Dabawalas of Mumbai

I am searching for someone who would deliver home made food to my husband and children. Since I am all tired up in getting up in morning and preparing lunch for everyone. You may think its impossible to find such a man and am getting crazy. No I am not , if I am a native of Mumbai, India, I would have got not one but many dabbawalas who would do my job..

It all started about 125 years back when a Parasi banker wanted to have home cooked food regularly in office and gave this responsibility to the first ever Dabbawala. Other people also liked the idea and the demand for Dabba delivery soared. Dabbawala, (one who carries the box), in the Indian city of Mumbai. They carry and deliver freshly made food from customer’s home in a lunch box (Dabba) and deliver it to offices. Dabbas are safely collected back on the the same day. The dabbawala service is legendary for its reliability. Since it was founded, in 1890, it has endured famines, wars, monsoons, Hindu-Muslim riots, and a series of terrorist attacks. It has attracted worldwide attention and visits by Prince Charles, Richard Branson, and employees of Federal Express, a company renowned for its own mastery of logistics. The dabbawalas have an overall system whose basic pillars:

  • organization
  • management
  • process
  • and culture

are perfectly aligned and mutually reinforcing. On a given day, a dabba passes though several hands before reaching back. In the morning a dabbawala picks it up from the customer’s home and takes it (along with other dabbas) to the nearest train station, where it is sorted and put onto a wooden crate according to its destination. It is then taken by train to the station closest to its destination. There it is sorted again and assigned to another one, who delivers it to the right office before lunchtime. In the afternoon the process runs in reverse, and the dabba is returned to the customer’s home. The dabbawalas essentially manage themselves with respect to hiring, logistics, customer acquisition and retention, and conflict resolution. This helps them operate efficiently and keep costs low and the quality of service high. All workers contribute to a charitable trust that provides insurance and occasional financial aid—for example, when a worker needs to replace a bicycle that’s been stolen or is broken beyond repair. For the dabbawalas, having the right process in place means more than simply implementing efficient work flows. It also entails just about everything in the organization, including the way information is managed, the use of built-in buffers, and a strict adherence to standards. To convey information, the dabbawalas rely on a system of very basic symbols. The Coding system evolved through various stages with time. The lid of a dabba has three key markings on it.

  • 1st is a large, bold number in the center – the neighborhood where the dabba must be delivered.
  • 2nd is a group of characters on the edge of the lid: a number for the dabbawala who will make the delivery, an alphabetical code (two or three letters) for the office building, and a number indicating the floor.
  • 3rd is a combination of color and shape, and in some instances, a motif—indicates the station of origin. Customers supply small bags for carrying their dabbas, and the variation in the bags’ shapes and colors helps workers remember which dabba belongs to which customer.

In the corporate world, it’s uncommon for managers to strive for that kind of synergy. While most, if not all, pay attention to some of the pillars, only a minority address all four. Culture, for example, often gets short shrift: Too few managers seem to recognize that they should nurture their organizations as communities not just because they care about employees but because doing so will maximize productivity and creativity and reduce risk. Also managers shouldn’t think of themselves merely as leaders or supervisors; they also need to be architects who design and fine-tune systems that enable employees to perform at optimal levels. The dabbawalas’ success is proof that with the right system in place, ordinary workers can achieve extraordinary results. What makes Dabbawalas so unique?

  • Accuracy,
  • commitment and team work
  • Error is horror
  • Precision and speed
  • Solid stamina, man power and unity

They are illiterate yet they understand coding system for fault less deliver.
The two ‘C’s are convenience, and charging a very minimal fee, the Mumbai Dabbawalas come to the rescue of the wife or the mother. People have their office bags to carry in extremely, unimaginably crowded trains and to carry one additional dabba is equivalent to asking for too much space in a local train. The dabbawalas are a blessing as they bring fresh and healthy home-cooked food everyday. I think the most important points to be noted are:

  • There is no food as cheap as home-cooked food.
  • There is no food as hygienic as home-cooked food.
  • There is no food as satisfying as home-cooked food.

So for all the people who can’t afford to have food from outside everyday or don’t like to eat out everyday because the food isn’t healthy,The dabbawalas work for about 8-9 hours a day. They leave their homes in the suburbs by 7am to be able to start collecting dabbas at 9am and deliver them to the different work places by lunch time. While the people are enjoying their home cooked meal during lunch time,the dabbawalas find a corner on the side of the street or some place near their delivery location and make some time to eat their own lunch. Then, just after the lunch hours, they start collecting the same dabbas that they had delivered. By around 5pm, all the dabbas are delivered back to their respective residences.

Also in recent years they have started an initiative, which I think is thoughtful, inspiring and incredible. They gave the left over food collected from dabbas among people living on the streets, those who sleep on pavements, people living in slums, etc. They also prevent criminal wastage of food at social functions like weddings, parties and in festive season by collecting leftovers and delivering to needy. We all invariably end up throwing a lot of left-overs at home or wasting a lot of food, and that eventually goes to the dumps. Here, it is helping to save the lives of several malnourished, poverty-stricken people living on the streets in India. I hope we can all learn a very vital lesson for this and learn to giveq back to the needy. This doesn’t even require any extra effort or expenditure. It is just what we thought we weren’t going to eat/use that is being given to the needy. It isn’t selfless but is immensely kind.

The dabbawalas play a very important role in the daily life of Mumbaikers. They make sure that nearly 200,000 people get their lunch in time at their offices or schools. So the dabbawalas pick up your home cooked hot meal from doorstep, deliver it to the concerned person and then return the empty box to your doorstep again. For the entire service process, they charge anything just below Rs 800 per month. Unbelievable! The Dabbawalas are equipped to serve us with the prevailing technologies too. You can SMS them or you can also login into the site Mydabbawala.com to avail their services.

Mumbai is a longish city where residences are in the north and offices in the south, so it makes work simple. Thus Mumbai’s geography makes it unique. Mumbaikars alone in the world would have the option of eating homemade food in office without the bother of having to carry a cumbersome lunchbox. All thanks to dabbawalas…

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