Dabbawalas (dabba=container, wala=man - also called Tiffinwalas) are people who are in the business of picking up and delivering lunches to workplaces in Mumbai. Office-goers in Mumbai have long commutes and normally leave too early in the morning to carry lunch. At a mere Rs. 300 a month, a dabbawala picks up a packed lunch from the client's home every morning, and transports it to the workplace. In the afternoon, the reverse process takes place. This complex delivery mechanism employs about 5000 dabbawalas delivering 200,000 lunches every day with a coding system to minimise errors. That's approximately 40 containers per dabbawala. The error factor is 1 in 16 million transactions.
It's this high level of efficiency in a highly specialized trade that has earned dabbawalas a Six Sigma Certification from the Forbes group. The processes have also garnered interest in business schools and organizations both in India and abroad. The story goes that when Prince Charles and Richard Branson wanted to observe the process, they had to align their schedules to that of the dabbawalas. At the end of the day, the dabbawala is a triumph of the entrepreneurial spirit. Not bad for an organization where 16% of its members are totally illiterate and only 5% are educated above the SSC level.
Source for numbers data: http://mumbaidabbawala.org/
An edited version of the article was published in Culturama's July 2012 Issue.