A Dabbawala is a term used for a person in India, commonly found in the city of Mumbai, who is employed in a unique service industry whose principal business is collecting freshly cooked food in lunch boxes from the residences of the office workers, delivering it to their respective workplaces and returning the empty boxes back to the customer’s residence by using various modes of transport.
Most of their employees are illiterate and the last major upgrade this 125 year old organization made to its delivery chain was the bicycle. So far the dabbawalas deliver and return 150,000 dabbas (boxes), or tiffins, every day. As per the Forbes magazine, they have a 6 sigma rating of 99.9999, which means less than one out of every six million deliveries goes amiss.
Their business model revolves around strong teamwork and strict time-management. At 9am every morning, home-made meals are picked up in special boxes, which are loaded onto trolleys and pushed to a railway station. They then make their way by train to an unloading station. The dabbawalas, who all receive the same pay, are also seen as paragons of “bottom up” social entrepreneurship.
Harvard Business School has produced a case study of the dabbawalas, urging its students to learn from the organization, which relies entirely on human endeavor and employs no technology.