A Day With The Dabbawallas!

For anyone who has ever been to Mumbai, the Dabbawallas are a special class of people who everyone knows! For the uninitiated though - Who is a Dabbawalla?

The word "dabbawala" in Hindi when literally translated, means "one who carries a box". "Dabba" means a box (usually a cylindrical tin or aluminium container). The closest meaning of the dabbawala in English would be the "lunch box delivery man"

So, what is the big deal about a Dabbawala, you ask?

Dabbawala Challenge

Well, take a deep breath and digest this:

Each day throughout the city of Mumbai, 5,000 of the dabbawalas deliver some 130,000 dabbas to offices throughout the metropolis. In the nearly 120 years of this service, the dabbawalas' approach has remained consistent: a semiliterate workforce (the dabbawalas) pick up the filled dabbas from the households that prepare them and deliver the boxes to the requisite offices; they then retrieve the empty dabbas from these delivery points and returned them to the originating households, in order to begin the process again the next day. Roughly 260,000 transactions are completed within 6 hours each day, 6 days a week, 51 weeks a year, and operating at a quality level comparable to Six Sigma processes. Moreover, this operational excellence is accomplished in the absence of technology, such as computers or even cell phones.

Quite understandably, in recent years, the dabbawala system has begun to generate worldwide news - and motivated a plethora of books, TV documentaries, and articles. For someone who immerses himself into understanding this system, the learning is not just around the obvious "supply chain efficiency," or "reverse logistics". The dabbawalas' organization, that provides lifetime financial welfare and support for all members, determinesits own policies about hiring, logistics, customer acquisition/retention, pricing, and conflict resolution - are all facets that deeply fascinate.

No wonder then, that when the worldwide head of a leading MNC wanted to conduct his leadership mentoring session in Mumbai, and contacted us to stage an experience where the mentees could pick up some learning from the environment, FocusU put together for them a bespoke experience - The Dabbawalla Challenge!

The challenge was setup in a manner that all the leaders, working in smaller teams - had to experience the complete daily routine of a dabbawala - starting from the pickup of the dabbas, the complex sorting processes, the unbelievable agility with which the dabbas were herded through crowded Mumbai local trains, the sorting again at the delivery points & till the final delivery to the customer. But that was not all - the leaders also got time to interact with the leaders of the dabbawala organization, the end customers and other stakeholders.

Each team was further guided by the FocusU team, in creating small documentaries - each of which encapsulated the learning the team took back and the leadership perspective they bought in by taking in the whole experience. We share one such documentary here:

Stories - like the remarkable one that the Dabbawalas have, inspire teams to relook at their own paradigms with fresh new eyes.

Do you want to put your team through their own Dabbawala experience? Contact us today.

Download The Dabbawala Challenge One Pager