Working to Closer Tolerances, Observation #1

18 September 2010 at 06:00 1 comment


Below I provide a lens and a context for a conversation. I then provide a specific observation. I have multiple observations which I will present over a series of days. Hopefully this will permit you to read the whole post and also leave comments. Any and all comments, expecially personal experiences and other observations, would be much appreciated.


Before leaving for Peru I attempted to obtain information about the cost and duration of a bus trip from Lima (the capital city) to Chiclayo where I would be completing my fellowship. Either as a result of my limited internet research abilities or the general lack of information published on the net, I failed. In my search, however I saw the following sentence about Peruvian taxi drivers: “They don’t often hit anyone, but they work to closer tolerances than taxi drivers in the USA do.” (

The phrase “working to closer tolerances” struck me as lens for analysis of the developing world. The phrase invokes ideas of efficiency and perfection, but also risk and cost. One might be led to think of a machinist who must properly cut each thread of a bolt for a nuclear reactor to within 100,00ths for an inch in order to mantain the integrity of the reactor and protect the populace. The perfection of the machinist’s work may create a reactor which can supply power for millions at a high level of efficieny, but the construction costs are incredibly high and the risk of failure bears grave consequences.

In the developing world a large portion of the population works to closer tolerances than those in the developed world are accustomed. This is not to say that the either the developing world or developed world are nuclear reactors in compasion with each other (although esoteric philosophers and politicians could undoubtedly draw a metaphor). Instead it is to say that residents of the developing world often make incredibly efficient use of limited resources and face a high level of risk on a daily basis.

I won’t beat the metaphor of closer tolerances to death, but keep it in mind when thinking about the observations elaborated below.

Observation #1:
At the corner of a heavily transited sidewalk in Lima, I looked down to see hole about three feet in diameter which could result in an eight foot fall. There was no sign, protection or other manner of advising the pedestrian of the risk. (Insert the following coordinates into a internet map provider to see the exact location, -12.063825,-77.034057)

The eight foot fall is an extreme example, but hole are not. In Chiclayo I am regularly dodging 4” to 12” square holes in the street. One hole for every side of a block is not an exageration, given that there are often more than one hole to dodge per block. A misstep could easily result in a broken ankle, a sprain or even worse.

These types of small but dangerous faults in the city infrastructure represent a risk to the populace which must be taken on a daily basis. A resident must be constantly alert and aware of his/her surroundings. This is a responsibility that seems to be taken as nothing out of the ordinary, although for some residents it could mean the difference between maintianing a job or paying the next months bills. The lack of city infrastucture and, I assume, the lack of judicial recourse creates an economy where health, accident and life insurance might prove an indespensable method of reducing poverty and social risk.

EDPYME Alternativa in collaboracion with an insurance company called La Positiva, is therefore providing a life insurance product, Viviendo Seguro. It runs a cost of approximately $0.66 per month and provides the client with apx. $1,700 of life insurnace for the policy holder and $3,500 of life insurance in case of death of both father and mother for a family with minor children. These amounts coincide with apx. one and two years respectively of living expenses for an adult in the city. One day EDPYME Alternativa hopes to expand insurance product offerings.

Casey Unrein KF 12 joined the Kiva Fellows program in Sept. 2010. Prior to becoming a Fellow, Casey worked with a fiduciary management company in Seattle, WA, providing financial management services for minors, the elderly and the disabled. Casey completed a bachelors in Economics and Education at Occidental College. He expects to become a certified public accountant by March of 2010. Casey is currently a Fellow with EDPYME Alternativa in Chiclayo, Peru. He requests your support for as a whole and EDPYME Alternativa in particular. Please join the lending team: Friends of EDPYME Alternativa in order to raise awareness of the outstanding work the institution is completing in Peru.

Entry filed under: KF12 (Kiva Fellows 12th Class). Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment

  • 1. Bill Jaback  |  18 September 2010 at 14:04

    Casey. I like your metaphor of closer tolerances as a concept to better understand risk in the developing world. I am reminded of my bike tour through southern Vietnam, my experiences in Ho Chin Minh City in particular, and the risks people assume on a daily basis just getting around. With few traffic lights and no apparent rules of the road the traffic looks like pandemonium but things seem to work, albeit with quite a few nasty accidents…

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