Civil society (people's movements and NGOs) have been working together for some time to forge a people to people forum in the SAARC region and to enable non-government voices to come together at the regional level. In 1994, a meeting was held in Kathmandu to discuss ways to foster cooperation, solidarity and action at the people-to-people level in a fragmented South Asia. The South Asian Forum on Human Rights (SAFHR) hosted the meeting, and participants drafted an 18-point Statement of Concerns, which was handed over to the SAARC Secretary General.

The following year, a consultation on the "Alternative Agenda for South Asian People's Solidarity" jointly organised by INSAF, INSEC, PILER and PP21 (People's Plan for the 21st century) was held in New Delhi. Participants sought an alternative agenda for a People's SAARC to address the concerns and aspirations of the people, reflecting the struggle for empowerment, livelihood and dignity of the South Asian people as a whole. This meeting produced a 14-point agenda for action. In 1996, the 1st SAARC People's Forum was held, and lobbied the official SAARC meeting on the issue of trafficking. This led to an acknowledgement at the 9th SAARC summit that trafficking is a grave concern for the region, and a commitment to develop a convention on the trafficking of women and children. The 2nd SAARC People's Forum further lobbied to change the text of the draft convention, and thereby impact on the policy framework of SAARC.