March 1998

Since the World Bank began promoting structural adjustment programs (SAPs) and transforming economies across the Third World in 1980, poverty and income inequality have intensified and societies have become increasingly polarized. From Mexico to Russia and through much of Latin America and Africa, these tensions have engendered internal conflicts, political instability and threats to regional security. Across the South, emerging-market economies have become dependent upon speculative capital, leading to a series of financial crises that have necessitated bailouts by the international community.

Citizen reaction to these programs and their effects has been widespread and intense, and civil-society mobilization has been growing. In particular, a constantly expanding, cross-sectoral international network presently encompassing more than 1,200 citizens' organizations has taken shape over the past year to organize international and national public dialogues and participatory, on-the-ground investigations regarding the impact of structural adjustment measures. This unprecedented coalescing of forces, ranging from African grassroots women's groups and Latin American peasant associations to the AFL- CIO and other national and international labor-union confederations, and including NGOs from some 65 countries, holds considerable promise as a progressive and constructive determinant in the future of the economic globalization process.

The Structural Adjustment Participatory Review International Network (SAPRIN) was originally organized around a major initiative taken with World Bank President Jim Wolfensohn to assess in ten countries, through civil-society/government/Bank collaboration, the impact of various adjustment measures on a range of population groups and economic and social sectors. The Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative (SAPRI) is designed to yield recommendations to the World Bank and governments for changes in economic adjustment programs and in economic-policymaking processes. SAPRI is also legitimizing an active role for civil society in economic decisionmaking and, if successful, will give governments greater flexibility to respond to the needs and priorities of their own people rather than to the dictates of international creditors.

In addition to its work with the World Bank and national governments, SAPRIN has extended its reach to include four additional, emerging-market economies in a parallel exercise known as the Citizens' Assessment of Structural Adjustment (CASA). Due to the failure of the Bank to involve larger, highly problematic nations in SAPRI, citizens' groups in those countries will assess SAPs in conjunction with their national legislatures and local government bodies. Canadian organizations have also asked to join CASA, adding another dimension to this policy review. Together, SAPRI and CASA are serving to open, for the first time at the global and national levels, high-profile public discourses on the controversial policies of economic reform. Furthermore, the two sets of exercises are proving to be extremely effective vehicles for the development of broadly constituted and powerful movements for change.

Through both initiatives, SAPRIN is seeking 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 the adjustment process so that it improves rather than undermines the well-being of the local population and the "real" economy. The Network is prepared to take additional initiatives -- with government ministries, United Nations agencies and other interested parties -- that will help democratize and enhance the quality of economic policymaking.


For more than a decade, citizens' organizations around the world, along with a few bold international public agencies, have expressed their concern about the nature and the economic and social effects of the adjustment programs promoted and supported by the international financial institutions (IFIs). They have pointed to the adverse impact of SAPs on the poor, workers, women, small enterprises and farms, food security, the environment, and domestic productive capacity. They have also questioned whether the World Bank and the other IFIs have sufficiently incorporated local knowledge and organizations into the definition and design of economic-reform programs.

Virtually everywhere they have been implemented, SAPs have been characterized by the privatization and deregulation of national economies, the liberalization of trade and investment regimes, substantial reductions in social services and in public spending generally, the maintenance of high interest rates, and measures to reduce wages and other labor costs. These policies have been designed to create hospitable environments for foreign investors and for the movement of goods, services and financial resources across national boundaries. The reactions of local populations, who have borne the brunt of much of the harsh fallout from these measures, have grown increasingly vociferous and have often been violent in nature.

As it became increasingly clear that these policies, as constituted, were incapable of engendering just and sustainable economies, citizens' groups began to press at the national and international levels for public re-examinations of their appropriateness and for more democratically constituted alternatives. These entreaties were rebuffed at virtually every turn by the IFIs and by Northern governments, as well as by Southern governments beholden to the IFIs for financing. This lack of progress in opening up economic policy to public scrutiny and involvement led necessarily to a change in tactics and to the launching of the U.S. 50 Years Is Enough Campaign in 1994. The extensive media coverage generated by the campaign during the Bank's and IMF's 50th-anniversary year and the many counterpart campaigns that blossomed around the world opened the Bank to new levels of public examination and successfully pressured it to reach out more extensively to citizens' organizations worldwide.

Taking the Initiative

In June 1995, a group of non-governmental organizations met with new Bank President Jim Wolfensohn and proposed that the Bank undertake a bottom-up review of adjustment programs in conjunction with local organizations. In response, Wolfensohn asked the group to present him with a proposal that contained a concrete mechanism for the review of adjustment policies. The Development GAP subsequently coordinated the development of the proposal with some 30 NGOs from 20 countries -- including Third World Network-Africa, Equipo PUEBLO (Mexico) and Oxfam America -- and organized and engaged in the series of negotiations with the Bank that resulted in the birth of SAPRI.

The development of this endeavor has been pegged to the stated desire of Wolfensohn to open the Bank's adjustment operations -- an area of mounting controversy -- to examination and critique by local civil society in order to improve the relevance of the Bank's programming. In engaging the Bank in SAPRI, Wolfensohn cited the need to "promote measures that narrow income differentials" and to "encourage governments to consult and debate with civil society on policy reforms." SAPRI also coincides with his efforts to revitalize his bureaucracy and to transform the Bank's actions and image by engaging rather than confronting those who have voiced opposition to Bank policies and programs.

Civil Society Organizes Itself

Both the original group of NGOs and the Bank team designated by Wolfensohn felt strongly that civil-society participation in SAPRI should be dominated by Southern groups and that the latter should include a majority representation of popular organizations with grassroots constituencies. Hence, SAPRIN was created and developed as a global network with broad-based representation from Africa, Asia and Latin America -- including national networks formed to facilitate direct involvement in SAPRI's field activities.

A quarter of SAPRIN's members are labor unions, which are heavily represented among the Network's increasing number of Northern members, as well. The 1,200-strong membership is kept informed of developments by regular e-mail (and, where necessary, fax) communication and now via the World Wide Web, which will serve to make SAPRI and the other exercises and endeavors in which the SAPRIN Steering Committee engages the Network as participatory and transparent as possible.

The Steering Committee is comprised by representatives of some 20 organizations and coalitions, two-thirds of which are from the South. The Committee is actively involved, via continual electronic communications, in the business of SAPRI and CASA. It has delegated daily management authority to an Executive/Finance Committee, a Secretariat/Coordinator, and, more recently, three Regional Centers. The first consists of the three Regional Coordinators, the international Coordinator and four additional members -- Friends of the Earth, Oxfam International, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and Equipo PUEBLO (Mexico). The Development GAP serves as both SAPRIN's Secretariat and Coordinator, responsible for carrying out SAPRIN's day-to-day activities, negotiations and fundraising, often in conjunction with other Executive Committee members, and is accountable to the Steering Committee as a whole. The three Regional Centers are ISODEC/Third World Network-Africa (Ghana) for Africa, FOCUS on the Global South (Thailand) for Asia, and FUNDE (El Salvador) for Latin America. The Secretariat is responsible for Eastern Europe.

SAPRI: A Joint Assessment of Policy with the World Bank

The genesis and major endeavor of SAPRIN is the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative, launched in July with the World Bank and its President following months of negotiations. These deliberations and other project preparations have been carried out with the Bank's own SAPRI Secretariat and Coordinator, who, as Director of Development Policy, serves as deputy to the Bank's Chief Economist. He reports to a Bank Steering Committee, which includes Managing Directors and Vice Presidents and which combines with SAPRIN's Steering Committee to manage SAPRI.

The purpose of the Initiative is to bring together organizations of civil society, their governments and the World Bank in a joint review of SAPs and an exploration of new policy options. It was agreed by the Bank and SAPRIN that it would begin in a minimum of eight and a maximum of ten representative countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe, with additional countries being eligible to join during SAPRI's 18-24-month projected life span. At the moment, the participating countries are Ghana, Mali, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Ecuador and Hungary, while Bolivia is under consideration.

Through public fora and field investigations in each country, the manner in which different population groups and economic sectors are affected by adjustment programs will be examined. Preparations for these activities have begun in the eight countries, including a broad outreach by citizens' groups to all interested sectors in most of the countries and the selection of a civil-society steering committee and lead organization. A National Steering Committee will be formed in each country with government and the Bank, and a public, opening National Forum will be held at which a tripartite consensus on the impact and efficacy of selected adjustment measures -- such as trade liberalization, privatization, and credit, labor and fiscal policy -- will be sought. Where agreement is not reached and/or new issues arise, the issues will be referred to a joint investigative team, which will undertake an on-the-ground, participatory assessment of the measures' effects and the reasons for that impact, employing a mix of techniques that are designed to yield both qualitative and quantitative information. In both the opening forum and the fieldwork, local populations and their articulated experiences will play a prominent role.

The findings from this process in each country will then be distilled at a second national forum and recommendations will be made for changes in economic programming and in the closed manner in which that programming currently takes place. National and synthesized global findings will subsequently be presented with recommendations to Bank senior management and other policymakers at a second global forum. Lessons will be drawn for the future of policy-based lending, setting the stage for changes in economic-reform operations and improvement in the process and quality of Bank programming.

The breadth, challenge and objectives of SAPRI are without precedent. Never before have the Bank and client governments engaged civil society, much less the Bank's major critics, in such a far-reaching exercise. Not only has the Bank finally opened up the issue of structural adjustment and economic reform for public debate, but it has also recognized, and thus legitimized a role for, affected organizations of civil society as rightful participants in the economic-policymaking process. It is also the first time that many of these groups, particularly those organizations most skeptical about the intent of World Bank and IMF intervention in their countries, have been willing to engage the IFIs in a collaborative undertaking. They join the process prepared to hold the Bank to its commitment to accept the findings emanating from SAPRI and to translate them into meaningful changes in policy and in the policymaking process.

SAPRI's Public Launch in Washington in mid-July captured and projected the significance of the joint initiative. It featured keynote speeches by 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. In these and other areas, SAPRI is breaking new ground with innovative approaches. These breakthroughs include:

Establishment of structural adjustment as a public issue requiring grassroots knowledge and input. Until SAPRI, civil society did not have a legitimate voice in the shaping of global economic policy. Now a breakthrough, in the form of worldwide citizen involvement in a forward-looking assessment of structural adjustment, has been achieved with a major international institution, an accomplishment highlighted in the international media prior to and following SAPRI's July launch at the World Bank.

Tripartite collaboration on a level playing field. In addition to the breakthrough on the issue of structural adjustment, perhaps what separates this development initiative with the Bank from others is the strong position of participating citizens' groups vis-a-vis the Bank and government in each country. Civil society, after organizin g itself without outside interference, initiates the country exercises and brings its priority issues to the table. These are likely to range from the impact of import liberalization and tight credit on small businesses and farms (and hence on employment and incomes among the poor) to the relationship between cuts in health and environmental budgets, on the one hand, and the diminishing health conditions and status of communities and families, on the other. "Rules of the game" that protect civil society's independence of action and its right to define both the parameters and content of the review have been drafted as Standard Operating Procedures.

Broad citizens' networks built through SAPRI country organizing. The composition of the national civil-society networks being established at the country level reflect the importance placed on SAPRI around the world. The active organizing by lead organizations in the eight current SAPRI countries has been successful to the point, in some countries, of generatin g national citizens' movements. For the first time, labor unions, business and farmers' associations, churches, women's groups, environmental organizations and other popular groups, along with NGOs, academicians and parliamentarians, are working together to bring a comprehensive civil-society perspective into the economic-adjustment process. The fact that structural adjustment has been the most transforming force in so many societies across the South and in Eastern Europe has mobilized organizations from virtually all sectors now that the opportunity to address these policies and their impact publicly and systematically has finally presented itself. This unique representativeness also enables a cross-fertilization among sectors that is a priority for many groups that have sought for some time to mobilize with others with a common agenda. Such cross-sectoral collaboration holds significant promise for engendering social and economic change in the SAPRI countries.

Increased access to information on SAPs. Long and sometimes difficult negotiations between SAPRIN and the World Bank have yielded a groundbreaking Information Disclosure Policy Agreement for SAPRI. The Agreement, which has been approved by the Bank's Board and is therefore official policy, provides for unprecedented public access to information containe d in confidential Bank documents that address the design, intent and content of adjustment programs. These documents include Policy Framework Papers, Letters of Development Policy, Country Assistance Strategies, President's Reports, Mission Appraisal Reports, Tranche Release Memoranda, Completion Reports and equivalent reports on sectoral operations.

Innovative, participatory field methodology. The field-investigation methodology that SAPRIN has negotiated with the Bank for use in each country has four unique features. One is a pair of highly public and transparent national fora that will give marginalized groups an opportunity to present their experience under adjustment and to take ownership over the field investigation that the two fora will bracket. Second, the field research will be highly participatory, with the "subjects" helping to define its questions and parameters. Third, qualitative information, including that presented at the fora, will be as valued as quantitative information. And, fourth, the research will take a "political economy" approach, with the analysis focusing on those factors in the economic and political system (national and global) that have determined the selection and design of adjustment policies and their impact when implemented. The basic methodology framework paper is undergoing final modification.

Independent financial arrangements. The Bank and SAPRIN have joined to fundraise for this groundbreaking initiative, focusing in the first instance on the Nordic countries. To date, the equivalent of US$1.5 million (two-thirds of which is designated for SAPRIN) has been raised from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and placed in a trust fund at the World Bank to which SAPRIN and the Bank, through an unprecedented agreement, have equal access. Future trust-fund agreements will also guarantee independent use of the monies raised, and additional funds are being raised independently by SAPRIN from foundations, NGOs, Northern governments and United Nations agencies.

Mobilization of civil society around global economic policymaking. When some at the World Bank challenged the representativeness of the group of 30 organizations that sent the original proposal to Wolfensohn, The Development GAP reached out around the world to engender the development of a network of diverse groups from numerous economic and social sectors. Today, SAPRIN's membership includes hundreds of organizations, including a large representation of peasant and small-farmer associations, labor unions, business and manufacturers' associations, NGOs, and women's, indigenous-peoples', environmental and religious organizations. SAPRIN provides a vehicle for the first time to many of these groups for a cross-sectoral collaboration on economic-justice issues and for exerting their influence in the area of international economic policy.

Broadening official involvement. SAPRIN used the successful Public Launch of SAPRI in July to help legitimize a role in economic policymaking for others, beyond citizens' organizations, who have been kept out of the process by the managers and economists at the IFIs. Participating in the week's activities were UN agencies, the European Union and Bank staff dealing with poverty and participation issues. SAPRIN will work with these parties in the future, while continuing to insist that agriculture, labor, environment and social ministries be part of government representation in the country exercises.

SAPRI Country Exercises: Status Report

Throughout the world, SAPRI and CASA exercises are capturing the imagination and focusing the energies of a broad range of civil-society organizations. Under the banner of SAPRIN, unprecedented coalitions are uniting labor unions, development groups, environmental organizations, business and farmers' associations, and women's, indigenous and other groups. The preliminary, organizing phases of the exercises have exceeded the most optimistic expectations, and preparations are now underway or will soon begin in the eight countries for the first national fora, all of which are scheduled to be held between June and August 1998. A review of the status of each of the exercises may be found on the following link.


CASA: Civil Society Policy Assessments in
Emerging-Market Economies

While the Bank's President agreed to the inclusion of a representative sample of large, emerging-market economies in SAPRI, none are yet participating. The government of Mexico, once the Bank's adjustment model, has refused involvement, as has the government of the Philippines. Nor has the Bank yet formally requested the participation of Argentina or Brazil. This has not prevented the organization of SAPRI-like initiatives, however, by the many elements of civil society in each of these countries distressed by the lack of an official dialogue on SAPs and by the profound consequences of these programs. Likewise, organizations in Canada, long concerned about their country's economic adjustment process have decided to take such an initiative, as well. Due to its commitment to broad-based citizen involvement in the review and formulation of economic policy and because of its determination to make its activities and findings truly representative, the SAPRIN Steering Committee pledged its support for these parallel initiatives.

Hence, SAPRIN has organized the Citizens' Assessment of Structural Adjustment as a second endeavor, linked closely to SAPRI, and is helping to secure funding from various public and private sources in Europe and North America, as well as from United Nations agencies, to launch the country initiatives. The citizens' network established in each of the five (and any additional) CASA countries will work with national Congressional committees, which will be asked to host national fora. These fora, as well as field investigations, will be undertaken in collaboration with interested local governments and with agencies of the national government, wherever this is feasible. The investigative methodology and Standard Operating Procedures of SAPRI will be followed to the extent possible to ensure the compatibility of the findings of the two endeavors.

Plan of Action

The first two, overlapping phases of the work of SAPRIN in Washington and the field have approached completion, and the in-country fora and field investigations will soon begin. In preparation for the national fora, civil-society and World Bank information teams are jointly reviewing and summarizing heretofore confidential Bank documents, made available as a result of the Information Policy Disclosure Agreement, in order to provide adjustment-related information to the public, including the forum participants. Meanwhile, the local SAPRIN civil-society steering committees are continuing their national outreach and choosing citizen representatives to provide analysis at the fora on the impact of selected adjustment policies on their respective sectors, regions and/or population groups. Final issues selection is being made by civil society, government and the Bank in the respective National Steering Committees.

In Washington, negotiations with the Bank have yielded a well-defined SAPRI program plan, which will also be followed by the civil-society networks in the CASA countries. Efforts are continuing to secure the involvement of a third Latin American and a second Asian country for the SAPRI project, as are fundraising activities in support of both the SAPRI and CASA exercises. Broad global and national media outreach will be effected to ensure that the in-country fora are well covered and highly transparent. A SAPRIN publication will report on the fora and related events.

Most of the opening national fora, some of which have been postponed several months due to delays in the Bank's information-agreement approval process, are now scheduled to be held between June and August of this year. These fora will typically be two-to-four-day national events. Within two months of the completion of each forum, field research -- planned by the local civil-society technical team and steering committee (in conjunction with one of the SAPRIN Regional Centers) and their Bank/government counterparts -- will commence. Both the fora and the field investigations will be highly public and participatory affairs, and lessons will be drawn from these processes during the course of 1998 and 1999.

As far as the country exercises are concerned, second national, public fora scheduled for 1999 will yield final analysis, findings and recommendations based on the proceedings of the opening fora and the fieldwork. Highly publicized reports on the national SAPRI processes will be produced jointly with the Bank and government, and the three parties to the exercises will work collaboratively to effect necessary changes in national economic programming and to open the economic-policymaking process to civil society. SAPRIN will then prepare a global report, which will include findings from both the SAPRI and CASA country exercises, for a second Global Forum some time during the second half of 1999. The report will be presented to and discussed with senior Bank management, and commitments will be elicited from the institution regarding changes in its operations and policies, in its internal decisionmaking processes, and in its relationship with civil society and governments in the area of economic-policy formulation. A final report will provide the basis for the next stage of collaborative work in this area.

Meanwhile, the SAPRIN Secretariat will continue to reach out to expand the membership of the Network and will involve that membership in the development of a global public platform for SAPRIN. We will also include in an expanding dialogue on economic reform and alternatives those international agencies, government ministries, Bank staff and other civil-society coalitions and movements that see SAPRIN as a vehicle for the promotion of broad-based economic and social change.

Project Coordination and Financial Management

The SAPRIN Steering Committee has delegated authority and responsibilities to its Executive/Finance Committee, its three Regional Centers and its Coordinator/Secretariat. As SAPRIN Coordinator/Secretariat, The Development GAP continues to perform numerous operational, administrative and financial functions for the Network, many in concert with its World Bank counterpart. It coordinates both SAPRI and CASA through an extensive communications system and ensures, along with the respective Regional Centers, that civil-society involvement in each exercise is consistent with the Standard Operating Procedures that the Steering Committee has developed.

As the SAPRI process moves more fully to the field, the Centers will increasingly take on the responsibility of providing assistance directly to the local civil-society steering committees and lead organizations in the preparation of the national fora, as well as to their technical teams in the development of the field-investigation and research agenda. They will also work with the Secretariat and the lead organizations to clarify the "rules of the game" with Bank resident missions and government officials involved in SAPRI and to help resolve any unsettled conflicts.

The three SAPRIN Regional Centers are responsible for directly overseeing the national exercises in the four African countries, Bangladesh, El Salvador and Ecuador (as well as Bolivia, whose involvement is being considered by all parties), while the Secretariat has responsibility for providing direct support to the initiative in Hungary. The Secretariat is also in charge of the coordination, with the respective lead organizations, of the field exercises in the five countries that currently comprise CASA, i.e., Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines and Canada.

The SAPRIN Steering Committee has conducted negotiations with its Bank counterpart that have defined the SAPRI exercise, in particular during face-to-face sessions in Washington in July of 1996 and 1997. Extensive follow-up has been carried out by the Secretariat and by the Committee's various teams. Friends of the Earth heads the SAPRIN information-policy committee, while Oxfam America coordinates SAPRIN's global technical team with representatives from the three Regional Centers. A media team has also been established. In addition, individual members of the Steering Committee lend assistance in such areas as materials collection, fundraising and communications with country exercises.

Financial management is also the responsibility of the Secretariat, which serves as the primary fundraiser for both SAPRI and CASA, as well as for the individual country exercises. It manages a central SAPRIN fund, in which bilateral and foundation funds, as well as monies raised from other public and private sources, have been and will be deposited and from which funds are drawn to cover SAPRI activities. Resources earmarked for each SAPRI country exercise and for the Regional Centers are transferred in tranches from this account to the responsible party in that country or region. SAPRI country funds may also be deposited by donors directly in accounts established by lead organizations in each nation. Monies destined for CASA exercises will be drawn from funds established in each country and/or in Washington.

Financial reporting and periodic updates on the use of funds and the results of activities are provided to donors and the joint global Steering Committee. The Development GAP has established an independent bookkeeping system designed for SAPRI-related activities and will do the same for the CASA exercises. For independent verification, an annual audit of the records and accounts adequate to reflect the operations, resources and expenditures relating to SAPRI will be performed by an outside accounting firm.

Return to The SAPRIN Home Page