people who know the solutions to the problems they face. They are jugaad in that they seek opportunity in adversity, do more with less, remain simple and flexible, and are inclusive by design.

While small, it is jugaad ideas like Nalibeli and the Daily Talk that are generating breakthrough growth in integrity and accountability in the developing world and allowing for a shift away from the outmoded structures of the aid system.  

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About the author

  • Blair Glencorse

    Blair Glencorse is founder and executive director of the Accountability Lab. Previously, he worked on issues of state and market-building across Africa, Asia the Middle-East and Latin America at the Institute for State Effectiveness and the Aspen Institute, and on post-conflict and fragile states at the World Bank. Glencorse is a frequent commentator on development issues for media outlets including CNN, The Independent, and WABC Radio, among others. In 2011 during the Arab Awakenings, Blair was honored as a UN Fellow for the Middle East and North Africa, and in 2012 he won the Johns Hopkins Outstanding Recent Graduate Award for his work on accountability.

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