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The magical Mumbai Dabbawalas in Jaipuria Lucknow

Write up courtesy: Nikita Srivastava amd Pallavi Tiwari
Photography courtesy: Priyanka Ahuja and Deepesh Singh Bisht

“They are uneducated, but they are well versed in their job. They are carrying forward a 125 year old system!” Mr. Pawan G. Agarwal, Director Mumbai Dabbawala Education Centre, explained with a smile. He was talking about managing and coordinating the large fleet of dabbawalas in Mumbai. He adds, “For them, work is worship. They are punctual and self-motivated; hence, the job of managing them becomes trouble free”. The interaction took place on the 20th of September, 2014 at Jaipuria Institute of Management, Lucknow. Mr. Agarwal is hailed as a management guru and international motivational speaker. He has shared his immense insights into supply chain management on various platforms. The session at Jaipuria Lucknow was conducted by CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) and YI (Young Indians). Mr.Pawan G. Agarwal was joined on stage by Mr. Kunwar Himmat Singh (Associate Vice President- Nestle India Limited), Mr. Gaurav Prakash (Chair, Yi Lucknow Chapter), Mr.Divij Narain (Co-chair, Yi Lucknow Chapter and Director Speed Motors Pvt. Ltd), Mr.Alok Shukla (Deputy Director, CII, UP State Office) and Dr. Pankaj Gupta (Director General, Jaipuria Institute of Management, Lucknow).

The session began with the guests lighting the ceremonial lamp, invoking Ma Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning. Mr.Vipul V. Gaur, Chair Yi Yuva, Lucknow Chapter, delivered the opening address and invited Jaipuria students to learn from the experienced and knowledgeable guest speaker.

Dabbawala is a person in India, most commonly found in the city of Mumbai, who is employed in a unique service industry. His primary 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.The Dabbawalas scripted their own history by a showcase of excellence in customer service for 125 years. They have garnered a lot of global attention from noted personalities, such as Prince Charles and Richard Branson, earned Six Sigma and ISO certification, and, in the process, have become a case study at Harvard Business School.

The Dabbawala Foundation and the Happy Life Welfare Society have now jointly launched a campaign, ‘Share My Dabba’, an initiative to get food left over in dabbas to hungry street children, using just a tiny ‘share sticker’ and the extensive dabbawalanetwork. Every day, 200 thousand children on Mumbai’s streets remain hungry, and every day, 2 of them die of hunger. The Mumbai Dabbawalas deliver 120 tons of food everyday out of which 16 tons is left uneaten. Explaining the initiative, Mr. Agarwal said, “This is where the initiative kicks in. We have distributed a set of stickers that reads ‘share’, with our customers who can stick it on their uneaten dabbas which will then be sorted and shared with the needy.”

Apart from the complicated logistics of delivering dabbas, Mumbai as a city brings with it several challenges like monsoons and public transport. “The dabbawalas”, says Mr. Agarwal, “face every challenge with commitment and enthusiasm. We have a strong determination and for us the ‘Customer is God’, so we try our best to make them happy. Degrees and knowledge are secondary but working passionately is important. Very important. We are not working for Six Sigma but for customer satisfaction. Our main mode of transportation is local trains and still our service remains uninterrupted throughout the year. ” Mr. Agarwal concluded the session with a remarkable suggestion: “Honesty, loving, caring, and being truthful are the qualities not only of a Dabbawalas, but those that should also be practiced by others.”

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