The word "Dabbawala" when literally translated means "One who carries a box". "Dabba" means a box (usually a cylindrical tin or aluminum container), while "Wala" is an agentive suffix, denoting a doer or holder of the preceding word. The closest meaning of the Dabbawala in English would be the "lunch box delivery man". Dabbawalla or Dabbawallah is a person in India, most commonly in Mumbai, who is part of a delivery system that collects hot food in lunch boxes from the residences of workers or caterers in the late morning, delivers the lunches to the workplace utilizing various modes of transport, predominantly bicycles and the Railway Trains, and returns the empty boxes to the customer's residence that afternoon. They are also made use of by prominent meal suppliers in Mumbai where they ferry ready, cooked meals from central kitchens to the customers and back.
Today the 5,000 Dabbawalas make about 200,000 lunch deliveries in the city and have become famous for their clockwork precision and efficiency. Reportedly their mistake rate is just 1 in 16 million deliveries, which caused the Forbes Global magazine to award its Six Sigma certification in 2001. According to Forbes the Dabbawalas work with 99.9 percent accuracy. But besides the accuracy rating, the Dabbawala supply-chain system has also attracted interests from global educational institutions and think tanks for its complexity.
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