More Than Just Lunch


If you’re an office worker in Mumbai and you crave fresh, home-cooked food for lunch, you need only call a dabbawala.  These workers pick up, transport, and deliver lunches from home to office using a complex but incredibly accurate system.  Mumbai’s dabbawalas have received a lot of attention (for instance, see this recent article in the New York Times), and justifiably so—their ability to deliver lunches on time around a city filled with traffic while making almost no mistakes is an incredible story.  A business school case study has even been written about their service. 

This week, the Hindustan Times ran a front-page article on financial institutions that are using dabbawalas and postal carriers to reach people who don’t have ready access to banking services.  The banks are taking advantage of the daily contact these workers have with residents around Mumbai, and are even employing technologies such as electronic passbooks and hand-held devices that recognize customers’ thumbprints.  This is a great example of businesses innovating to find ways to reach the poor with valuable services.  The dabbawalas’ own website,, includes examples of how other businesses such as cell phone service providers are using the dabbawala logistical network in Mumbai to reach new customers. 

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