The United Nations (UN) has poverty reduction as one of its foremost goals for ensuring international development. Uneasy access to Financial Services and lack of Financial Literacy have since long kept aloof a major part of the global population (particularly women—55% of the world’s unbanked—and farmers), leading to limited social inclusion. UN reports suggest that after a government initiative directed towards opening banks in rural areas, rural poverty reduced by up to 17%. The UN is committed to establishing a link between Financial Inclusion (FI) and development. It does so via the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)—the United Nations’ global development network headquartered in New York City.
The NABARD Bank initiates activities with the agenda of financial inclusion of the marginalised population in accordance with the framework and scope defined by the Report of the Committee on Financial Inclusion utilising the Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF). The primary activities include the formulation of schemes for financial literacy, dissemination of knowledge, infrastructure development, facilitating acceptance of technology by banks and policy advocacy.
The continual activities that the Financial Inclusion Fund supported include: generating financial literacy awareness, making operational Centres for Financial Literacy on pilot basis, providing support in increasing banking touchpoints (acquiring and integrating of micro ATMs with CBS), support in developing payment and acceptance infrastructure, making better connectivity for banking transactions, on-boarding for statutory requirements (e-KYC registry, UIDAI membership), incentivising digital transaction participation (BHIM), etc.
During 2009-2012 the UNDP initiated in partnership with the National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD) of India a Financial Inclusion project to increase FI of the poor via development of suitable financial products for these underserved sects of the society and raising understanding on available financial services and reinforcing financial literacy. The project covered specific Indian districts and blocks: Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Its focus was on poverty reduction (the Millennium Development Goal MDG—Goal 1- eradicate extreme poverty and hunger).
The highlights of the project included the following: 1. Access to finance by the poor is vital to decreasing poverty. 2. Over 40% of the adult population not having access to even the foundational banking services. 3. The project aspired to better the access of the poor to current financial products. 4. To facilitate and enhance access of poor to health concerning information, a community model was established. 5. Around 5,000 households have improved links to financial products and services in Pakur, Jharkhand. 6. Almost 10,000 poor men and women took advantage of customised financial literacy packages. 7. The UN Solution Exchange- Microfinance Community of Practice offered the required policy support. 8. An improved policy focus on financial inclusion requirements of street vendors.
Then in 2017, the UN India organised a Conclave on Financial Inclusion on 13 September. The event was directed towards connecting financial leaders, senior level (government, banking, MFIs, technology providers, CSOs, intergovernmental organisations, and the UN) stakeholders. The key themes of the event included: 1. enhancing material access and infrastructure of financial inclusion. 2. increasing financial access and literacy for women and marginalised sects. 3. use technology for disruption and innovation in policy frameworks to establish a future strategy.
NABARD has also, in cooperation with the RBI and the Government of India, initiated via banks, NGOs, and RSETIs, various determined efforts for realising financial inclusion goals. Once initiated, these initiatives required measuring and reporting to be recorded, so as to assess the success and efficiency of the various programmes. This led to the initiation of the “NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey” or NAFIS in 2016-17. NAFIS, conducted via Academy of Management Studies (AMS), considered a sample of 1.88 lakh persons from 40,327 agricultural and non-agricultural rural households in the 29 states and 245 districts of India. NAFIS states 40% higher income levels in agricultural households all through a three year period concluding 2015-16 as against the estimates reported by NSSO Situation Assessment Survey- 70th round for 2012-13. NAFIS, the FI estimation survey conducted every three years, also reported 90% coverage of rural households with a bank account.