Dabbawala- Connecting People

Posted in Operations & IT Articles, Total Reads: 1064 , Published on 01 September 2015

When we think or ask about any tiffin or lunchbox service provider, the first name that strike our mind is the “The Dabbawala” which is popular all over the world for providing home cooked food in dabbas i.e. Lunchbox to around 130,000 people in the city of Mumbai, India which is delivered by 5000 individuals called as dabbawalas and this service is continuing from nearly past 120 years.

In these 120 years, Mumbai has changes a lot, yet the approach by dabbawala is same as it was during its startup. The dabbawala will pick up dabba from the households who prepares it, which is then delivered by dabbawala to the destination point i.e. the requisite office and returning them to the originating points i.e. households. Moreover this excellent operation of providing dabba is carried out in absence of any technology like computer or mobiles. This whole process is carried within 6 hours of the day, for 6 days a week and 51 weeks of year completing nearly 260,000 transactions which is comparable to six sigma processes for maintaining its operation quality.

Due to its quality functioning, it has gain the attraction of many renowned personalities like Britain’s prince Charles, Sir Richard Branson of virgin group and executives of delivery companies like FedEx. To understand how this supply chain management of Dabbawala works, many people from all over the world came to Mumbai for scrutinizing it and also documentaries as well as books are return on it. About 200 groups work synchronously throughout the city, each provided a particular area and customer and profit is shared equally among the group member. Each group elects their representative amongst them, to solve any issue, tackle any problem affecting the whole group.

Image: wikimedia

Anil joshi the advisor of dabbawala setup an online website to include the payment gateway for online booking of dabbas and started a cell phone texting service for other enquiries as well as confronting the issues and challenges faced by the dabbawalas. In 2010, Anil Joshi upgraded this system for inclusion of new ideas under the guidance of Raghunath Medge and Sopan mare, the head of the two governing committee of the dabbawalaa. The website gained popularity due to media, corporate and academic interest, but the website was not substantial as there was no system in place to monitor an inquiry or complaint reaches the appropriate dabbawala. Also dabbawala was not use to the technology and their philosophy was serving food is like serving god, and they will focus on it only.

The dabbawala put its foundation in year 1980, when one of the delivery man Mahadev Haji Bache saw an opportunity in this business, in 1890 he setup the business with the help of some 35 farmers from the village near city Pune. The idea of setting up this business came into his mind when he used to work as delivery man for a Mumbai banker for picking up the lunch box from his home and delivering to his office and then returning back to the office. The deliveryman was paid a regular income for delivering dabba to customers in Mumbai, taking an advantage of city’s railway system. Mouth of word was the common way of acquiring new customers. Their white Mahatma Gandhi caps, handcarts and distinctive bicycles were the only way of their advertisement. As we are well aware that Mumbai is place of mixed culture where people need food according to their demands and needs, Dabbawala provides the same and thus satisfying the customer.

Earlier, one dabbawala was used to be in charge of particular area, under him 15-20 local delivery boys who were paid a monthly salary. But in 1983 the dabbawalas moved to owner partner system based on profit sharing model. They form groups of nearly of nearly person each, including 2 to 3 person worked as a backup who were responsible for managing their finance, customers and operational activities. Women in dabbawala system mostly perform administrative function. Member with more than 10-15 years were regarded as Muqaddams or supervisor. This muqaddams were given a task along with delivering dabba such as helping in troubleshooting, resolve disputes, loading and unloading, collection and payments. The Muqaddams can also contest election for becoming the member of one of the two committee - The operational committee and the charitable trust.

New members were recruited from only about 30 villages in and around Pune. They are hired on probation period for six months, after which they become permanent member. For the six months they are paid Rs.3000 and the criteria is simple for recruitment, only those who have no education or job can apply for dabbawala, also if the person are not able to perform properly then two or three chances are given after that they are thrown out of the system. Individual dabbawalas are responsible for negotiating the price with the customers, maintaining the pricing guidelines setup by the management, which factored in the average weight of the dabba, the distance between residence and office and the distance between the office and the closest railway station. Mumbai monthly revenue for year 2009 was about 47 crores.

The dabbawalas which are popularly known as the warrior of the street, has no written records of customers’ home address but still they are connected to each other by thing called as Dabba. The dabbawala works on a coding system for the delivery as well as returning the dabba to its original destination, similar coding model were hired by FedEx as well as airlines. The popularity of Dabbawala is increasing day by day as it is more concentrated on providing home cooked food satisfying the needs of the customer rather than concentrating on technology and thus connecting the hearts of the people. The dabbawala not only satisfy the customer but also becoming the source of income for many of the less or uneducated people, thus also helping India to take a lucrative step towards development.

This article has been authored by Swapnil Zunke from IIM Kashipur





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