It was a rural schoolteacher, Alejandro Rodríguez, who first raised the idea of a social institution in Costa Rica.

The year was 1920 and the country was fresh from the unhappy reign of military dictator General Federico Tinoco Granados. After Granados was overthrown, the unpopularity of his regime led to a considerable decline in the prosperity and influence of the Costa Rican military.

This provided Rodríguez and his supporters with an opportunity to form Sociedad de Seguros de Vida del Magisterio Nacional (SSVMN). The Legislation was passed, and before long 2,000 Costa Rican teachers were insured.

Costa Rica is Spanish for rich coast, which is rather interesting considering a Spanish Governor described it as “the poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all America” in 1719. For the conquistadores it was indeed a poor place, and it lacked sufficient indigenous people to work on the colonists’ haciendas. All this meant that Costa Rica developed its own rural democracy, which has ensured its high position in the Human Development Index relative to other Latin American countries.

Ninety years on, SSVMN now provides insurance for nearly 25 per cent of the Costa Rican population. Life insurance is compulsory for Costa Rican education professionals and education is Costa Rica’s largest employer with 75,000 people working in this sector. This translates to 1 or 2 active or pensioned education professionals in nearly every family in Costa Rica. SSVMN has 145,000 insured members who in turn have 845,000 beneficiaries, totalling 990,000.

“We provide financial protection through technical provisions and catastrophic insurance that ensure the payment of mutual insurance payment as well as making available services such as loans, grants, orthopedic equipment and advances policy to the policyholders,” SSVMN explains.

In January 2012 the insurer was certified under the International Organisation for Standardization, series 9000, which is designed to measure quality of management in the area of meeting customers’ and members’ needs.

“The work just begins, there is still a long way to go with a clear objective and clear standards. The improvement continues.”

This story is an IYC Yearbook feature: