My Ministers of Design Blog Post
Mumbai is a city of gross disparities, a monolith of have and have nots, where the chasm between the rich and the poor is more like an uncrossable abyss than a gap, with over 8 million of its dwellers living in slums. The growing income disparity is a sweeping trend that has, sadly, become all too prevalent in an increasingly globalized world, driving a wedge between the rich and the poor, who are having a hard time accessing even the most basic of social services. As the Share My Dabba video shows, every day 1.6 million people in Mumbai have food in their dabba, while 200,000 children go starving. The Happy Life Welfare Society, an Indian NGO, decided to do something about this, having worked on previous campaigns like Spread Some Warmth and Share Your Wealth.
Advertising agency McCann came on board to help the NGO figure out the strategy and came up with the “share” sticker. Whoever wanted to share his/her lunch put a sticker on the dabba. Next, however, came the more difficult step–how to collect the food and distribute it to the children without disrupting the to-the-minute-precision of the daballawah system, a Forbes Six Sigma certified system for its accuracy and a Harvard Business School case study. Every day, 5000 Dabbawalas deliver 200,000 boxes per day using only bicycles, relying on a complex series of collection zones, sorting points, and delivery zones, supported only by a manual coding system.
So as not to disturb the intricate time balance of the system, volunteers gathered at the point where dabbawallahs assemble after having collected the tiffin boxes after lunch; there, they initially used to empty the food from the containers into plastic bags and plates and give it to the children. But a much better system was devised–The Happy Life Welfare Society went to the slums and told kids and their families about the distribution point so, now, they just come there with their own utensils and are served food directly from the dabbas. All of this has to work with clockwork precision as there can be no delay in the dabawallah system–so the whole process is completed in 15 minutes.
The lesson that The Happy Life Welfare Society also learned is the importance of actually talking to people to get one’s message across, i.e. literally the legwork. To accomplish the involved planning needed for the success of this operation, volunteers had to talk to shopkeepers, workers, and office goers to make them want to share the dabba and involve them in the process, as well as the children living in the slums and their families. It would be impossible to introduce the system into a new part of the city without that educational campaign, states Kanupriya Singh, the Vice President of The Happy Life Welfare Society. There was a PR challenge from another avenue as well–addressing the critics who took umbrage to children eating messy leftovers, so the people sharing their dabbas had to also be encouraged and educated on only sharing clean food.
Share My Dabba is an excellent example of the wonderful confluence that happens when the message aligns with the successful execution of the thought behind it. A minimalistic approach lends itself well to snappy branding and messaging, but the importance of some good ol’-fashioned talking to people is also clearly underscored in this example.