SAPRIN is the global civil-society network that took its name from the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative (SAPRI), which it launched with the World Bank and its president, Jim Wolfensohn, in 1997.
SAPRI is designed as a tripartite exercise to bring together organizations of civil society, their governments and the World Bank in a joint review of structural adjustment programs (SAPs) and an exploration of new policy options. It is legitimizing an active role for civil society in economic decisionmaking, as it is designed to indicate areas in which changes in economic policies and in the economic-policymaking process are required. The countries participating in SAPRI are: Bangladesh , Ecuador, El Salvador, Ghana, Hungary, Mali, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
In addition to its work with the World Bank and national governments, SAPRIN has extended its reach to include additional exercises in a parallel initiative known as the Citizens' Assessment of Structural Adjustment (CASA). In Mexico and the Philippines, whose governments (and the Bank) decided against participating in SAPRI, citizens' groups are carrying out initiatives following the same guidelines and procedures as in SAPRI countries, having built alliances with their legislatures and other public institutions. Citizens' groups in Canada are involved in a similar process.
In a newer initiative that began in 1999 in Argentina and the Central America region, SAPRIN is working with civil-society organizations to facilitate cross-sectoral cooperation in the development of economic-policy proposals as broad-based alternatives to structural adjustment.
SAPRIN seeks to legitimize local knowledge in the analysis of economic-reform programs and to make space for and institutionalize grassroots involvement in macroeconomic decisionmaking. In so doing, it is attempting to help governments and international institutions understand how adjustment measures make their way through local economies and into peoples' lives and to transform economic policymaking so that its outcomes improve rather than undermine the wellbeing of the local population and the "real" economy.
In all the countries where the Network is active, SAPRIN initiatives are serving to open, at the national and global levels, high-profile public discourses on the controversial policies of economic reform, while supporting the search for more democratically shaped economic-policy options. (back to top of page)
Beginning in 1990, when the World Bank rediscovered poverty in its World Development Report, the international financial institutions (IFIs) slowly began to acknowledge that poverty, inequality and human suffering had increased in countries implementing the adjustment programs that they had required as a condition for continued access to foreign capital. By mid-decade, however, their analysis of the problem still differed from that of the citizens of these countries in four significant ways. The IFIs continued to view the problems as: 1) transitory in nature; 2) essentially limited to the social sector; 3) caused primarily by factors other than the policies themselves; and 4) resolvable through adherence to the same policy package. Once again, the needs, priorities, analysis, knowledge, rights and voice of the people were being ignored.
In June 1995, a group of non-governmental organizations approached the then new president of the World Bank, Jim Wolfensohn, with a proposal to address this exclusion by engaging civil society in an exercise with the Bank to assess jointly the impact of adjustment programs. The idea was to provide Wolfensohn and his managers a fundamentally different perspective on economic policy, to democratize economic policymaking and to legitimize a role for organized civil society in this key area of development programming. Wolfensohn, who was soon to embrace civil society publicly as a major player in the development process, agreed to the partnership.
Subsequent negotiations between some two dozen NGOs from around the world and the Bank's Economics Vice-Presidency through 1996 expanded the original proposal to hold well-organized, highly inclusive public fora in ten to twelve representative countries by also including participatory, gender-sensitive research that would take a political-economy approach in determining the impact of economic adjustment policies and in developing alternatives. Standard Operating Procedures were developed to ensure consistency across countries throughout the exercises, and a Methodological Framework was established to guide the field investigations. The Bank's Board approved a new Information-Disclosure Policy related to structural adjustment programs after a year-long negotiation between Bank staff and SAPRIN.
When the project was officially launched in July 1997, eight countries were involved in what had come to be known as the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative (SAPRI). They included Ecuador and El Salvador in Latin America; Ghana, Mali, Uganda and Zimbabwe in Africa; Bangladesh in Asia; and Hungary in Central Europe.
The Bank, however, made only a limited and, in the end, unsuccessful attempt to secure the participation of the governments of Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, leaving no large South American country in the Initiative. The government of the Philippines, another emerging-market nation expected to be included in SAPRI, also chose not to participate. Subsequently, civil-society networks in Mexico and the Philippines decided to launch parallel exercises on their own, without government or Bank participation, referred to as Citizens' Assessment of Structural Adjustment (CASA).
National networks -- 100 to 750 organizations strong -- in each SAPRI and CASA country came to form the backbone of SAPRIN, the global civil-society partner of the Bank in SAPRI. They continue to operate under the guidelines set by the 23-member SAPRIN global Steering Committee on which they are represented, and they coordinate activities with three Regional Centers in Accra, San Salvador and Bangkok, as well as a Secretariat in Washington, D.C., which handles ongoing relations with the Bank and country initiatives in the North. (back to top of page)
SAPRI's Public Launch in Washington in mid-July 1997 captured and projected the significance of the joint initiative. It featured keynote speeches by Bank President Jim Wolfensohn and Argentinean human-rights and political leader Graciela Fernandez Meijide, panels on SAPs and their effects on labor and agriculture, and a week-long series of workshops on such topics as the methodology to be utilized and the issue areas to be explored in the SAPRI field exercises. (back to top of page)
Transcripts of speeches from the opening session,14 July 1997:
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Broad, effective and ongoing outreach is a crucial aspect of each national initiative. Beginning in 1997, civil-society organizations in each SAPRI and CASA country initiated an outreach process to organize and mobilize a broad range of citizens' groups from different economic, social, political, ethnic and cultural segments of society.
The first phase in each country involved discussions with all interested sectors and the selection of a Civil-Society Steering Committee and lead organization. In addition, a National Steering Committee with government and Bank representatives was formed in countries carrying out tripartite exercises.
Through much of 1998, national exercises were in full swing, eliciting an extraordinary response from a broad range of sectors and civil-society organizations in virtually all of the countries. Much emphasis was placed on reaching those sectors whose voice has not generally been heard on economic-policy issues. Organizing across all geographical regions in each country has been a priority. In most countries, there has been a focus on involving those outside the capital city and, particularly, in rural areas.
Organizing committees were established by geographical regions in some countries, while in others, they were set up according to sectors of interest. A series of meetings or seminars were held to provide information about the SAPRI and CASA initiatives and to elicit local knowledge and experiences. With few if any other official outlets for their frustrations and ideas, small-business, small-farm, labour, women's, environmental, indigenous-peoples', religious, community and a variety of other citizens' groups joined forces across each country to discuss economic problems and identify priority adjustment issues on which to focus field investigations on the impacts of adjustment policies and recommendations for alternative policy options. (back to top of page)
The outreach process provided the basis from which to organize an Opening National Forum in each country. These two-day public events were organized by the civil-society networks and attended by government and Bank representatives, who also participated in presentations and panel discussions in SAPRI countries.
Hundreds of citizens from a broad cross-section of civil society, many of whom were delegated to participate in representation of their organizations or communities, attended these fora in each country and provided testimony on the impact and efficacy of selected adjustment measures -- such as trade liberalization, privatization, and credit, labor and fiscal policy.
The themes around which discussions at the fora were focussed were selected from the priority areas identified during the outreach process. To inform these discussions, civil society formed information committees, which were given access to relevant Bank documents on SAPs that were used to present participants with information on adjustment measures in each country (see Information Disclosure Policy).
The information emanating from the Opening National Forum in each country on the themes identified during the outreach process was subsequently discussed in Technical Committees. In SAPRI countries, where the Bank and governments are involved, this was a tripartite process that refined the issues raised by civil society into researchable questions. The Technical Committees then defined specific terms of reference for each field study and established a process for selecting researchers to carry out the field investigations.
While the Methodological Framework defined by the global Technical Committee established the general framework for selection of researchers and for the research process itself, the teams in each country have taken somewhat different approaches to putting this framework into practice. In some cases, for example, researchers were selected from lists recommended by the parties involved, while in others, a public-bidding process was carried out. In one instance, the team decided that civil society would choose one group of researchers while the Bank and government would choose the other. In carrying out the research, some countries decided to have researchers do a background desk study or literature review prior to determining the terms of reference for the field work, while others chose to combine both desk and field work under one study.
Most countries have found these processes to be more complex and time-consuming than previously assumed, and some have taken nearly a year to complete the ground work necessary before carrying out the field investigation. As part of the preparatory process, methodology workshops have been organized by civil society in most SAPRI and CASA countries to ensure that the researchers approach their field work with a clear understanding of the methodology agreed to globally. All research is to take a gender-sensitive, political-economy approach, use participatory methods and employ techniques that are designed to yield both qualitative and quantitative information. Civil society developed its own guidelines to clarify these key aspects.
After completion of the field work, researchers are to produce draft reports that are to be presented in meetings or seminars with civil-society organizations for feedback and validation. The final research report is to be presented at the Second National Forum in each country. (back to top of page)
To enhance the participatory nature of the SAPRI and CASA initiatives, programs in economic literacy have been launched in many of the countries. National civil-society networks are applying popular-education methods as part of a systematic approach to capacity building on economic-policy issues. Although some form of economic literacy was undertaken in most countries during the outreach process out of necessity, this had not been planned in a systematic way. Indeed, the perceived need to establish economic-literacy programs arose from these initial experiences.
The global civil-society network developed general guidelines for economic-literacy efforts, as these programs are part of the work of civil society to increase participation and do not directly involve the Bank or governments. Some countries are organizing economic-literacy programs parallel to or integrated with the research process, while others plan to focus more on integrating economic-literacy programs with the process of developing policy alternatives. (back to top of page)
A number of country networks are also involved in the construction of economic-policy alternatives. Together with economic-literacy programs, these efforts are intended to strengthen the capacity of the civil-society networks to advocate for policy changes at the national and global levels.
Although the effort and resources dedicated to the fashioning of alternative policies vary from country to country, general guidelines were developed by SAPRIN to provide a framework for these endeavors. In addition, with the support of SAPRIN, citizens' groups in Argentina and in Central America, decided in 1999 to organize participatory processes that would produce economic-policy alternatives in a manner that parallels the work on alternatives in many SAPRI and CASA countries. (back to top of page)
The results from the Opening National Forum, together with the findings from the research process, will be distilled at a Second National Forum in each country. At the Forum, the final research report will be presented along with recommendations for alternative policies. In SAPRI countries, where tripartite processes exist, there will be attempts to reach agreement on findings, as well as on recommendations for changes in economic programming and in the closed manner in which that programming currently takes place. Final country reports will then be produced. (back to top of page)
National and synthesized global findings will subsequently be presented with recommendations to Bank senior management and other policymakers at a final global Forum in Washington, DC in mid-2001. Lessons will be drawn for the future of policy-based lending, setting the stage for changes in Bank operations and for democratizing economic policymaking. (back to top of page)