Functional Literacy – The Language of Empowerment

Functional Literacy – The Language of Empowerment

By focusing on financial and legal literacy, UNDP has empowered poor and marginalized to strengthen their asset base, secure justice and expand the range of choices available to them.

30 year old Rita Devi from Rampur village in Jaunpur district of eastern Uttar Pradesh is the mother of five young children. In 2009 she participated in a pilot financial literacy programme supported by UNDP. She learnt how to open and operate a bank account. Her husband who works in a printing press in Mumbai now easily sends money home every month to support the family. She bought an insurance policy some time ago and recently secured a loan from her local self-help group to start a livestock based livelihoods unit.


  • UNDP’s efforts in promoting functional literacy has helped empower the most marginalized social groups, especially women to access financial services and secure justice
  • In partnership with NABARD and the Indian School of Microfinance for Women, UNDP has enabled greater access of the most marginalized to financial products and services
  • UNDP’s engagement with the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana has resulted in more than 700,000 households from marginalized social groups enrolled into the insurance scheme
  • Legal literacy imparted through collaboration with the Department of Justice since 2008 has reached out to over two million people across 62 districts access justice

Over 800 kms away, Duku Majhi from Bhejiguda village in Odisha’s Kalahandi district filed an application under the Right to Information Act (RTI) with the District Rural Development Agency requesting information on why his house did not have an electricity connection. Within days of his application, electricity was provided through solar panels installed in his house and in all the other non-electrified houses in the village. He learnt about the Act and his right to information through the Land and RTI clinic set up as part of a joint UNDP-Department of Justice partnership that aims to empower marginalized communities to secure justice.

Both Rita Devi and Duku Majhi represent the importance of literacy in different ways. Rita Devi has used financial literacy to secure her family’s future and access the world of financial services, and Duku used legal literacy to demand the right to secure information crucial to improving the quality of life. UNDP invests in functional literacy as a way of expanding the capabilities and choices of people.

Since 2009, UNDP in partnership with NABARD and the Indian School of Microfinance for Women has equipped thousands of women like Rita Devi with financial literacy skills critical to meeting the objectives of financial inclusion in India. Less than 60 percent of the adult population in rural areas has access to basic banking services. Much of the success of efforts to deepen financial inclusion will depend on the effectiveness of business correspondents to take the message of financial inclusion to far flung areas. UNDP with NABARD has strengthened the technical capacities of business correspondents in four states –Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. As part of its policy advocacy efforts, UNDP has convened stakeholders across 7 UN focus states Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh in charting out the strategy for achieving financial literacy.

The learnings from the field tested models to train trainers and build the capabilities of banking correspondents to effectively meet the needs of rural customers are now being upscaled nationally using resources from the Financial Inclusion Fund of NABARD. The success of UNDP initiatives have revealed that effectively designed financial literacy training programmes can facilitate effective integration of socially disadvantaged groups into the formal financial sector. UNDP’s engagement with the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY) in 15 of the most disadvantaged districts of India has resulted in more than 700,000 households from tribal and other marginalized social groups enrolled into the insurance scheme and empowered to improve their health outcomes at the household level.

The UNDP-Department of Justice partnership to enable poor and marginalized communities access to justice has reached out to over two million people across 62 districts in 7 states since 2008. Using a two-pronged approach the programme has focused on improving institutional capacity of key justice service providers to enable them to effectively serve marginalized communities. It also seeks to directly empower these communities to seek and demand quality justice services. The programme has supported and partnered with national, state and local justice institutions including the judiciary, national legal services authorities (NALSA), civil society organizations, professional bodies and academic institutions.

Legal literacy is now part of the government’s flagship adult literacy programme, the Sakshar Bharat and 12 booklets on simplified laws will soon be used by adult educators to make people aware about their basic rights and entitlements under the Programme.

Through a two-pronged approach –financial and legal literacy for the poorest, most marginalized today, Duku and Rita echo the same hope for the future. “I am confident that my fifteen-year-old son Jogeswar, who has just entered class ten, will now get better marks in the exams as he can now read at night as well and that my twelve- year-old daughter, who had earlier dropped out of school, will be motivated to rejoin it to pursue higher education,” said Duku. For Rita Devi, being financially literate now means “I can now save towards the education of my young children.”

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