Oct. 18, 2010-University Lecture Series - Carnegie Mellon University

Dabbawallas

Paul Goodman, Monday, October 18, 2010

4:30pm, Porter Hall 100 (Gregg Hall)

Paul Goodman, is professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business.

photo Paul Goodman

Throughout the world, work is a central part of our lives.  This documentary captures an unusual form of work in India. Each day in Mumbai (Bombay), India, a city of more than 16 million, people called Dabbawallas move lunches from peoples’ homes to their work places. Dabba means box, and walla means person. The metal box holds the freshly made lunch from home.

This process is very complicated and large in scale. More than 100,000 lunches get moved every day by about 4,000 Dabbawallas. The lunch boxes are picked up at the homes and brought to a first sorting place. Then, they are moved to another location – often by train – and resorted.  After a series of moves and sortings, the boxes eventually reach the customers.  All these occur in the morning – sometime between 8:30 and 1:00.  Then the process is reversed. The boxes are picked up in the places of work and eventually brought home -- one million deliveries a week at 98% reliability.

The striking feature of this process of collecting, sorting, and delivery is that it is as complicated as what we see being done on a daily basis by companies like Federal Express, but this process operates with no computers, technology, or modern-day business procedures. The interesting questions are:  How does this large scale and complicated sorting and delivery process work?  Why has it persisted for more than 100 years? The underlying themes of the film are the reliance upon human and social ingenuity for organizing rather than relying on external mechanisms such as technology, and what we can learn from this work in India that might inform our lives.

In conjunction with the India Today: Economics, Technology and People weekend course.