Mumbai dabbawallas lecture at IIMs 


M Medge (right) of the tiffin carrier’s association who has been addressing management students and business conferences. Pic: Santosh Harhare

These management gurus wear dhotis, Gandhi topis and speak only a smattering of English while delivering lectures about efficiency to management students, corporate houses and business conferences.

They are Mumbai’s dabbawallas who speak from the heart about the trade they know best – carrying two lakh dabbas to the city’s office-goers.

Secretary of the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust Gangaram Talekar and M Medge, a tiffin carrier contractor — both essentially dabbawallas — have been delivering lectures at premier institutes like the IIMs, CII conferences, Symbiosis institutes, WTC, for the last six years.

“It started with the Confederation of Indian Industry inviting us for a lecture,” said Talekar. “Our connections are well-managed, which is what we talk about at the lectures. Without putting in any capital ourselves, we manage to achieve a difficult feat,” he added.

Around 5,000 dabbawallas work every day through a system of multiple relay to deliver tiffin boxes in an exercise that begins at 9 am and ends at 5 pm. The finely-tuned system earned them a Six Sigma rating from business magazine Forbes.

Points discussed by the two dabbawallas

* They rely on low capital and use cycles, wooden carriages and local trains to achieve their target.

* There are several groups that work independently and network with each other to achieve one goal.

* They meet once a month where all the groups gather and thrash out issues.

* There is no retirement age. People work as long as they want. to.

* Since their lifestyle is simple and involves a lot of physical exercise, they rarely suffer from illnesses.

* The dabbawallas have a credit society which gets them through money crunches.

* Being ‘annadattas’ they are automatically treated with respect.


Six Sigma rating

A few years ago, US business magazine Forbes gave Mumbai’s dabbawallas a Six Sigma performance rating, or a 99.999999 percentage of correctness — which means one error in six million transactions.

Six Sigma is a process that helps organisations focus on delivering near-perfect products and services. If you use Six Sigma you can measure how many defects there are in a process and can systematically figure out how to eliminate them and try and achieve zero-defect status.

How the dabba is delivered

* The first dabbawalla picks up the tiffin from home and takes it to the nearest railway station.

* The second dabbawalla sorts out the dabbas at the railway station according to destination and puts them in the luggage carriage.

* The third one travels with the dabbas to the railway stations nearest to the destinations.

* The fourth one picks up dabbas from the railway station and drops them of at the offices.

* The process is reversed in the evenings.