International Encyclopedia of Civil Society

Living Edition
| Editors: Regina A. List, Helmut K. Anheier, Stefan Toepler

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

  • Raquel Campos FrancoEmail author
Living reference work entry


Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is one of the most important European foundations, both for the resources it owns and manages, and for the transformative impact it has on society. It develops its work in Portugal, and throughout the world, through direct and grantmaking activities. With headquarters in Lisbon, it has two branches: in London and in Paris.


Av. de Berna, 45A

1067-001 Lisboa



The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is a Portuguese private institution of public benefit whose statutory aims are in the fields of charity, arts, education, and science. It is one of the largest European foundations, with assets in 2018 of approximately €2.8 billion. Beyond the activities it undertakes on its own such as its museum, art collection, and research institute, the Foundation supports programs, projects, and gives grants in several relevant fields.

Brief History

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was created as a perpetual institution by a clause in the will of Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, and its statutes were approved in 1956. Born in 1869 in Istanbul, Calouste would prove to be a visionary investor, having played a crucial role in the shaping of the early oil industry in the Middle East. Having followed a family practice of patronage of the arts and welfare work, he also managed to create a vast collection of pieces of art comprising 5,000 years of art history. During the Second World War, Calouste Gulbenkian ended up in Lisbon, a city he fell in love with and where he would live the 13 final years of his life (1942–1955). By his will Calouste Gulbenkian created an international foundation that would bear his name.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation started operations immediately in 1956 and its headquarters were inaugurated in 1969 in a park of 7 hectares which include the museum that houses Calouste Gulbenkian’s art collection, a large auditorium with 1,200 seats, spaces for temporary exhibitions, a congress area, an art library, and a modern art center (opened in 1983). The Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, a scientific research institute focused on biology and biomedicine, is situated in Oeiras. The Foundation has a delegation in the United Kingdom (UK branch), a cultural center in Paris (the Calouste Gulbenkian Cultural Centre) and activities in more than 60 countries.

Mission/Objectives/Focus Areas

The Foundation is a perpetual institution of Portuguese nationality with charitable, artistic, educational, and scientific statutory aims. It affirms its commitment to full independence and preservation of its heritage, and its main priority is the development of a society that provides equal opportunities and that is sustainable. The Foundation’s headquarters is located in Lisbon, with delegations in Paris and London.


The Foundation pursues its statutory aims in Portugal and abroad through direct activities and grants. It has an orchestra and a choir with performances throughout the year; organizes solo and collective exhibitions of Portuguese and foreign artists; organizes conferences, meetings, and courses; and is actively involved in publishing. The Foundation awards subsidies and scholarships for special studies in Portugal and abroad, and it also promotes the Portuguese culture abroad and supports the Armenian Diaspora worldwide in order to preserve its culture and language.

The Foundation also gives support to programs and projects in the fields established in the statutes. The Portuguese context has changed a lot since Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s inception and the needs it served are now being addressed by other entities, freeing the Foundation to assume different responsibilities. The experience the Foundation accumulated, together with international shared agendas, namely, through networks with international foundations, has led to a change in the Foundation’s intervention model and in the definition of new strategic priorities – the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has been taking the role of agent for change, developing knowledge, and testing solutions for the critical problems facing humanity. Among many initiatives, the Foundation has renewed its commitment to supporting the creation of an ecosystem for social innovation and investment, which is not an end in itself, but a means to create and develop better solutions to people, namely, to those in contexts of greater vulnerability (Mota 2018). In the initiatives developed in this field is included the MAZE – X, a startup created by the Foundation in the development of an startup accelerator project intending to foster technological startups all over Europe to work in the fields of well-being, quality of life, circular economy, and ecological production and consumption.

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation awards the Gulbenkian Prizes annually, in the Human Rights category, and in the Cohesion, Knowledge, and Sustainability categories.

Structure and Governance

The Foundation is managed by a Board of Trustees that can include between three to nine directors. The members’ mandates are for renewable 5-year periods and vacancies are filled by appointments approved by vote of all members. Any direct descendant of the founder holds a lifelong position as member of the Board. Within the Board of Trustees, there is the Audit Committee and the Remuneration Committee. The Investment Committee is an advisory body of the Board on investment matters.

The Foundation published in 2007 its Code of Conduct (revised in 2010), with the purpose of establishing the general rules and principles of professional ethics and conduct of all the Foundation’s workers, including the Board of Trustees. (FCG 2010)


In 2018, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s total assets amounted to €2,772.1 million and the capital fund to €2,461 million. Two main aggregates contribute to the assets: financial assets (€2,272.0 million) referred to the Foundation’s investment portfolio, and oil assets, held through Partex Holding B.V. (€433.0 million), the Foundation’s energy holding (FCG 2019a). The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation announced in 2019 the sale of Partex, a transaction that marks a reshaping of the Foundation’s asset base (FCG 2019c). The total expenditure in 2018 was €95.1 Million, net of income generated from the Foundation’s activities, in the achievement of its statutory objectives (FCG 2019a): artistic and cultural activities €28 million, social development and sustainability Activities €20 million and scientific and educational activities €14 million (FCG 2019b).

Major Accomplishments/Contributions

The accomplishments of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation throughout its 50 years’ history are such as to deserve the following statement: “It is not even possible to imagine the country without Gulbenkian” (Barreto 2007).

From the research, programs, and projects that would not otherwise have been developed, to the scholarships given in a time when no other institution in Portugal could have given them, to the books that were and are too expensive for others to produce, the itinerant and fixed libraries that served 50 million readers when such services did not exist, to the debate generated in the conferences with the most knowledgeable persons in the world, to the financing of equipment in hospitals, to projects such as the recognition of the qualifications of immigrant doctors, to the programs such as the Active Citizen’s Fund or the Sustainability Programme, and so on, the contribution of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to the Portuguese society and the world is undeniable. The Foundation also invests in its participation in international networks, being present in shared projects in several domains.



  1. Barreto, A. (cood.). (2007). Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – cinquenta anos, 1956.2006 (Vols. I e II). Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.Google Scholar
  2. Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (FCG). (2010). Código de Conduta.Google Scholar
  3. Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (FCG). (2019b). Highlights 2018.
  4. Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (FCG). (2019c). The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation announces the sale of Partex. 17 June.
  5. Mota, I. (2018). Apresentação da Plataforma One. Value – discurso da Presidente. 20th Junho, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

Further Reading

  1. Conlin, J. (2019). Mr Five Per Cent: The many lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the world’s richest man. Profile Books.
  2. Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian. (2008). Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian 1956–2006 Factos e Números.Google Scholar
  3. MacDonald, N., & Tayart de Borms, L. (Eds.). (2008). Philanthropy in Europe – A rich past, a promising future. London: Alliance Publishing Trust.Google Scholar
  4. Tostões, A. et al. (2008). Gulbenkian, archuitecture and landscape. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidade Católica PortuguesaPortoPortugal

Section editors and affiliations

  • Regina A. List
    • 1
  1. 1.HamburgGermany