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"Share My Dabba (lunchbox)" - How a Small Sticker Can Make a Big Difference

Mumbai's legendary lunchbox delivery network now lets people share leftover food with the poor by placing a "Share" sticker on the lunchbox.

Photo of Sharon DCosta
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The Dabbawalas of Mumbai are known for running a unique, highly efficient logistics system of delivering home cooked food on the dot to office goers, students, etc. for over a century. Mumbai’s 5,000-odd 'dabbawalas' (lunchbox delivery men) deliver nearly 200,000 lunches everyday and on time. They then collect the boxes and deliver them back home.
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Approximately 200,000 children on Mumbai’s streets are hungry and 2 children die of hunger each day. The Mumbai Dabbawala network delivers 120 tons of food everyday out of which 16 tons is left uneaten.

Their "Share My Dabba" initiative works to deliver leftover food from people's lunchboxes to hungry street children, using just a tiny Share sticker and the already established, extensive dabbawala network. 

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The customer only has to paste a tiny “Share” sticker on the lunchbox, to help them sort the boxes that have leftover food and then distribute this food to hungry children on the streets on the way back. 

The initiative is a joint effort between Happy Life Welfare Society and The Dabbawala Foundation.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Uneaten food from people's lunchboxes often gets thrown in the trash. This system utilizes an already existing, widespread network to deliver excess food to the very poor, who cannot afford their basic meals. This way, food wastage is reduced, and the poor are fed. With minimum incremental effort.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a marketer, entrepreneur and social entrepreneurship enthusiast. Poverty alleviation is one of the causes I care about. I have an academic background in business design.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Amruta Byatnal

Hi Sharon DCosta , 
I know this idea seems interesting, and it looks like it's providing an easy solution to a problem that we know  exists in a huge magnitude especially in India. I came across an article ( that was skeptical toward it and it seems like the main issues with it are:
1. The video was launched in 2013 but it initiative hasn't moved forward.
2. Operationally, it seems impossible knowing how the Dabbawallas work: how do you separate the ones who want to share and the ones who don't, how do you account for diet preferences among the poor, who decides what food is worth sharing? : if a lunch box has just half a chapati and no curry, but its still being tagged for share without any overseeing authority, does it matter?
3. Another issue for me was also the hygiene aspect: how will Happy Life Welfare Society and the Dabbawalla foundation ensure this? It's one thing for uncooked/uneaten bulk food to be shared with the poor (from restaurants or weddings) - but how hygienic is it to share food that's already been on a plate?

I know no idea is perfect, and this is me playing devil's advocate. Happy to start a conversation over this!


Photo of Sharon DCosta

Hi Amruta,
Those are some valuable insights there. It is important to critically analyze an idea to be able to improve it.
I agree, the program is not without its flaws, but I felt it was worth a share since it is an innovative concept to start with, and may inspire new / improved ideas around excess food sharing, through design thinking.
I agree with you about diet preferences and food quality being causes for concern. It seems like the program might be based on a few assumptions that may or may not hold water:
-1. that food preferences might not be a major concern among people who are otherwise starving. (I know this can be a cultural issue especially in India)
-2. It relies upon the sensibility of the public to not donate food that is contaminated.
I honestly haven’t examined in depth how the actual execution was done (did they check the lunchboxes, or sort the food before distributing?) and the reception it got from the poor. But it will definitely be useful to go back and look at that.
Overall, the initiative was well-intended and much needed. Hopefully they'll be able to fine tune it and pick it back up.
Thanks for sharing. :)

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