Dabbawala Service Organization – Term Paper

2.5.1 Dabbawala Organizational Structure

The Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association has been in existence for over 125 years and represents one of the most efficient supply chains. It is composed of approximately 5000 workers arranged into a three-tiered organization. The first tier is the governing council made up of the president, vice-president, general secretary, nine directors, and the treasurer. The second tier is composed of the Mukadams who are line supervisors, while the third tier is made up of the dabbawalas doing the actual delivery work (Roncaglia et al., 2013, p.88). MTBSA is also the only organization responsible for regulating the dabbawalas and solving disputes among themselves or clients. 

The MTBSA has an executive committee composed of thirteen permanent members at its highest level. The committee’s duties include defining and calibrating the overall dabba supply chain system in Mumbai.  The second organizational tier is composed of approximately 800 Mukadams who are the group leaders in charge of about ten to fifteen dabbawalas (Roncaglia et al., 2013, p.89). The last tier is made up of the dabbawalas themselves who are also members of the organization. 

a.The Dabbawala Executive Committee

The highest tier of operations in the MTBSA is the executive committee made up of thirteen members. This committee is elected every five years and is made up of the president, vice-president, secretary general, treasurer, and regional directors (Roncaglia et al., 2013, p.88). The committee meets every month to confer on any problems related to their service delivery or the organizational line of operations. Important to note is that all of these members still remain dabbawalas as their salary comes from their distribution work rather than their status as committee members. 

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The president is one of the pillars of the MTBSA as he is elected based on the ability to transmit a vision of shared values in addition to excellent communication skills. The president is responsible for chairing monthly meetings in the organization where they review the association’s accounts and resolve disputes between members (Roncaglia et al., 2013). While the dabbawala sense of community comes from the shared cultural background of the dabbas, it is also due to the awareness that each employee’s contribution is part of an important process that generates meaning for both the dabbawalas and their clients. The maintenance of this awareness is the responsibility of the executive committee, in particular, the president. Raghunath Medge, the current president of the MBTSA, exploited these shared cultural values to leverage the dabbawala’s conceptual models. i.e. the figures and images that influence how a dabbawala interprets the world and consequently, how they act to achieve a mutual objective between the members. However, this does not mean that there are no conflicts among different groups, but these variances always work out for a common purpose. Social interactions between the MTBSA members are based on a corporate culture that utilizes a policy of emotion management, which enables the creation of a shared work ethic. This is especially useful for migrants as it helps them relieve moments of loneliness through sharing free Sundays, holidays, and even sorrowful events. As President Medge explains, to be chosen as president requires one to have experience as a dabbawala so that they are aware of the problems that may arise during the delivery of tiffin boxes (Roncaglia et al., 2013). The main considerations when choosing a president are his strength (for carrying tiffin boxes), his knowledge of the region, his intelligence, the bonds with other dabbawalas, and his interaction techniques (Roncaglia et al., 2013, p.90). Therefore, the main attributes required for the president is to demonstrate good leadership skills in such a way that he can effectively control the whole group. 

c.General Secretary

The General Secretary is usually a senior dabbawala who is promoted from a director. In the MTBSA, when a dabbawala can no longer do heavy work or become older, they are promoted to become directors, which ensures that the older people are well taken care of. The dabbawala General Secretary has the role of collecting trust fees from new and existing members, which help in paying everyone’s wages. He/she is also responsible for drafting the official correspondence for the organization. Similar to the other directors, the general secretary’s term is valid for five years after which a new secretary is chosen. 


The dabbawala organization has directors for each area of Mumbai that they serve. These areas are defined in relation to nearby railway stations as the directors need to coordinate both with the dabbawalas and with each other to ensure that no problems occur during the food distribution process (Roncaglia et al., 2013). Due to this reason, the directors do not have offices but instead operate from the trains, station platforms, and other dabba handover stations where issues may arise. The directors are appointed based on their skills or seniority since the actual delivery work is manual work and very tiring. The directors must also have good human resource management skills which are present in their vision of their work groups as a real family that subscribes to the organization’s values. 


The Mukadams represent the second tier of dabbawala operations. A muqaddam is the team leader for a group of dabbawalas. He is usually and an older member and is responsible for supervising the members of his group as far as the final tiffin delivery (Roncaglia et al., 2013). The muqaddams are the ones responsible for the recruitment of new members, assessing their suitability through considering their shared origins with other dabbawalas and their reputation (Thomke et al., 2012). A muqaddam also manages the relations between the dabbawalas and their clients making the initial agreements for deliveries and managing the monthly subscriptions. As seen from the process flow logic in the figure below, the delivery system relies on a code that the muqaddams enforce as well as resolving disputes between different dabbawala groups while continually searching for ways to improve his group’s competitiveness to increase their earnings. 


The members are trained in various roles in the supply chain such as the Tiffin markings, keeping track of customer relations, marketing, and delivering tiffin boxes to their owners and back to their homes.