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Working to Closer Tolerances, Observation #2


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 #2:

I bought a ticket from the bus company CIVA, located near the hole I mentioned in the last post. (For other traveler’s reference this cost apx. $15.00 and the trip from from Lima to Chiclayo took about 12 hours.) Forty minutes into the journey we entered a highway. The congestion was heavy at on ramp and another humongous bus pulled up next to us on the curve. I looked out my window to see the mirror of the bus an inch from my window. As we continued accelerating around the curve the two buses swerved back and forth maintaining the tantalizingly small separation as if locked in an ultra-conservative tango. They never touched.

This is not an extreme example, but instead a daily occurence. The streets are full of motocycles, small hatch backs, taxis, pick-ups, mini buses, cargo trucks, and buses, not to mention pedestrians. The constant river of vehicles in the metropolises slides through the streets with mere inches of space and limited regulation. The lanes are merely recommendations and corners seldomly have defined stop or yeild designations. Police stand in the middle of the largest streets stopping and directing traffic by hand.

How, you might ask, do residents avoid accidents and death? They avoid it solely by being super aware and highly skilled at managing their space and speed. But accidents still occur. Of the sixty clients EDPYME Alternativa has reported as premenantly disabled or deceased in the last two years, four are from traffic accidents. That is about 6% and says little about more minor accidents which could cause the individual to be unable to work for an extended period of time.

To combat the risk to its population, the Peruvian governement has made liability insurance mandatory for all automobiles. The insurance, called SOAT, functions as health and life insurance for the victim so that, in the event of an accident an individual might expect to at least receive assistance in covering medical expenses.

Unfortunately, the requirement has had limited success. Of all the vehicles in Peru, the SOAT administration estimates that only 65% are covered. The risk of being hit by an uncovered vehicle remains extremely high.

To assist in the implementation of the regulation, EDPYME Alternativa has teamed with SOAT and offers insurance which complies with the law. Although, EDPYME Alternativa has limited its product to only to persons using vehicles for personal use, they are making an impact in the market and working to increase the percentage of vehicles covered. This is a process that will assist in protecting all residents of Peru and contribute to the reduction of poverty and social instability.

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.

About the author

Casey Unrein