Dabbawallah Distribution Sytem

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  • Topic: Dabbawala, Tiffin, Lunch box
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DABBAWALAS OF
MUMBAI
DABBAWALAS OF MUMBAI

WHITE PAPER PREPARED BY MBA STUDENTS
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA’S
KENAN-FLAGLER BUSINESS SCHOOL
AT THE

Authors
Nishesh Patel (EMBA 2006)
Naveen Vedula (EMBA 2006)

Abstract

Despite the current emphasis on high technology for solving complex business logistics issues, a group of largely illiterate Indian entrepreneurs known as dabbawalas has been coordinating the delivery of home-cooked lunches to thousands of Indian office workers for over a century. Using Six Sigma principles to improve their operations, the dabbawalas have capitalized on the high demand among Indians in Mumbai for food prepared in their home villages. Originated under British colonial rule, the dabbawala system of food delivery uses a hub-and-spoke system of foot, bicycle, handcart, and trainbased transport linking local village kitchens to urban consumers in metropolitan Mumbai. For an up-front investment of roughly 5,000 Rupees, a dabbawala can earn an average of 5,000-6,000 Rupees per month. Each dabbawala donates a portion of his earnings to their member association, which invests the funds in community projects and low-interest loans. Known for its ingenious use of simple symbols to coordinate thousands of daily deliveries, the dabba system represents a classic example of using a base-of-thepyramid approach to benefit low-income workers and high-income earners alike.

Publication Date
2006
©2006 Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA. Reprinted by permission. Available online at www.cse.unc.edu. This white paper was prepared by Executive MBA students for class MBA251B Sustainable Enterprise, taught by professors Albert H. Segars and James H. Johnson. It is reprinted for educational purposes. Citations and source accuracy have been reviewed, but cannot be guaranteed; clarifications or comments may be directed to cse@unc.edu.

W06-001

Keywords:
Dabbawala, India, food, Mumbai, Six
Sigma, hub and spoke, mukadams,
entrepreneur, logistics, HIV/AIDS,
vegetarian meals, Indians, base of the
pyramid, emerging economy

DABBAWALAS OF MUMBAI

Table of Contents
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.

Introduction
How It Works
Organization Structure
Sustainable Enterprise
Critical Success Factors
Challenges
Conclusions

References
Appendix
Exhibit 1 - Organizational Structure
Exhibit 2 - The Process
Exhibit 3 - The Map of India
Exhibit 4 - Map of Suburban Railway Network in Mumbai
Exhibit 5 – Markings of a Dabba
Exhibit 6 – Base of Pyramid
Exhibit 7 – Dabbawala on the TV show ‘Deal or No Deal’ Exhibit 8 – Salute to the Dabbawala

1. Introduction
A dabbawala is a person in Mumbai, India, whose job is carrying and delivering freshly-made food from home in lunch boxes to office workers. They are formally known as MTBSA (Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association), but most people refer to them as the dabbawalas. The dabbawalas originated when India was under British rule. Since many British people who came to India did not like the local food, a service was set up to bring lunch to their offices straight from their home. The 100-odd dabbas (or lunch boxes) of those days were carried around in horse-drawn trams and delivered in the Fort area, which housed important offices. Today, businessmen in modern Mumbai use this service and have become the main customers of the dabbawalas. In fact, the 5,000-strong workforce (there are a handful of women) is so well-known that Prince Charles paid them a visit during his recent trip to India. Several academic institutions regularly invite the dabbawalas’ representatives for discussion, and to complement and enhance their academic content. At times, businesses find it useful to illustrate the application of how such a system uses Six Sigma principles to improve its operations.

The main reason people use the service of the dabbawalas is to eat a proper, home-prepared meal during lunch. Office-goers in...
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