Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

A charitable foundation that has a specific interest in cultural, educational, social and scientific areas


The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was founded in Portugal in 1956. It is a charitable foundation that has a specific interest in cultural, educational, social and scientific areas. The organisation seeks to drive long term well-being improvements for the most vulnerable in society, and it goes about this by driving connections in society across boundaries like communities, borders and sectors. It aims to deliver social, cultural and environmental value. It is particularly focused on increasing cross border exchanges of both experiences and lessons.

Mission and investments

The management team and founders

Calouste Gulbenkian was an Armenian who became very wealthy based on oil and the development of this resource in the Ottoman Empire. The foundation was set up after his death after he left his wealth to be used for this purpose.

The director of the UK branch is Andrew Barnett, who has been in the role since 2007. He has been involved in several important campaigns such as Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM), and the Campaign to End Loneliness. Before his current role he served at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, UK Sport, the National Consumer Council, HSBC Holdings, the Arts Council of England and the Foyer Federation for Youth.


The mission statement of the organisation is that the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation desires to change perceptions, build relationships, reduce social exclusion and preserve the environment and innovative partnerships.

The approach that it takes to achieve this involves exploring new ideas and thinking that can drive increases in well-being, experimenting with pilot ideas and start-up organisations, exchanging information through acting as a collaborator and encouraging partnerships, explaining what happened and looking at what can be learned from it, and exiting in a way that a legacy is created and new issues can be tackled.

Geographical Location

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is based in Lisbon where its headquarters are located. It also has offices in the UK, in London, and Paris, France. The UK branch funds projects in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Areas of Focus

The organisation currently has three areas which it has defined as being strategic priorities between 2014 and 2019, as follows:

Transitions in Later Life is focused on increasing knowledge and information about the issues that people face as they age. There is a particular focus on the psychological and emotional problems faced by older people. The goal is to be able to devise better responses to the problems that older people have to deal with.

Sharing the Stage aims to create collaboration and develop the area of participatory and socially engaged performing arts, to raise the profile of this particular practice of the arts. The undertaking seeks to find and support the best practice and innovative models in this area.

Valuing the Ocean is focused on helping to increase the capacity of the environmental sector to be able to influence the marine environment. The overall goal is protecting the oceans, and this is achieved by fostering connections and providing support in these areas.

History – Founders

Calouste Gulbenkian was an Armenian who was born near Istanbul. He worked in Britain and eventually became a British citizen before moving to and living in France. Finally, he settled in Portugal. The founder of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was Calouste Gulbenkian. He became very wealthy through getting involved in the oil industry and he created allegiances and structures to help bring people together to exploit oil in the Ottoman empire. In later life, he moved to Paris, and he became known for his fine collection of books, coins, art, statues, manuscripts and other fine items. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was set up when he died, as he left these items to a foundation that would be set up in Portugal, which would help all of humanity.

Types of Grants/Awards and Funds available

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation generally has an Open Fund that it uses to fund projects. Applicants can usually apply to be funded. However, currently, the organisation is looking to fund three separate areas instead. These are Sharing the Stage, Transitions in Later Life and Valuing the Ocean. These three areas are the strategic priorities that it is supporting between 2014 and 2019.

Individuals cannot apply, but projects can apply for grants that are between £10,000 and £30,000. Applicants to the UK branch need to show that the project takes place in the UK or Republic of Ireland and needs to benefit people living in these countries. However, the organisation also supports some proposals that involve international partners.

Examples of types of organizations funded

Looking at the Transitions in Later Life strand, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has supported various activities already. These have included work by Guy Robertson to do a review of the literature, evaluation and practice in the area. Another activity has been a project with the Shaftsbury Partnership to develop the Retirement Transition Initiative. It has also worked with the Campaign to End Loneliness focused on future-proofing for ageing.

The Retirement Transition Initiative is based on trying to provide people who are around the retirement age with the information they need, as well as networks, resilience and opportunities to help to ease the transition through retirement. The project aims to improve economic outcomes, health and wellbeing both for the individual of retirement age and for their community. Those taking part can create social capital within their networks, while also learning about later life’s challenges.

Approach to Education / Not for Profits / Social Enterprise

The organisation does not have education as a particular priority but it does believe in learning from the lessons of others, and education in that sense to achieve goals. It supports not for profit organisations, and social enterprise if they meet the organisation’s strict criteria for gaining funding.