How a grassroots organization in India got a six-sigma certification

Prince Charles once wanted to meet the Mumbai dabbawalas,so he did–on a footpath.
The dabbawalas are a tiffin delivery service.They collect homemade food from houses and deliver it to the offices at lunchtime.But here’s a catch,they do not use any kind of fuel or modern technology.An organisation where average literacy standards of workers is grade 8 and probably only 15 % might have attended senior secondary school,the story of mumbai dabbawalas started more than 130 years ago.

Mumbai,then known as Bombay, took shape in the 19th century. During the latter half of this century, Bombay was a centre of cotton trade especially during the American Civil War and that created a pool of wealth among Indians. Much of this money was channelled into rebuilding the core of this city.
An increasing number of migrants had started to move to Bombay from different parts of the country. They belonged to different communities, and had different tastes that could only be satisfied by their own home-cooked meals. So, in 1890, Mahadeo Havaji Bachche started a lunch delivery service in Bombay with about a hundred men,and The dabbawalas were born.Unlike most other companies in the same field , dabbawalas have a very straight forward mission–To provide healthy homemade food to people.

Everyone in the organisation earns the same salary regardless of his job role i.e. approximately INR 12,000 per month.Currently, a minimum of 5,000 dabbawalas are involved in the business.Most of the dabbawalas come from the Varkari community of Maharashtra. They worship lord vitthal and therefore find their jobs of feeding people very spiritually fulfilling. They live simple lives,most of them reside in the slums of mumbai.

The Dabbawala got Six Sigma Certified, which means, error ratio is 1 in 16 million i.e. 1 mistake in 1,60,00,000 tiffin. In 1998, Forbes Global magazine conducted a quality assurance study on operation of dabbawala and gave a six sigma efficiency rating of 99.999999.

Here is how they operate:
The food dabbas that they carry have a shelf life of 4 -5 hours. The total delivery time is 6 hours – 3 hours from house to office and 3 hours from office to house.Each box shifts hands in transit 6 times and same in return as an empty tiffin. On a daily basis one worker covers a distance of 60 – 70 km. Since most of the dabbawalas are not educated,they use a simple code system.The dabbas are first collected from the homes of the costumes mostly on bicycles.The dabbawala then takes them to a sorting place, where he and other collecting dabbawalas sort the lunch boxes into groups. The gathered boxes are put within the coaches of trains, with markings to recognize the destination of the box . The markings incorporate the railroad station to empty the boxes and the destination building delivery address. At each station, boxes are given over to a neighborhood dabbawala, who delivers them. The purge boxes are collected after lunch or the another day and sent back to the individual houses. Speed and accuracy taking care of the boxes, timely conveyance to the correct proprietor makes a difference them keep up their benefit quality

The dabbawalas even deliver in the pouring rain or during political strikes.They have become the symbol of discipline in mumbai.However the pandemic has proved damaging for them. With no one needing their services anymore ,the dabbawalas have returned to their village.

I hope to see the annadaatas of mumbai again soon, laughing and chattering by the footpath before getting into a hurried segregation and loading of tiffins onto the bicycles.

Categories: Entrepreneurship

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