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LEEG-net (Legal & Economic Empowerment Global Network) is concerned with two main forms of exclusion that contribute to disempowerment of the poor: unequal access to the formal legal system and to the formal economy.

The concept of empowerment includes legal, economic, social, technological, etc dimensions.

As its definition suggests (please see the box below), legal empowerment is a necessary condition for fulfilling the other dimensions of empowerment. As evidenced by the increasing number of legal and economic empowerment projects that are being implemented in developing countries, those two forms of empowerment have become well-established approaches to poverty eradication and inclusive growth.

Our working methodology places a great emphasis on the need of “effective and inclusive law” - a prerequisite to eradicating poverty through legal empowerment of the poor and implementing the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

According to Cooter and Schaefer, writing down a law does not make it effective. “Property and contract law-on-the-books in India and Nigeria resemble English common law, and property and contract law-on-the-books in Peru resemble the Spanish civil code. The written laws are less effective in India, Nigeria, and Peru than in England or Spain” (Solomon's Knot: How Law Can End the Poverty of Nations, Berkeley Law, 2011).


The law is fundamental to economic growth in rich and poor countries alike. Defective laws and legal institutions cause people to take wealth from each other that gives rise to national poverty. On the contrary, effective laws and legal institutions provide a framework of competition for making wealth, which enriches nations.


We strive to make a positive contribution towards making the law effective in the work we do. In doing so, we draw upon insights from “Law and Economics” - the interdisciplinary subject which is also known as Economic Analysis of Law.

Economics predicts the effects of policies on two values, namely efficiency and the distribution of income and wealth. Efficiency is always relevant to policy making, because it is always better to achieve any given policy goal at lower cost than at higher cost (Cooter & Ulen, Law and Economics, 4th ed., 2004).

The absence of legal protection is a fundamental obstacle for the poor and disadvantaged communities to their progress on economic and human development. The inclusion of the poor within the protections of the law is often hampered by the high transaction costs involved in formal processes - such as establishing a micro-entreprise and registering land - which can prove insurmountable obstacles for the poor.

Generally, legal economists are concerned with social costs and transaction costs as these divert the resources to unproductive purposes. The unnecessary costs resulting thereof also imply denial of justice to certain sections of the society. Therefore, justice is not independent of its cost. Ronald Coase (1960) provides a theoretical metric for assessing the state’s participation in securing contract and property rights, calling for the state’s intervention in instances in which intervention reduces transaction costs below what would be present without intervention.

“Legal empowerment is rooted in a human rights based approach to development, which recognizes that poverty results from disempowerment, exclusion and discrimination.

Thus legal empowerment fosters development through empowering and strengthening the voices of individuals and communities, starting at the grassroots and from within”

- Report of the Secretary General of United Nations prepared pursuant to General Assembly resolution 63/142 on the legal empowerment of the poor and eradication of poverty [2009].


"Economic empowerment is the capacity of poor women and men to participate in, contribute to and benefit from growth processes on terms which recognize the value of their contributions, respect their dignity and make it possible for them to negotiate a fairer distribution of the benefits of growth.

Economic empowerment means people thinking beyond immediate survival needs and thus able to recognise and exercise agency and choice".

- R. Eyben et al, Conceptualising empowerment and the implications for pro poor growth. A paper for the DAC Poverty Network Sep, 2008.

"Women's empowerment can be defined to promoting women’s sense of self-worth, their ability to determine their own choices, and their right to influence social change for themselves and others.

It is closely aligned with female empowerment – a fundamental human right that’s also key to achieving a more peaceful, prosperous world".

- World Vision | What is women's empowerment?

"Women’s empowerment has five components: women’s sense of self-worth; their right to have and to determine choices; their right to have access to opportunities and resources; their right to have power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home; and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally.

In this context, education, training, awareness raising, building self-confidence, expansion of choices, increased access to and control over resources, and actions to transform the structures and institutions that reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and inequality are important tools for empowering women and girls to claim their rights".

- EIGE (European Institute for Gender Equality)

What is Empowerment?


Some Definitions

Different sources have offered varying definitions by taking empowerment as a strategy, a means to an end, or both. For instance, Robert Adams’ definition of the term 'Empowerment: the capacity of individuals, groups and/or communities to take control of their circumstances, exercise power and achieve their own goals, and the process by which, individually and collectively, they are able to help themselves and others to maximize the quality of their lives (Adams, Robert. Empowerment, participation and social work. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p.xvi).


"Empowerment is viewed as a process: the mechanism by which people, organizations, and communities gain mastery over their lives (Rappaport, J. (1984). Studies in empowerment: Introduction to the issue. "Prevention in Human Services," 3, 1–7).


What is Legal Empowerment?

The broad concept of Legal Empowerment received its first relatively full expression in 2001, in an Asia Foundation study (initially commissioned as a legal literacy study) published in the annual report of the Asian Development Bank’s Legal Department (Golub, Stephen and Kim McQuay. 2001. Legal Empowerment: Advancing Good Governance and Poverty Reduction. In Law and Policy Reform at the Asian Development Bank, 2001 Edition. Manila: Asian Development Bank (pp. 5)).


The concept’s adoption by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)-based Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor in 2005 dramatically raised its public profile and stimulated a number of papers from development institutions on the topic (e.g., the 2005 World Bank Strategy Statement).


Definitions of Legal Empowerment of the Poor


Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor (CLEP): “Legal empowerment is the process through which the poor become protected and are enabled to use the law to advance their rights and their interests, vis-à-vis the state and in the market. It involves the poor realising their full rights, and reaping the opportunities that flow from that, through public support and their own efforts as well as the efforts of their supporters and wider networks. Legal empowerment is a country and context-based approach that takes place at both the national and local levels.” (CLEP and UNDP, Report of the CLEP vol-i "Making the Law Work for Everyone", 2008, p. 26)


Asian Development Bank (ADB): “[Legal empowerment of the poor] involves the use of law to increase disadvantaged populations' control over their lives through a combination of education and action.” (Golub and McQuay, 2001, p. 7).


Carnegie Endowment: “Legal empowerment of the poor is a rights-based strategy for improving governance and alleviating poverty ... [and involves] ... the use of legal services and related development activities to increase disadvantaged populations’ control over their lives.” (Golub, 2003 [pp. 3])


World Bank (WB): “Legal empowerment promotes safety, security, and access to justice and helps poor people solve problems and overcome administrative barriers.” (Palacio, 2006 [pp. 15])


USAID: “Legal empowerment of the poor refers to actions and processes, including but not limited to legal reforms, by which the poor are legally enabled to act more effectively to improve their economic situation and livelihoods, allowing them to alleviate or escape poverty.” (Bruce et al., 2006 [pp. 9])


Open Society Foundations: "Legal empowerment is about strengthening the capacity of all people to exercise their rights, either as individuals or as members of a community. It’s about grassroots justice – about ensuring that law is not confined to books or courtrooms, but rather is comprehensible and available to ordinary people". (Open Society Justice Initiative. Legal Empowerment: An integrated approach to justice and development. Draft Working Paper 21 March 2012)

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