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Dabbawallas of Mumbai: Devoted to spread smiles for more than a Century

Dabbawallas of Mumbai: Devoted to spread smiles for more than a Century

Speaking about the most inspirational success stories of entrepreneurship in India, one can never miss mentioning the Dabbawallas of Mumbai. A success story, so unparalleled and remarkable, that it grabbed the attention of the great leaders of the world and commoved them. Yes, the story of dabbawallas sweptPrince Charles, Prince of Wales and Richard Branson, the English business magnate, investor and philanthropist, off their feet with their phenomenal devotion to the food delivery service. Leading publications namely Forbes Global Magazine and The New York Timeshave featured articles on uniqueness of the business idea and Dabbawallas’ Six Sigma rated service quality.The business system on which Dabbawallas carry out everyday operations has been selected as a case study by world’s leading institutions such as Harvard Business School and IIM, Ahmedabad.

So, let’s know more about these Dabbawallas and their business that has stunned the world; acknowledged as the most efficient Human Logistics Network in the World, Dabbawala industry is the lunch delivery system in which nearly five thousand dabbawallas serve nearly two lakh people a day. Every day, dabbawallas (men with Tiffin box) collect homemade food in lunch boxes from people’s residences or central kitchen and deliver them at respective workplaces through multiple modes of transport, usually bicycles and the railway trains. Once the lunch hour is over, the empty dabbas are collected from the office and delivered to the customer’s residence before evening.

To imagine the management of two lakh dabbas by five thousand employees every day, within two hours, from one corner to another in Mumbai using local trains, definitely seems to be baffling. However, the business system is so well designed and planned that only one error makes its way in eight million transactions ( as revealed by Forbes Global Magazine).

To escape mismanagement, there is a color coding system to identify the destination and recipient and accordingly lunch boxes are marked on the basis of: abbreviations for collection points, color code for starting station, number for destination station and markings for handling dabbawala at destination, building and floor. Everyday day, a dabbawalla wearing a white kurta pajama and white Gandhi cap, collects the lunch boxes from residences or central kitchens and then take them to a designated sorting place, where he and other collecting dabbawallas sort the lunch boxes into groups. The boxes separated in groups are loaded into the train coaches, with specific markings that indicate their destination. The markings mention the railway station where boxes need to be unloaded as well as the address of destination building. A local dabbawala, placed at everystation, is handed over all the boxes to be delivered. In the same way, the empty boxes are collected after lunch and delivered back to the respective houses.

The journey of dabbawalla industry started in 1890, when a Parasi banker asked a dabbawalla to deliver home cooked food regularly in office. Soon, the idea of having fresh homemade food at workplace enticed other people and demand for dabbawalla service shoot up. The value of this service sparked the entrepreneurial flame in great visionary, Mr. Mahadeo Havaji Bachche and he started the lunch delivery service with a team of hundred Dabbawallas the same year. In 1968, the service was launched commercially under the name, Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier’s Association. Today, the net worth of dabbawalla industry is forty to forty five crore and every dabbawalla is paid around eight thousand rupees a month irrespective of the role he performs.

With their remarkable efforts and dedication, these dabbawallas have scaled up a conventional service into a highly organized industry. The organizational and management skills employed by them are quintessential to achieve end goals in any business. Considering themselves to be a part of Maratha king, Shivaji’s clan of soldiers, these dabbawallas have been exhibiting their exceptional skills in organization& management of operations, time management, team work and their dedication to serve people while providing nonstop food delivery service to a huge mass of people since last one hundred and twenty seven years without any excuse.

Share My Dabba

The Dabbawallas joined hands with Happy Life Welfare Society in their social initiative, ‘Share My Dabba’ towards spreading smiles on the faces of thousands of poor street children, who have no option but to stay hungry throughout the day. Around two lakh people use dabbawalla service daily and it is obvious that many people leave some food in their Tiffin. As a part of this service, volunteers of the society distribute ‘Share My Dabba’ stickers to people availing the dabbawalla service. Those who want to share their lunch with poor children paste the sticker onto their dabbas. The volunteers reach the point where dabbawallas assemble after having collected the lunch boxes post lunch. The dabbas with sticker are simply kept aside while the dabbawallas sort the ones without stickers. In that duration, volunteers give the food to children and repack the dabbas, which are sorted out later.

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