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Press Release

Contact:
Teresa S. Thomas
412-268-2900

For immediate release:
September 24, 2003

Carnegie Mellon Professor Produces Documentary About the Dabbawallas of Mumbai, India

PITTSBURGH—Every day 4,000 dabbawallas pick up more than 100,000 lunches at homes in Mumbai, India, and deliver the lunches to their places of work. The "dabbawallas" (or "box people") sort the lunches multiple times and transport them by bicycle, cart and train. Paul S. Goodman of Carnegie Mellon University captures this more than 100-year-old work system in his documentary, "Dabbawallas."

Goodman, the Richard M. Cyert Professor of Organizational Psychology at Carnegie Mellon's Graduate School of Industrial Administration, was astonished to learn just how efficient and reliable their operation is without the help of any of today's technological or business tools.

"They have developed an extremely complex and highly reliable system of work with none of the technology or practices that the industrial world thinks is necessary. It is a compelling example of what we in developed countries can learn from other countries," said Goodman.

Making the dabbawallas' success even more impressive is the fact that Mumbai, India, formerly Bombay, is continually growing and becoming more congested. The complicated network of streets and look-a-like buildings makes it difficult for the city's more than 16 million residents to get around. Yet the dabbawallas deliver lunches to the right person at the right time 96 percent of the time.

The dabbawallas have mastered their city and their business. They provide an inexpensive yet invaluable service to the Indian people for about 180 rupees or $4 per month. Many workers in India choose to comply with strict dietary guidelines dictated by their religion. Because the dietary guidelines are critical, Mumbai's workers trust only those they know to prepare the food they eat. Others cannot afford to purchase a lunch, and most couldn't carry a lunch if they wanted to because the commuter trains are so crowded there is no room to carry anything at all.

The dabbawallas' delivery and pickup process mirrors what companies such as Federal Express strive for each day. However, the dabbawallas complete their work without computers, information technology or any current business practices. As the film unfolds, the viewer is exposed to unique forms of human and social ingenuity, set in the streets of Bombay. "They provide a different picture — a complicated system of working built around human ingenuity and supportive social arrangements that has long been absent from U.S. industry," said Goodman.

Goodman has been researching people at work for more than 30 years. He has made numerous educational videos about such groups as string quartets, steelworkers, nurses and lobstermen in Maine. Goodman worked with an Indian producer, film crew and composer to produce "Dabbawallas." It took two years to produce. For more information on the documentary, contact Paul Goodman at 412-268-2288 or pgoodman@cmu.edu.

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