Jugaad is a Hindi term that means clever and resourceful. It describes a way of getting a job done by using easy-to-find materials, typically in collaboration with others. In Western terms, jugaad could be a kind of crowd-sourced innovation that makes efficient use of scarce resources or reused materials to help improve living conditions.

Last week, I joined a guided tour of “Jugaad Urbanism,” a new exhibit at New York’s Center for Architecture that explores how jugaad in Indian cities can inspire designers worldwide. The exhibit, the first of its kind in the United States, showcases designs from communities in Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Pune.

Some of the projects, like the Envirofit Biomass stove, are concepts by internationally recognized design labs. Others, like the elaborate street lamps made from recycled bottles, and benches made from repurposed milk crates, are the works of local entrepreneurs. A crowd favorite was the “e-charka,” a spinning wheel that generates electricity to power a radio and table lamp.

As curator Kanu Agrawal put it in the program notes, the exhibition demonstrates how “jugaad strategies allow designers to work with maximum imagination. Inspired by the skill and ingenuity of grassroots tactics as well as a careful use of resources, designers can be thoughtful contributors for healthier, safer, and more equitable cities.”

The tour concluded with a group discussion about how jugaad strategies could be applied widely in business practices and urban planning to encourage more sustainable design solutions. A few key themes emerged:

First was the idea that innovation could be unleashed, not restrained, when confronted with clear limits. If necessity is the mother of invention, then the frugal approach to jugaad provides a design challenge that is solved by bringing the greatest value with the fewest resources.

Second was the need for flexibility in design thinking. The designs in the exhibition were all highly adaptable and not wedded to one single purpose. Instead, they evolved based on feedback from the users of the products.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the inclusive nature of jugaad. In this practice of democratic design, the user is no longer standing on the sidelines waiting for the designer to provide the solution or grant permission. Instead, users are rolling up their sleeves and participating throughout the process.

Thrift, adaptability, and inclusiveness are all principles of jugaad that have clear applications for sustainable product design worldwide.

BSR is exploring how companies are approaching sustainable design through a research project that focuses on tools, strategies, and approaches to innovation. We will share our findings in a research report to be published later in the year.