Graça Fonseca is a Portuguese politician who has served most recently as a Minister for Culture and previously Secretary of State for Modernization and Innovation. Her first elected role was as a Councilwoman on Lisbon City Council. Graça is also a Global Advisor to the Apolitical Foundation.
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How would you describe your political path?
I have always wanted to build a path of positive impact and to work to make change happen. After graduating from law school, I started working in university as a researcher on social sciences and I completed my PhD in sociology. At that time, I also volunteered for some human rights NGOs. All those years formed the founding pillars of my political path, based on positive change for the people.
For 22 years my path has been totally dedicated to public policy in local and national governments. I served as a councilwoman at Lisbon City Council, before being elected deputy in the National Assembly and nominated Secretary of State for Modernization and Innovation. Here I was responsible, among other areas, for conceiving and implementing a national scale participatory budget, the first initiative of its kind in the world. In recent years I also served as Minister for Culture.
What are the most useful lessons you've learnt on the way?
I’ve learnt so much on the way! For example, how important it is to listen, to think beyond the present and to be bold and never give up. These would be my top three lessons learnt.
Do not close yourself in an office just listening to your own team. Go out into the country, the towns and villages where people live. Listen and learn from them.
Do not only think and work for the present, meaning: consider the future in every decision you make.
Be bold and assume the risk for difficult decisions. It is easier to do less, but it is so much more important to do everything in your power to have a positive impact.
“There are many examples of amazing politicians that made change happen. Let’s tell those stories like we tell stories about children’s superheroes.”
What are the top three things that could be done to get courageous, ethical and trusted politicians in your area?
One of the big challenges of our times is to rebuild trust between citizens and democratic institutions. We are living in a world with a strong deficit of trust in the ability of institutions and politicians to solve the complex problems we face. Of course, I don’t have a magical solution to this. From my experience though, what we need is to change our storytelling about politics and politicians, reinvent the way we communicate, and engage more citizens in political participation.
Firstly we could do this through schools and universities, educating kids and young adults on the importance of political engagement. There are many examples of amazing politicians that made change happen. Let’s tell those stories like we tell stories about children’s superheroes.
Secondly, through better, more positive and relatable communication on political action and the positive impact of good policies on people’s lives. That isn’t easy in a time of so many different platforms and sources of information, but we need to find a way to get there.
Finally, I would highlight the importance of civic engagement. From my experience designing and implementing participatory mechanisms at local and national level, if we listen to and empower citizens to make co-decisions, we can rebuild their trust in our democratic institutions.
What ideas and/or people are inspiring you at the moment?
I am inspired by all the people striving for positive impact on people and the planet across the world. We’re at a decisive moment in history. A moment where everything we do counts for our common future.
What story do you want communities to tell about politicians?
I would love to hear communities telling stories about politicians as heroes and co-decision makers, as those who have changed the way we all live our lives for the better.
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