Companies play a fundamental role in building a fairer and more balanced society, and must assume themselves as agents of positive change. This strategic vision, which combines economic value with social responsibility, must be understood as a source of competitive advantage and the creation of shared social value.
Although there are several examples of Portuguese companies and entrepreneurs as active protagonists of strategic social responsibility initiatives, there is still much to be done. I am sure that the success of these companies in developing initiatives with great social impact will encourage many others to move forward.
In the case of BPI, we have always had a relevant role in terms of sustainability, supporting social inclusion, managing with ethical principles and caring for the environment. Social responsibility is something that is part of our DNA and are values that we share with our shareholder, the CaixaBank Group.
Since more than 40 years ago we advanced with the then Sociedade Portuguesa de Investimentos (SPI), which was at the genesis of the current BPI, I immediately understood that it was very important to act as agents of change – for example, not financing projects that were not very friendly of the environment – in order to support what we considered to be a priority for the progress of Portuguese society, which was still taking its first steps towards democracy: health, culture, education and innovation.
From the outset, we paid great attention to strengthening healthcare equipment. In the 1980s, as soon as our results allowed, we supported very significant investments in strengthening the capacity of our hospitals – namely Hospital de Santo António and Hospital de Santa Marta – in areas such as neurological surgery and intensive care. At the same time, in the area of culture, we were one of the most important promoters of the Serralves Foundation – a case of extraordinary success and relationship between the State and the private sector. More than a decade later, we also decisively supported the creation of Casa da Música, a very important cultural structure in our country. Without forgetting the support for editions by great Portuguese art creators.
In education, we decided early on to support higher education, establishing collaboration programs mainly focused on funding research and supporting doctorates. On the other hand, we were actively involved in the launch of the new “governance” model for universities, which boosted the involvement of agents not linked to academia in management bodies. I myself was president of the first General Council of the University of Coimbra and, later, president of the general council of the University of Porto, Fernando Ulrich was president of the General Council of the University of Algarve.
In the area of innovation, we were promoters of COTEC, which I also chaired, and other institutions at the forefront between universities and companies, such as INESC and INEGI, institutions that play a determining role in the relationship that companies must have with the ability to generate knowledge, very concentrated in research institutions that are in our universities. During this period, an important and decisive leap was taken in this matter, one of the great successes of public policies in recent decades, focusing on the conversion of research capacity into economic value.
But the big leap in support for the social sector was already made with Fernando Ulrich as Executive President of the Bank, precisely at a time when the financial sector was going through a difficult situation, in 2010. The Bank moved forward with the creation of the BPI Capacitar Awards, to be followed BPI Seniores and then BPI Solidário, which aimed to support projects by third sector entities with the aim of helping and training groups of people in vulnerable situations. With this, we opened a front for the very important social sector, which today constitutes the main milestone of the Bank's social activities.
These awards – which were later joined by the Childhood Award – are today a reference in Portugal in the social sector. Since 2010, more than 32 million euros have been allocated to implement 1,035 social inclusion projects to help more than 213 thousand people.
This social dimension – a fundamental axis of BPI's identity – has been reinforced in recent years by the connection to the “la Caixa” Foundation, CaixaBank's most important shareholder.
The “la Caixa” Foundation, created at the beginning of the 20th century, is the largest foundation in the European Union and works daily to achieve a more egalitarian society, combating inequalities and promoting the well-being of society in general and, in particular, of most disadvantaged communities.
In Portugal, the Foundation's action in the social area supports third sector initiatives – especially among the most vulnerable groups – in research and innovation (in health and social sciences), in education and culture. I highlight the extraordinary social work with the creation of a palliative care network in all regions – together with NGOs and health institutions – and five home care networks, an area where the country is most fragile.
Between 2022 and 2024, we plan, together with the “la Caixa” Foundation, to invest 120 million euros to support more than 200,000 people, through programs with a positive and transformative social impact.
At BPI, we have always valued the impact we have on society, it is part of our identity. Regardless of the economic context, the Bank has always sought to be close to its Customers and Society.
Note - Opinion article as part of BPI's 40th anniversary as an AIP member.