Every day in Mumbai 5,000 semi literate Dabawalas of the Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Charity Trust deliver lunch to 200,000 office workers within a 60 kms radius inside three hours. The meals are home made, served up in a drum shaped aluminium daba,  the Hindi word for a box, and the whole process operates to six sigma standards – one service error in 16 million transactions. Each Dabawala serves 35 customers each for $6 a month. They walk, they cycle, they catch trains and each daba moves through 4 pairs of hands a day. Carbon footprint?

It all started with the railways. In the 1890’s the Dabawallas came in from their rural villages and started to use the railway network to create a hub and spoke transhipment system that to this day uses 25 kms of railway track and an average of 10 kms of walking to achieve its service standards. No fuel costs in a city with a density of 20,000 people per square kms.

The point is this – density can work. Take this comparison between two former Olympic cities, Atlanta [2.5 m population] and Barcelona [2.8m]. The World Development Report 2009 highlights that Atlanta, with a metropolitan area measuring 137 kms between the most distant points and a metro system of 74 kms makes poor use of its spatial geography.  Only 4% of citizens live within 800 m of a Metro station and only 4.5% use the mass transit system. By comparison, Barcelona, with a metropolitan area of 37 kms and 90 kms of metro line has 60% of its citizens living within 600m of a metro station and, 30% using mass transit systems. More to the point these densities mean that Atlanta per capita CO2 emissions are 400 metric tonnes versus Barcelona’s 38 metric tonnes. Mass transit systems make sense. After all, they say that these days traffic is moving through London at the pace of the times of Pepys or even Shakespeare.

Now, if world population is growing from 6 to 9 billlion by 2050 and most of us will live in Cities, congestion is not just a trend. It is a racing certainty. So, what can be done not just to stop it but to use such density proactively? Think of how Dabawalas have used the railway and the principle of transhipment since the 19th century and consider the benefits of integrated thinking when it comes to the informal and formal markets.

There is another dimension. How can we maximise brand visibility, accesibility and distribution in a Mega City? Think convenience foods and beverage for starters!  By 2050 an estimated 70% of the Global population will live in these Mega Cities. This is the Majority World, you can’t buy what you can’t see so, the prize is enormous.

How do I make sure that a brand is visible, accessible and relevant to a targeted consumer segment? However, as we understand the opportunity we should also consider the impact on the environment? And as the Dabawala proves – there are all sorts of alternatives to driving a truck through the gulleys and alleys of the Majority World.