The inception of SANEI can be traced back to an informal World Bank meeting in Colombo, held during March 1998. The formalization and funding of SANEI was made possible through a grant from the World Bank.
The purpose of the grant was to support research capacity building in South Asia, and establish a network of economic policy research in the subcontinent.
The Network thus emerged, with member institutes based in the countries of South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), with the objective of fostering strong research interlinkages.
The Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), based in New Delhi, was chosen as the first Secretariat of the Network. Following the practice of relocating the Secretariat every five years, it was relocated at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) Dhaka in October 2009 from its earlier home, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad.