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Banco Santander. Committed to the Environment

Interview with JOSé ANTONIO VILLASANTE

General Manager of Banco Santander and Director of the Santander Universities Global Division

«We need an advanced, competitive national science and technology system linked to the productive fabric»

In this interview José Antonio Villasante explains the importance of science and research in finding answers to various challenges facing the modern world

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Banco Santander is a member of the Fundación General CSIC’s board of trustees and has actively supported the Foundation since its inception. What aspects of this cooperation would you highlight?
First of all, I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding work of the Spanish National Research Council’s (CSIC) researchers and our admir­ation for HIGHLIGHTSProfile: José Antonio Villasante Cerro
the institution’s plans and the work of its scientific teams.

Banco Santander has been an institutional partner of the CSIC for the last twelve years. In the first phase we backed its training and advisory programmes for Ibero-American researchers and PhD students with travelling professorships in various fields of knowledge. Subsequently, our collabor­ation has focused on direct support for teams of researchers working on projects addressing ecosystems and endangered species.

In any event, I would highlight our general willingness to contribute to the plans and priorities put forward by CSIC’s management team from time to time without placing conditions on the topics or teams taking part in the projects.





The FGCSIC’s 2010 call for Proyectos Cero proposals on threatened species was backed by a million euros from Banco Santander. What makes the FGCSIC’s Proyectos Cero programme attractive to an institution like Banco Santander?

At Santander we are convinced that a society without quality science and research (both basic and applied) will not be in a position to offer satisfactory answers to the various challenges humanity as a whole, and Spanish society in particular, faces in the modern world. We need an advanced, competitive national science and technology system linked to the productive fabric and our institutional and social network.

Helping safeguard our planet’s biodiversity and physical environment is an inescapable demand for developed societies, despite the difficulties posed by economic crises. The bank feels itself repaid by the satisfaction of the teams of scientists who are promoting the five Proyectos Cero and the CSIC’s management team, in the knowledge that our sponsorship can help provide these research lines with more resources.

To what extent do you consider public-private partnership to be important for scientific research?
Obviously, the demand for financial resources necessary to ensure internationally competitive scientific research exceeds many countries’ fiscal capacities (particularly in the case of basic research).

Moreover, companies have established their position over the last few decades as key social and economic players and as fundamental agents in the creation of jobs and wealth. Companies are actors mobilising collective values and energy, committed to business objectives and projects that go beyond the short-sighted aspiration to maximise short-term benefits. It is in their own interest to incarnate and promote sustainable projects that stand the test of time. Among other things, this means a bigger commitment to the challenges society faces and this is expressed through the institution’s public programmes and policies.

In short, I think that public-private partnership is absolutely essential.

The Proyectos Cero 2010 call for proposals focused on conserving endangered species. Why fund projects of this kind?
I have already said. Our guiding principle has always been to support the CSIC’s priorities Helping safeguard our planet’s biodiversity and its physical environment is an inescapable demand for developed societiesand projects. Its management team informed us of its interest in bolstering these programmes, which might perhaps find it more difficult to access private resources, given that the objective of their research is somewhat more remote from possible market interest, but which are of paramount importance in safeguarding the biological wealth of our physical environment. This is how we understood it and so decided to give our support to these five scientific teams. We feel very satisfied with the broad response the call received and the projects in progress.

The projects selected in the Proyectos Cero call for proposals involve sequencing the genome of the Iberian lynx; mitigating disease in declining amphibian populations; researching living fossil plants; ensuring the viability of an endangered limpet and steppe birds. As you see it, what contributions can these lines of research make to society?
To be quite honest, my scientific knowledge is limited, so I can only say that I have full confidence in the teams concerned. From the data reported back from the Foundation’s management team, I have no doubt as to each project’s meeting its milestones, and that they will all make the most of the opportunity these Proyectos Cero offer to make significant headway in their different lines of research. The project has been managed transparently throughout, and at the end we will be able to fully take stock of what has been achieved.

Banco Santander is committed to R&D and higher education through a range of initiatives channelled through Santander Universities Global Division. Can you tell us which of these initiatives strike you as most important?
At Santander we are convinced that the true wealth of nations lies in the quality of their citizens’ minds, in the level and quality of their education, their ability to assimilate scientific and technologic­al advances, and the creativity and flexibility with which they are able to incorporate them into productive of institutional activity. This is the reason for our commitment to higher education and science in the countries where we are present, and this is one of our corporate hallmarks and a part of our business philosophy and strategy.

In 2011 we devoted this institutional commitment to global sponsorship of 120 million euros, which was dedicated to financing thousands of projects in teaching, science, management, interuniversity cooperation, entrepreneurship, etc. through bilateral partnership agreements with close to 1,020 universities in 17 countries.

Universia; the Miguel de Cervantes virtual library; the RedEmprendia Ibero-American university network for business incubation; international mobility grant programmes (over 20 thousand grants last year) and, recently, work experience at SMEs, are among the most significant.

One of Banco Santander’s objectives is to contribute to access to knowledge and quality higher education, as tools of progress towards prosperous and open societies. What are the main mechanisms you use to achieve this?
As I mentioned earlier, our collaboration with academia is articulated through institutional partnership agreements through which we aim to support projects proposed by the university or scientific organ­isation itself with our sponsorship and institutional and technical support. Our modus operandi is characterised by respect for each institution’s independence.

In this diverse network of relationships, cross-cutting projects have arisen in which several universities cooperate (this is the case of numerous exchange programmes with Chinese or American universities, or specialist university management software development projects, and the Office of University Cooperation (OCU. Sometimes, this means a cooperation between tens or even hundreds of universities, as is the case in RedEmprendia and Universia.

Profile: José Antonio Villasante Cerro

José Antonio Villasante qualified as a chartered accountant at the Escuela de Comercio de Santander, and has an honours degree in Economics from the University of Barcelona and a Master in Higher Business Studies from ESADE.
He joined Banco Santander in 1964, where he has occupied posts in various units with a wide range of different roles. He was Provincial Director of Banco Santander in Guipúzcoa, Cordoba, Seville and La Rioja. In 1994 he was appointed as Banco Santander’s Territorial Manager in Madrid.

He is the Internation Director of Universia and Director of OCU. He is a trustee of several foundations: Parque Científico de Madrid, Gregorio Peces-Barba, Complutense, La Mancha, Cantabria, Carlos III, CSIC, Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes and the Centro Internacional de Formación Financiera.

He is currently General Manager of Banco Santander and Director of the Santander Universities Global Division.

Published in No. 09


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  • Lychnos. ISSN: 2171-6463 (Spanish print edition),
    2172-0207 (English print edition), 2174-5102 (online edition)
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