Moving Lunches Through Mumbai

Idris Mootee is educating us on India’s dabbawalas, or box persons. In Mumbai dabbawalas collect freshly cooked food in lunch boxes and deliver them to the workplace.

The Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association is a streamlined 120-year-old organization with 4,500 semi-literate members providing a quality door-to-door service to a large and loyal customer base. It is probably one of the best ran organization in India with sophisticated logistics management. It works like this. After the customer leaves for work, his/her lunch is packed into a tiffin provided by the dabbawala. A color-coded notation on the handle identifies its owner and destination. Once the dabbawala has picked up the tiffin, he moves fast using a combination of bicycles, trains and his two feet. In the dabbawalas’ elegant logistics system, using 25 kms of public transport, 10 km of footwork involving multiple transfer points, mistakes rarely happen.
I wish there are service like that in America. Most of our modern B-school education is about analytic models, technology and optimization, the dabbawalas, by contrast, focus more on “human and social ingenuity”.

What might modern day communications professionals learn from this, if anything? How about this–information moves through a network even faster and more efficiently than box lunches through Mumbai. Now, if I just knew the significance of that finding. Oh well, why sweat it? Ken Kesey said, “The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.”



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.