The SAPRIN initiative in Argentina was launched in June 1999 with the formation of a convening committee composed of leaders and representatives of a range of sectors, including labor, small business, human rights, education, health, women, youth and the Catholic Church. Also participating are present and former members of Congress and a former government minister (Aldo Neri). Called FOCO (Forum for Consultation with Civil Society on Structural Adjustment), this endeavor to involve citizens nationwide in the design of just and viable economic-policy proposals is managed on behalf of the convening committee by the small-business-assistance NGO, IDEMI.

During the second half of 1999, the committee reached out to and consulted organizations and networks around the country and prepared a 200-page paper on national economic policies. Various versions of the paper were subsequently developed and disseminated, including a summary that was used as the focal point of discussion at a national forum held in Buenos Aires in late November. The forum brought together representatives of some 100 networks and coalitions of popular and other non-governmental organizations from a wide range of urban and rural sectors to engage in the formulation of alternative proposals and in the mobilization of citizens to promote them. In workshops they discussed some 30 issues of relevance to Argentina's economic circumstances, including productivity, wages, employment, small and medium enterprises, the regulation of privatized agencies, the financial sector, regional economies, social policy and spending, gender and the environment.

A dozen forum participants, representing community associations, unions, business associations, consumers, peasant and indigenous peoples' organizations, womens' groups and other sectors and populations, were chosen to constitute a coordinating committee charged with developing the original document and a project work plan, along with expanding public outreach.

FOCO has since concentrated its efforts on organizing and mobilizing at the municipal and grassroots levels, as well as by sector, to build a strong local base of support for public participation in economic policymaking. Toward this end, FOCO has worked with a wide range of civil-society organizations in the municipality of Lomas de Zamora, in Buenos Aires province, where a progressive local government has shown openness to involving civil-society in decisionmaking. A day-long workshop was held in Lomas de Zamora in early September 2000 to discuss how adjustment policies have affected living conditions and to elicit input for the design of alternative local, sectoral and national policies. A local chapter of FOCO was formed to continue organizing at the municipal level and to work with local government officials in order to involve citizens in the budgetary planning process. FOCO is promoting similar efforts in other municipalities, with Lomas de Zamora as a model.

At the same time, FOCO has continued its national outreach efforts with a broad array of organizations -- including trade unions, small-business associations, student and youth groups, environmental organizations and other NGOs -- in order to discuss and elicit additional input regarding the alternative policy framework put forward at the national forum in November 1999.

As the economic situation in Argentina has worsened and recent international protests on global economic policy have found resonance within the country, there has been a growing awareness on the part of Argentinean civil-society organizations of the links between IFI policies and the problems faced by their communities. FOCO seeks to channel this interest into the construction and active promotion of alternative policies, as well as advocacy to stop the imposition of adjustment policies by the international financial institutions. Within this context, FOCO is developing a strategy, including a grassroots campaign, to press for reform of the World Bank and IMF and the democratization of economic policymaking.

Work is planned to continue through the end of 2000 to refine the proposal on alternatives, which will be presented at a second and even larger public forum in early 2001. This meeting is expected to mobilize the country's major popular sectors and launch a national campaign to replace imposed and failed adjustment policies with a new economic program backed by a broad-based consensus.