Isabel Mota joined the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in 1996 with the aim of creating and running a new Budget, Planning and Oversight Department. In 1999 she joined the Board of Trustees, where she was responsible for Human Resources, Central Services, Health, Human Development, Oceans, Cities and Partnerships for Development (specifically with African Portuguese Speaking Countries and East Timor). She subsequently also took responsibilities in the cultural area of the Foundation, both in the Delegation in France and in the Gulbenkian Distance and Proximity Programme (a Programme sought to question the possibilities and limits of interculturality and to create, within the space of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, a programme of activities that would reflect upon these questions).
In 2017 she was elected as President of the Board of Trustees, a position she held until May 2022, pursuing an agenda focused on three main commitments: to the future, to the most vulnerable and to the importance of culture.
The first commitment aimed to ensure that the Foundation kept pace with change, anticipating essential issues such as the impact of technology on society in order to ensure the sustainability of natural resources and social systems.
In this spirit, the Foundation adopted a policy of responsible investment through the divestment of its direct investments in fossil fuels managed by the holding company Partex, aligning with a new vision of a sustainable and circular economy future.
The Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity was created as a result of this decision. Awarded annually, it focuses on issues related to climate change, one of the most emblematic measures in this commitment to protecting the planet.
The Foundation strengthened its agenda of promoting change towards a new model of more sustainable economic growth, supporting pioneering projects in the field of the Blue Economy and ocean conservation; the efficient use of water in the agro-food sector; and the fight against energy poverty.
Seeking to better understand a more complex and rapidly changing world, in 2019, the Foundation launched its own think tank, Future Forum, with a focus on disruptive issues for the future.
The second commitment established was dedicated to the most vulnerable, those who most need support and who should be the main beneficiaries of the Foundation’s activities.
The Foundation was pivotal in the creation of an ecosystem of Social Innovation in Portugal, developing new solutions to complex problems that affect the most vulnerable. Of particular note in this space was the creation of new financial instruments that enable more effective management and leverage more private funding for the social impact investment agenda.
In a mandate marked by several emergencies, in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately affected the most vulnerable and the Gulbenkian Covid-19 Emergency Fund was created as part of a rapid response. In 2022, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the Foundation was once again called upon to respond to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, providing support to refugees in transit countries and to non-governmental entities providing support in Portugal.
A third commitment was defined around the importance of culture, encompassing art, education and science. This commitment involved two major projects in particular.
With regard to the arts, we highlight the beginning of the renovation of the Modern Art Centre (CAM) and the south expansion of the Foundation’s garden, with a concept that will benefit from renewed interaction with the park and bring together nature, culture and art with a greater openness to the city by the end of 2023.
With regard to science, we highlight the Gulbenkian Science Institute’s new scientific project. Based on research into the effects of environmental changes on human health, this project involves the installation of a new centre at the “Ocean Campus” in Pedrouços, which will enable the IGC to become a more collaborative and open institute and to pursue new partnerships, including with the new facilities of the Champalimaud Foundation and the Lisbon City Council’s “Sea Hub”, and plans for an incubation and research centre in the biomedical sciences at the Catholic University.
With an ongoing focus on innovation, the Foundation consolidated its digital transformation, planning and evaluation process and further committed to the rejuvenation of its staff and directors.
As part of a global effort towards greater internationalisation, the Foundation strengthened its bilateral and multilateral partnerships, expanding its influence and advocacy on supranational and philanthropic issues. Alongside several ‘classic’ networks such as the European Foundation Centre (now Philea) and the Network of European Foundations, the Foundation strengthened partnerships with leading international institutions and networks that share its own strategic interests, including the OECD, the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Migration Policy Institute.
Between 2017 and 2021, the Foundation’s investment portfolio reached a market value of 3.7 billion euros, one of its best results ever.
Isabel Mota holds a degree in Finance from the University of Lisbon (1973), taught at the Higher Institute of Economics (1973-1975), and was Deputy Director at the Office for External Economic Cooperation of the Ministry of Finance from 1978 to 1986, and Counsellor at the Permanent Representation of Portugal in Brussels in 1986.
From 1987 to 1995, she was Secretary of State for Planning and Regional Development in the XI and XII Constitutional Governments, responsible for negotiations with the European Union around the Structural and Cohesion Funds for Portugal.
In 1996 she set up and headed a new Budget, Planning and Oversight Service at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. In 1999 she joined the Board of Trustees and took over as its President in 2017.
She was a Director of the Institute for Executive Training at Universidade Nova de Lisboa in 1997 and a member of the General Council of Telecel Vodafone (2001-2003).
She was Chair of the Supervisory Board of Partex Holding B.V. (2017-2019) and a non-executive member of the Board of Directors of Banco Santander-Totta from 2015 to 2022.
She has received the Dona Antónia Ferreira Award for Woman Entrepreneurs and the Gold Medal for Distinguished Services from the Ministry of Health. A Grand Officer and Grand Cross of the Order of Infante D. Henrique, she was also decorated with the Grand Cross of the Order of Christ at the end of her mandate.
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