Hey – Share my Dabba, will you?!

Back in 2010, seemingly bored with lack of things to like on Facebook (no sarcasm there!) and with restless energy abound, I used to volunteer with non-profits on the weekends. More than a feel-good feeling, there was this sense of working on real problems within constraints and trying to come up with effective solutions which could help make us some headway, regardless of the constraints.

Restlessness was such that one time even when I was working full time with an NGO back in 2010, India Sponsor Foundation (ISF) – a Mother NGO funding grassroot NGOs, I also got ‘volunteering’ (Saturdays) with 1 of the 7 Partner organizations we were then funding. Now when I look back at it, it was like 5 days of work which I was committed to do, and then volunteering to put in a few more hours on the weekend with the 1 organization where I saw greater potential for change (compared to the other NGOs whom we were funding) – Thankfully they worked on Saturdays too and were able to accommodate me.

Later when I moved on from the NGO, I moved on from volunteering at the partner organization too.
Back on Facebook and spending countless productive hours surfing the pages (no sarcasm again!), I was introduced to an initiative where a group of young guys would gather together at one place, get good fresh food in bulk from one of the nearby Dhabas and then share the food with the less privileged. This sounded cool, and I decided to join in for the same.

Given the initiative aimed to share food including Khamiri Roti and Mutton Korma, it was sure to be the ‘One great meal’ of the week for the guys whom the initiative aimed to provide for. The initiative was not targeting the same people again and again, and was open to anyone (kids, women, men – young/old/differently abled) who did not have access to such food, but happened to be in the vicinity on that day.

We did this for a few weeks, and later when I happened to meet Mrs. Lekha Srivastava, Exec Director, ISF around that time, I mentioned that there was this initiative being undertaken by a few guys where we bought food in bulk and then gave it away. The first question she asked me was “Why are you paying for this? You should be tying up with the eateries so that you can help route/ distribute the excess food which remains, to the needy!”

For some reason, the question stayed with me, and the point came up repeatedly if and when I would be catching up with someone in the Hospitality industry, and the topic of excess food came up. Some of the points which came up from such discussions:

  1.  A single day’s leftover food from one five star hotel in a Metro is sufficient enough to feed at least 300 people – This was a statement from someone who was in the Hospitality industry and working with 5 star hotels!
  2. No hotel ever gives away leftover food for charity because of hygiene and safety being a major issue. It is straight away incinerated or dumped at common dumping places.
  3. When thinking across different food categories (Milk products are best avoided given out) and exploring possibilities wherein whether it was possible for the hotels have a partnership/ tie-up with other social organizations to take care of this, and wherein this network could then ensure that food reaches them in the right condition; the feedback was that it was not easy at all to keep this quantity of food safe till midnight or the next day.
  4. There are concerns around the food being delivered in the right condition, state and time. There was very much a possibility that it could make the hungry kids sick.
  5. There was the concern that some people might misuse this, and also look at it as a means to make money. So hotels try and play safe by not giving anyone a chance to say anything which might go against them.
  6. The Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), which is into a lot of charitable deeds and events could help take such ideas forward – it all had to be coordinated though.

Now, from a consumer point of view, we have all had instances wherein we have consumed stuff over a couple of days (provided we keep them simply refrigerated until further use), and lived to tell the tale.

All said and done, every once in a while this would pop into my mind when I would be sitting in Cafe’s looking at the processed food, and wondering to self how much more time there was before one would have to dispose them off. Trying to think from putting yourself into the shoes of an entrepreneur who might be in the Hospitality Sector didn’t help things much either! This was until yesterday, when I tripped on this interesting video which seems to be going viral all over Social Media.


Now what the  Happy Life Welfare Society and The Dabbawala Foundation are trying to achieve is laudable and worthy of being emulated. But hey, the Mumbai Dabbawalas network is only spread across Mumbai and when thinking of scaling such initiatives across regions and countries, it gets one thinking.

If you look at it closely, the trigger is where the customer decides to put on the ‘Share’ sticker on their dabba (tiffin box), giving dabbawalas the cue that they could share the extra food with those who needed it. 

Regardless of whether the distribution network is present for ‘large scale implementation’ of such an initiative, would it make sense if more and more Cafe’s/ Restaurants/ Fine Diners/ Eateries gave customers the choice of sharing forward the food if there was a choice to do so?  As also give them the option of adding in a not-much-expensive filling food item/ coffee from their menu?

Would this shift the focus from thinking of this activity as a CSR chore, to thinking of it as one more way to delight your customer?

So, hey, if there were folks celebrating their birthday/ anniversary/ treat; could we amp up the entire customer delight experience by helping them pay forward one extra coffee/ one extra ice cream to share their joy with the less fortunate, along with their extra food? Enabling them to check on social media how their food is being shared, giving them joy points (customer loyalty points), etc etc are other things which could be considered.

To keep aspiration levels ticking amongst the different organizations, the initiative could also be driven down the pyramid structure (more affluent to less affluent) so as to create an aspirational pull amongst organizations to deliver this.

Food left in your Dabba?!
‘Food left in your Dabba?!’ Picture Credit: Well, I took this from the video I have shared above!

Well, still looking for answers; but am sure those who are working in the Hospitality sector and on their respective ventures are far more empowered and creative to take forward the idea of delighting their customers as also trying out various permutations and combinations when serving them on these lines. Now to gorge on some food to finish off my post whilst you my friend: the CEO/ the manager/ the individual who drives initiatives/ the entrepreneur working on your next customer delight experience munch on my blog. The best part is, it doesn’t even have to be just food that you might be working on.

So hey, share my Dabba will you, and know what, add in an ice-cream if you don’t mind?


p.s.:  There is also this message which keeps doing the rounds: ‘If you have a function/party at your home in India and food gets wasted,Pls don’t hesitate to call 1098 (IN INDIA ONLY) – child help line. They will come and collect the food. Please circulate this message which can help feed many children’.

Well, don’t call them – because I did (when I first read about them a few years back), to verify this. They are a private NGO working with the Government, and are into helping kids on other issues: Kids lost, helping kids with education (the ones who can’t afford it), kids needing medication etc.

One good thing which came out of the hoax message :- 1098 which was nonetheless working with the kids, got loads more attention.