“The Magic of Dabbawalas” – An interaction with Dr. Pawan Agarwal

The Mumbai Dabbawala is a 118 years old organization. It is engaged in the business of delivering ‘home made’ food to the working professionals at their respective offices. The persistent issues related to over-crowded traffic and long distances in Mumbai are a big problem for working people.

The Dabbawalas employed in this unique industry carry the lunch boxes (Dabba) from the working professional’s home to their respective office places through various modes of transport with utmost Sense of punctuality. This is a huge industry in this fourth most populous city of the world and the Dabbawalas are known for their sheer sense of punctuality, discipline and trustworthiness. Moreover, the facility of availing freshly cooked homemade food for lunch at office place is another major factor that has taken this business to newer heights on international level.

Dr. Pawan Agarwal (M. Com., B.Ed., LLB, ACS and Ph.D.), Mumbai Dabbawala authorized speaker/presenter attended a seminar at MARC School of Business and made a passionate and highly informative presentation to the students and

Dr. Pawan Agarwal, Mumbai Dabbawala authorized speaker/presenter attended a seminar at MARC School of Business

Dr. Pawan Agarwal, Mumbai Dabbawala authorized speaker/presenter attended a seminar at MARC School of Business

faculty. He explained how the famed Dabbawalas with a strength of 5000 men , mostly illiterate people, deliver and take back nearly 200,000 lunch boxes each day at Mumbai with an accuracy of less than one mistake in 6 million deliveries , which earned them the coveted ‘six sigma ‘certification and caught international attention. With zero attrition rate and highest customer satisfaction, Dabbawalas have become a live case study in many international B-schools.

Mahatma Gandhi’s exhortation that “Customer is the King, Serve him” is the guiding spirit of the Dabbawalas”, said Dr. Agarwal. He reminisced how even England’s Prince Charles’ meeting with Dabbawalas had to be scheduled during their meager spare time in front of Church gate Station and Virgin Airlines chairman Sir Richard Branson had to travel with them in the luggage compartment of Mumbai local train to be with them, so that customer deliveries are not affected !

In this organization, everyone who works is equal. Regardless of Dabbawala’s function, everyone gets paid about two to four thousand rupees per month (around 25-50 British pounds or 40-80 US dollars).

Between 175,000 or 200,000 lunches get moved every day by an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 Dabbawalas, all with an extremely small nominal fee and with utmost punctuality. Most remarkably in the eyes of many people from the West, the success of the Dabbawala trade has involved no Western modern high technology. The main reason for their popularity could be the Indian people’s aversion to Western style fast food outlets and their love of home-made food.

The New York Times reported in 2007 that the 125 year old Dabbawala industry continues to grow at a rate of 5-10% per year. Dabbawalas have become an example of hard work, time management, supply chain management success , team work and simple management skills , so much so that now they are invited to deliver lectures to India’s top management colleges like IIMs and even to foreign universities.

Dabbawalas are integral part of Mumbai and every day they may be seen rushing to ensure on time delivery of lunch boxes, so they are a common sight on the streets of Mumbai. Out of 5000 Dabbawalas, about 85% are illiterate and the remaining 15% are educated up to 8th grade. However by working for past 116 years will full dedication, time management, no strike gathering experience in logistics – Mumbai Dabbawalas have created a place of their own in the world of business. Six Sigma, ISO and many other certifications awarded to this organization by external agencies further confirm the high quality of work being done by the Mumbai Dabbawalas. The nuances of delivering a simple lunch in the Mumbai Dabbawala way has proved to be an innovative learning experience for final year business school graduates aspiring for top posts in corporate set-ups with fat salary packages. For the students of MARC it was a great learning experience. They listened with rapt attention when

Pawan Agarwal elaborated the ideals of passion, teamwork, dedication and hard work and participated enthusiastically in the interactive session that followed. Mr. U K Sharma, Director of MARC felt that presentations on success stories like Dabbawalas help in instilling the right values of passion, hard work and customer orientation among the students and hoped that it will motivate them to replicate such systems in business and industry.

About Dr. Pawan Agarwal

Dr. Pawan Agarwal is the Owner at Mumbai Dabbawala Education Centre.

Dr. Pawan (M.Com. Bed. LLB. ACS., PhD.), is Mumbai Dabbawala authorised English speaker/presenter. He has made more than 200 presentations across various corporate in Indian and abroad. Also presentations were made to various Universities, NGOs, YPO & YEO member organisations (Young President Organisation & Young Entrepreneur organisation). In the year 2001, while he was pursuing his Doctorate for the topic “A Study & Logistics & Supply Chain Management of Dabbawala in Mumbai”, he had approached the Dabbawala’s (Mr. Raghunath and Mr. Gangaram).

Dr. Pawan has been involved in the world of Dabbawalas ever since and works on an honorary basis to make presentations. He has been authorized by Dabbawalas to present their work in front of the audiences in English.

 Get connected to him here on Linkedin.

Read more about Dabbawala here.

Watch his exclusive TALK on TEDxSSN here.


MARC Business School is India’s First & only Business School to offer Company Linked MBA program which works on company/industry recommended skills. Recently, MARC has been ranked 2nd In India (New Generation B-Schools Category)To know more about MARC B School, visit our website http://www.marcbschool.com/ or like us on Facebook


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