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Dabbawalas delivering lunch & love notes

Hemali Chhapia, TNN | Nov 13, 2011, 01.43AM IST MUMBAI: The same face under the crisp white topi, at the appointed hour, every day at our doors. We have known our dabbawalas for years as carriers of lunches to offices, with rarely any mix-up. Now, in a gradual expansion of their role, they are lugging a lot more than just that. Over time, they've become delivery boys for all kinds of things, besides the packed lunch. Mobile phones forgotten in the morning rush is one of the most common things they carry at mid-day, followed by files, suddenly demanded by the office. Sometimes, dabbawalas are even agents of blossoming love - with some people sending love notes, scented cards and a tiny something with lunch boxes. "We often have requests from housewives to carry several things like cell phones, money or wallets, some confidential corporate documents," said Kiran Gawande, secretary of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers' Association. "We don't encourage it as one dabba changes four to five hands, but we don't even refuse a request because we realize that the home and the office are really far away in most cases." It's the credence that the tiffinwala has earned over time, neither has someone else's lunch landed up on somebody else's table, nor has there been any police case against them. Explained Gawande, "Most people have seen their drivers or maids or cooks leave. But in our case, they have seen the same man going to the same home for years together." This 120-year-old institution has close to 5,000 semi-literate men on its rolls. They are tested on their capacity to carry approximately 70 kilos before they are initiated. Dabbawalas deliver lunch, and now even more, to close to 2 lakh Mumbaiites daily. In fact, the Harvard Business School has produced a case study on their error-free, six sigma record. The business school prods its students to learn from the dabbawalas' unique, simple and efficient logistics system, which relies entirely on human endeavour and doesn't employ any technology. Thanks to this combination of trust and efficiency, several housewives have not thought twice before handing over wads of notes to Shahi Raikar, a dabbawala who works in the Ghatkopar area. "I often carry important papers, thousands of rupees, fancy gadgets and cell phones. But most of us carry them with us, we don't squeeze all those things in the tiffin bag," added Raikar, who has been a dabbawala for nine years and earns Rs 9,000 per month. In fact, realizing that their evening hours are relatively free, they now also supply organic vegetables to several homes, a service that comes at an additional cost. But the rest- the love notes, the tiny surprise gift - can be enjoyed free with lunch. BOX:

Error Rate: 1 in 16 million transactions Six Sigma performance (99.999999) Technological Backup: Nil. Cost of service - Rs. 300/month ($ 6.00/month) Standard price for all, irrespective of the weight and the distance Annual turnover: Rs. 36 crore Never gone on strike Each dabbawalla is a shareholder Earnings 5000 to 6000 p.m. Diwali bonus: one month's cost of service from customers No consuming alcohol during business hours (Source: Dabbawala website)

Shortly about us

A dabbawala (one who carries the box), sometimes spelled dabbawalla , tiffinwalla , tiffinwalla or dabbawallah, is a person in the Indian city of Mumbai whose job is to carry and deliver freshly made food from home in lunch boxes to office workers. Tiffin is an old-fashioned English word for a light lunch, and sometimes for the box it is carried in. Dabbawalas are sometimes called tiffin-wallas. Though the work sounds simple, it is actually a highly specialized trade that is over a century old and which has become integral to Mumbai's culture. The dabbawala originated when a person named Mahadeo Havaji Bachche started the lunch delivery service with about 100 men. Nowadays, Indian businessmen are the main customers for the dabbawalas.
Kamlabai Educational & Chritable Trust (ISO 9001 : 2008 Certified)

Mumbai Dabbawala Education Centre, Vikhroli

How they work......... We work as work is workship. Our motto is 100% customer satisfaction. With no error. Our logistics and supply chain system is top in the world. With SIX SIGMA rating. We work on central, western and harbour raily lines. We care for the health of our customer by providing home cooked food prepared by their loved one.

Error Rate: 1 in 16 million transactions Six Sigma performance (99.999999) Technological Backup: Nil. Cost of service - Rs. 300/month ($ 6.00/month) Standard price for all (Weight, Distance, Space) Rs. 36 Cr. Turnover approx. [6000*12*5000=360000000 i.e Rs. 36 crore p.a.] No strike record as each one a share holder Earnings -5000 to 6000 p.m. Diwali bonus: one month's from customers Zero % fuel Zero % investment

Zero % modern technology 99.9999% performance

100 % Customer Satisfaction Zero % Disputes

No Alcohol Drinking during business hours Wearing White Cap during business hours Carry Identity Cards

Awards......... Shri.Varkari Prabhodhan Mahasamati Dindi Palkhi Sohala 4th March 2001. Documentaries made by BBC, UTV, MTV, ZEE TV, AAJ TAK, TV TODAY, SAHARA SAMAY, STAR TV, CNBC TV 18, CNN, SONY TV, TV TOKYO, NDTV, Channel 7, DD Metro, Doordarshan. CASE STUDY Richard Ivey School of Business Ontarion IFIM Business School Banglore IIM Ahmedabad ICFAI Press Hyderabad Agrawal Institute of Management, Mumbai Invitation from CII for conference held in Bangalore, IIML, IIMA, CII Cochin, CII Delhi, Dr. Reddys Lab Foundation Hyderabad, SCMHRD Pune, Suryadatta Pune, SCMHRD Nasik, MIT Pune, MET Mumbai, IIT & IIM, Harward U.S.A., Cambridge Oxford . Included in a subject in University of California, Berkeley. Radio German Radio Network Radio Mirchi Radio Mid-day FM Gold BBC Radio Radio City Letter from "PRINCE CHARLES" After Heavy Flood in Mumbai on 26th July 2005.

Coding System......... VLP : Vile Parle (suburb in Mumbai) 9EX12 : Code for Dabbawalas at Destination EX : Express Towers (building name) 12 : Floor no. E : Code for Dabbawala at residential station 3 : Code for destination Station eg. Churchgate Station (Nariman Point)

Let us now look at an example of these codes on the Tiffin's to better understand the system and what it all denotes.

Out of India - Invitation......... At Terra Madre World meeting of Food Communities between October 20 to 23, 2004 and October 26 to 31, 2006. For marriage of Hon. Prince Charles of England on 9th April, 2005. At YPO Chapters Kenya & Nigeria in April, 2007. At London for Opening of Tiffin Bite Hotel in June, 2007

Achievements......... Six Sigma Performance Guinness Book of World Record Record With Guinness Book of World Record Registered with Ripley's believe it or not. Received ISO 9001 : 2008 Certificate Fie Foundation Awards 2007 One Among Top 50 Indians One Among most 10 favourite things in Mumbai along with Wada Pav


Mumbai Dabbahwalas A dabbawala (Marathi: ); also spelled as dabbawalla or dabbawallah; literally meaning ("person with a box"), is a person in India, most commonly found in the city of Mumbai, who is employed in a unique service industry whose primary business is collecting the freshly cooked food in lunch boxes from the residences of the office workers (mostly in the suburbs), delivering it to their respective workplaces and returning the empty boxes back to the customer's residence by using various modes of transport. "Tiffin" is an old-fashioned English word for a light lunch or afternoon snack, and sometimes for the box it is carried in. For this reason, the dabbawalas are sometimes called Tiffin Wallahs.


1 Etymology and historical roots o 1.1 The Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust 2 Supply Chain o 2.1 Appearance and coding o 2.2 Uninterrupted services 3 Economic analysis o 3.1 Awards and recognition o 3.2 JanLokpal Bill Support 4 References 5 Further reading 6 External links

Etymology and historical roots

A dabba, or Indian-style tiffin box. The word "Dabbawala" in Marathi when literally translated, means "one who carries a box". "Dabba" means a box (usually a cylindrical tin or aluminium container), while "wala" is a suffix, denoting a doer or holder of the preceding word.[1] The closest meaning of the Dabbawala in English would be the "lunch box delivery man". Though this profession seems to be simple, it is actually a highly specialized service in Mumbai which is over a century old and has become integral to the cultural life of this city. The concept of the dabbawala originated when India and Pakistan was under British rule. Many British people who came to the colony did not like the local food, so a service was set up to bring lunch to these people in their workplace straight from their home. Nowadays, although Indian business men are the main customers for the dabbawalas, increasingly affluent families employ them instead for lunch delivery to their school-aged children. Even though the services provided might include cooking, it primarily consists of only delivery either home-made or in that latter case, food ordered from a restaurant.

The Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust

This service was originated in 1880. In 1890, Mahadeo Havaji Bachche, started a lunch delivery service with about 100 men.[2] In 1930, he informally attempted to unionize the dabbawallas. Later a charitable trust was registered in 1956 under the name of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Trust. The commercial arm of this trust was registered in 1968 as Mumbai Tiffin Box Supplier's Association. The present President of the association is Sopan Laxman Mare. Nowadays, the service often includes cooking of foods in addition to the delivery.

Supply Chain

A collecting Dabbawala on a bicycle Mumbai is a very densely populated city of millions with huge flows of traffic. Because of this, lengthy commutes to workplaces are common, with many workers traveling by train. Instead of going home for lunch or paying for a meal in a caf, many office workers have a cooked meal sent either from their home, or sometimes from a caterer who essentially cooks and delivers the meal in lunch boxes and then have the empty lunch boxes collected and resent the same day. This is usually done for a monthly fee. The meal is cooked in the morning and sent in lunch boxes carried by dabbawalas, who have a complex association and hierarchy across the city.

Dabbawalas in action at a Mumbai Suburban Railway station. A collecting dabbawala, usually on bicycle, collects dabbas either from a worker's home or from the dabba makers. The dabbas have some sort of distinguishing mark on them, such as a colour or symbol. The dabbawala then takes them to a designated sorting place, where he and other collecting dabbawalas sort (and sometimes bundle) the lunch boxes into groups. The grouped boxes are

put in the coaches of trains, with markings to identify the destination of the box (usually there is a designated car for the boxes). The markings include the rail station to unload the boxes and the building address where the box has to be delivered. At each station, boxes are handed over to a local dabbawala, who delivers them. The empty boxes, after lunch, are again collected and sent back to the respective houses.

Appearance and coding

Markings: (1) abbreviations for collection points, (2) colour code for starting station, (3) number for destination station and (4) markings for handling dabbawala at destination, building and floor.[3]

A typical dabbawala lunch.

It is estimated that the dabbawala industry grows by 5-10% each year. Although the service remains essentially low-tech, with the barefoot delivery men as the prime movers, the dabbawalas have started to embrace technology, and now allow booking for delivery through SMS.[4] An on-line poll on the web site ensures that customer feedback is given pride of place. The success of the system depends on teamwork and time management. Such is the dedication and commitment of the barely literate and barefoot delivery men (there are only a few delivery women) who form links in the extensive delivery chain, that there is no system of documentation at all. A simple colour coding system doubles as an ID system for the destination and recipient. There are no multiple elaborate layers of management either

just three layers. Each dabbawala is also required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the form of two bicycles, a wooden crate for the tiffins, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and the white trademark Gandhi cap (topi). The return on capital is ensured by monthly division of the earnings of each unit.

Uninterrupted services
The service is almost always uninterrupted, even on the days of severe weather such as monsoons. The local dabbawalas and population know each other well, and often form bonds of trust. Dabbawalas are generally well accustomed to the local areas they cater to, and use shortcuts and other low profile routes to deliver their goods on time. Occasionally, people communicate between home and work by putting messages inside the boxes; however, with the rise of instant communication such as SMS and instant messaging, this trend is vanishing.

Economic analysis
Each dabbawala, regardless of role, gets paid about two to four thousand rupees per month (around 2550 or US$4080).[5] In 2002, Forbes Magazine found its reliability to be that of a six sigma standard. More than 175,000 or 200,000 lunch boxes get moved every day by an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 dabbawalas, all with an extremely small nominal fee and with utmost punctuality. According to a recent survey, they make less than one mistake in every 6 million deliveries, despite most of the delivery staff being illiterate.[6] The BBC has produced a documentary on dabbawalas, and Prince Charles, during his visit to India, visited them (he had to fit in with their schedule, since their timing was too precise to permit any flexibility). Prince Charles also invited them to his wedding with Camilla Parker Bowles in London on 9 April 2005. Owing to the tremendous publicity, some of the dabbawalas were invited to give guest lectures in some of the top business schools of India, which is very unusual. Most remarkably in the eyes of many Westerners, the success of the dabbawala trade has involved no advanced technology,[7] except for trains (and as mentioned above, SMS services for booking). The New York Times reported in 2007 that the 125-year-old dabbawala industry continues to grow at a rate of 510% per year.[8]

[edit] Awards and recognition

ISO 9001:2000 certified by the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand [9]

[edit] JanLokpal Bill Support

Dabbawala for the first time in 120 years on Aug 19, 2011 broke their tradition and went on strike for to support Anna Hazare's campaign against corruption and involuntarily gathered at Azad Maidan with march starting from Churchgate.[10]

Dabbawalas got Corrupted?

23 AUG 2011 2 Comments

by Karteek Manchalain General, PoliticsTags: Anna hazare, Anti-corruption movement, Dabbawala strike, India, Jan LokPal bill, Mumbai, Political corruption, The Dabbawala, The Mumbai Dabbawala

The Mumbai Dabbawalas struck work for the first time in 120 years, in support of Anna Hazare. They have deviated from the ideal (corrupted) for the first time in 120 years of rich tradition by striking work. Around 1200 dabbawalas marched from Churchgate station in Mumbai to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus of Mumbai in a grand show of solidarity with the Jan Lokpal cause. It was interesting to know that their customers were in full support of the strike, as they were more than willing to skip their lunch. This corruption(deviation) from routine was caused by the increasing corruption in everyday life. There is some kind of foolish race for easy money, wealth, comfort among us and we are too short-sighted to see that every one is going to lose in the end. Lets work with uncorrupted sincerity that this Anti-Corruption movement will be successful.

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Whats in the Dabba?

08 AUG 2010 5 Comments

by Karteek Manchalain UncategorizedTags: 6-Sigma, ISO-9001, The Bombay Dabbawala, The Dabbawala, The Mumbai Dabbawala

We all got assembled in the Sindhi Community hall for the much hyped Session on Mumbai Dabbawalas. Mr. Manish Tripati entered the scene with the Tiffin Dabba showing it to the audience as some Trophy. There was some concern regarding the sound system while the introduction was being delivered. But he was loud enough to be audible. He asked why we have assembled here? To see whats in the Dabba. Is it not? Mr Tripathi was from the Mumbai Dabbawala Association famous for delivering Afternoon lunch boxes from home to offices. He was here to lecture on the intricacies of their operation and how their principles and practices can be applied to our businesses.

The Mumbai Dabbawala Now This whole Dabbawala service started because some person loved his wife! Do you believe it? we see many businesses starting because love exhausted between wife and husband. But this one, Lets check. That was the time when Bombay was growing and new government offices were coming up. A Parsi banker who was working in one of the offices loved his wife. So he wanted to love her even in the office, so he hired a person who could deliver the lunch, off course prepared by his wife, from home to office. Now heres the opportunity. Those office going men who loved their wives increased.Thats how started the Dabbawala service is 1890. Started with 35 people by Mahadu Havaji Bache, now it is an organization with 5000 workers serving over 2 lakh costumers. Some of the traits and facts of Dabbawalas and their Organization. 1. The whole Dabbawala thing started due to sheer need of the people ( love for their wives, voluntary or cumpulsive) 2. They are puntual. Feel work is worship. 3. They use no fuel. Use bicycles and local trains as mode of transport. 4. Wear white Gandhi cap while at work and no boozing while at work. 5. 85% of them are illiterate. (always thumbs up) 6. No HR department. Thats the reason why they are so successful! 7. All belong to one Varkari Sect (Maratha community) previously in Shivaji Maharajs Army. 8. They collect a meager 250-300 per month for the services irrespective of how far they have to carry wifes love. 9. Earn 4000 to 5000 a month.

10. A worker is penalized for reporting late to work or not wearing Gandhi Topi. 11. There are groups of 20-25 people headed by a leader. They share the profits among themselves. That is their income! 12. They are Zero% fuel, Zero% Technology and Zero% investment company. 13. They give housewives or house husbands 5 seconds to handing over the Dabba. After 5 late hand overs, service is terminated. Thus housewives fear the Dabbawalas more than their husbands.

Their high profile visitors include Prince Charles ( Prince, waiting to become king!) , Richard Benson of Virgin Airlines, US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Mandira Bedi.

Prince Charles with Mumbai Dabbawalas

Virgin Atlantic chief Richard Branson with the Dabba

Gary Locke with Dabbawala, Courtesy: The Hindu

They are famous for their on-time delivery with almost no errors. They are certified by ISO 9001 and rated with 6 Sigma for less than 1 error in 6 million deliveries made. This has brought them into limelight and a subject of study for many a management students. How are they able to do it? 1. They are carrying wifes love to husbands! 2. Everyone is a share holder in the company. All the members work. No Work No Pay! 3. They have a very fool proof coding system for identifying the pickup and destination of the Dabbas.

The Coding system

4. 85% of the members are illiterate! Thus best suited for the job. 5. No HR 6. There are single DNA company, all the workers are Marthi speaking and from Varkari Sect. 7. Differences, if any, are sorted out in the frequent meetings. This consistent success of beating all odds to satisfy the customer is unmatched and worth to stop and and notice. Lets see what are the management learning and if we can apply their principles and practices to the present day IT and other companies.

1. KEEP OPERATIONAL COSTS TO MINIMUM: The Dabbawalas use cycles and

handcarts. They have no posh offices Now this we can do by plying the employees in buses and encouraging them to use public transportation.

2. MINIMUM CAPITAL INVESTMENT: Now this is difficult, with the companies

need to boast surplus capital or skilled workers to get new projects and expansion.


Organizations should do something to make the employees identify with the goals of the organization. One important thing in this is transparency in appraisals.

4. COMPLEXITY OPPOSES COMPLIANCE: The procedures have to be kept

simple. Employees dont follow rules which are not practical. This depends on the commitment of the employees and managers. Build foolproof procedures which can be followed by all. The effect of human elements like emotions, mental status, physical

health should be minimal on the work. This does not mean automation, but we need to have simple procedures, so that it is easy to follow in all conditions.


market FMCG failed. If ever we need to diversify and expand our operations, divide the operations so that management becomes simple. For instance the Tatas: Tata motors, Tata Power, Tata Tea etc.,


been wiped out with the data losses. Contingency plans and data backup should be in place in case of calamities.

7. FLAT ORGANIZATION: Everyone should work and everyone should be a

manager. This brings a sense of responsibility in the employees. Dont know how far this can be applied in a profit motive businesses.

8. CO-OPERATION BETWEEN THE EMPLOYEES: This is crucial as competition

among employees can be destructive. Bonding helps.

9. KEEP EXTRAS FOR FAULT TOLERANCE: Extra resources should be kept in

case of any emergency so that the work will not be effected and other resources are not overstretched.

10. COMMITMENT MATTERS NOT QUALIFICATION: Its crucial that we find the
right people for the job. commitment to do the job precedes the qualification.


resource rather bringing in new.

12. ABANDON THE BAD CUSTOMERS: Bad customers , how reputed they may be
should be parted with. This effects the other customers.

will bring uniformity among the operations and shows the seriousness of the organization towards its goals.


need to be emotionally united and need respect, ownership and no fear factor.

15. BE HUMBLE: Never boast off too much , the customers may be affected. 16. EMPLOYEES TO BE SHAREHOLDERS: This is very difficult to be applied in all
the organizations. At least performance based incentives should be given to the employees. With all the companies battling the deadlines and quality issues, its crucial to put up a system in place which is practical and employees can become part of it despite different cultural and geographical backgrounds.

CERTIFICATIONS: Certifications like ISO 9001, 2000 and 6-Sigma are given for the operational compliance of the companys policies and quality maintenance. The prime focus should not be for getting this certificate. They happen once we have a good system in place. If a person or organization gets 6-Sigma certified for a particular project, it implies that person or organization maintains the same level of competence and commitment in all other operations. Just doing a project for the certification wont help. Boasting something which cant me achieved will only damage the organization.

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