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Half a Century of FAPESP

The idea of establishing a permanent source of funds for use in encouraging science and technology and thereby support the economic and social development of the state of São Paulo began to germinate 70 years ago, when São Paulo scientists demonstrated their ability to solve the technical and scientific issues necessary to national defense when called on to collaborate in the Brazilian war effort.

With the democratization that followed the end of the Estado Novo (New State) period, the academic community and the 1946 State Constituent Assembly joined forces to include, in the 1947 state Constitution, a provision calling for support to research. This initiative was sponsored by deputies from political parties of different perspectives, especially Lincoln Feliciano of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and Caio Prado Júnior of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB).

Article 123 of the São Paulo Constitution stipulates that “support for scientific research shall be fostered by the state, through a foundation as intermediary, organized in such a way as may be established by law.” The single paragraph of Article 123 provided a fundamental element that gave the future institution autonomy in maintaining stability in the performance of its mission. It reads: “The state shall annually allocate to that foundation, as income for its exclusive administration, a sum not less than the equivalent of one-half of one percent of total ordinary revenues.”

The actual creation of the Foundation was included in the Action Plan adopted by the Carvalho Pinto Administration. Approved by the state Legislative Assembly in 1959, the Plan fulfilled that goal by enacting Law 5.918, of October 18, 1960, endorsed by the governor. Two years later, the Foundation began to function in accordance with by-laws approved in Decree No. 40.132 of May 23, 1962, signed by Carvalho Pinto.

Once again, an exemplary effort of integration between the scientific community and the legislative and executive branches of the São Paulo government resulted in the adoption of solid republican principles for action that were reflected in FAPESP by-laws that have remained current and effective ever since.

Throughout this half century, FAPESP has adhered to the basic lines of action adopted by those who conceived and established it: to support quality research in all fields of knowledge, without distinguishing between theoretical and applied research, through a decision-making process that uses the “peer review” system, with grants earmarked for the training of researchers and the financing of regular projects proposed by researchers already trained.

But in order to “construct the authority” of FAPESP – according to Hannah Arendt’s understanding of the concept – something more needed to be added to what the Foundation had already been doing since its creation. And so, in addition to the exponential increase in the number of projects evaluated and selected, the activities of the Foundation underwent important changes in the organizational paradigms of the research.

Contributing to this change was the decision by the 1988 State Constituent Assembly, which in a new example of integration between the academic community and the legislative branch raised the percentage of annual state revenue allocated to FAPESP from 0.5% to 1% and added technological development to its mission. The initiative came from Deputies Aloysio Nunes Ferreira and Fernando Leça and is reflected in Article 271 of the 1989 state Constitution.

The Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDC) established time limits on the independent operations of complex centers in strategic areas of research. Other comprehensive research programs were created, featuring complicated organizational structures. Examples of these are the Brazilian Biodiversity Research (Biota-FAPESP) for the study of biodiversity and recommendation of policies for its sustainable use; the Program for Research on Bioenergy (BIOEN), implementing research projects on bioenergy; and the FAPESP Global Climate Change Research Program. Closer relationships with the business community with a view to encouraging innovation in production are contemplated under the Research Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE) and the Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (PIPE).

The internationalization of FAPESP, brought about through agreements with similar entities around the world, has been a constant in recent years. It is a response to the challenge represented by the importance of the potential for interaction between Brazilian and foreign researchers for the advancement of knowledge.

Thanks to the efforts of all those who have served on its Board of Trustees and Executive Board over the past 50 years, its personnel, and the São Paulo scientific community, FAPESP has been able to help raise the standing of São Paulo in Brazil and in the world at large, with the knowledge generated by the research it sponsors.