The Dabbawalas of Mumbai

From the 13th to 17th December I was invited to Mumbai, India by Young Indians to address the inauguralCommonwealth Asia Alliance for Young Entrepreneurs (CAAYE) Summit on behalf of Young Brits and the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance. This is the first of three blogs I have written on the trip, this one will focus on the Dabbawalas, the second one will focus on social enterprises in the slums and the third will focus on the CAAYE and the wider role and importance of such alliances.


Let me start by trying to quickly put Mumbai in context. A city of 24million people, huge growth in recent years, enterprise is happening everywhere, the people are extremely welcoming and there is a real buzz/ can do feeling from the moment you step off the airplane. It feels like a city that is going places and going there fast, yes it has its problems, one of these I will try and cover in my second blog, but is trying to resolve them.


I commute every day to Central London, and I thought it might be interesting to put Mumbai in commuting terms… Over 7million passengers use the trains in Mumbai every day, just slightly less than the population of Switzerland and 5.5million use the buses, roughly the population of Denmark. This means that over 2.54bn people use the trains in Mumbai every year, roughly a third of the entire population of the world!


So who are the Dabbawalas? Well roughly translated it means box people, they transport home cooked food in dabbas ‘Indian style tiffin boxes’ from the homes of people who work in the city to their offices and back again. 


They transport over 400,000 dabbas a day and have over 200,000 customers. The Dabbawalas on the whole have very little formal education and they don’t use any form of telecommunication. Instead to ensure the right dabba gets to the right person they use a coding system on the lid of dabbas that tells the Dabbawalas everything they need to know from the home to the floor in the relevant office block.


The Dabbawalas have been going for 122 years, growing to a work force of over 5000 people and there has never been a strike in their history. They operate a very flat structure with their board being voted on by the whole workforce and all pay is equal. Also every Dabbawala is able to negotiate with their customer on the price point per delivery.


And here is the fact that have made them world famous. They have an error rate of 1 in 16million deliveries. This is classed as six sigma level, actually above!


I left my half day with them feeling utterly blown away by their organisation, professionalism and focus on service. Quite rightly Mumbai and India should be proud of them and I know that I got a chance to see something very special and truly unique.


I will finish with a quote from the President of the Dabbawalas Association Mr R Menge, which I felt summed up the attitude of all the Dabbawalas I met:


‘Work is worship , food is god. We deliver come what may, the customer will never go hungry’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.