The International Balzan Foundation was created in 1956 to recognize the most outstanding initiatives of peace and fraternity among peoples and foster their growth in the scientific and cultural world. The main objective of the Foundation is to award the Balzan Prize.
The Foundation operates on an international level through its two offices, which are two legally distinct bodies. The “Prize” Foundation, with headquarters in Milan, works out and guides the policies of the Foundation, and is mainly concerned with the selection of candidates and the awarding of the prizes; the “Fund” Foundation in Zurich administers the Balzan estate. The executive bodies of the two Foundations are its two Boards.
The International Balzan Foundation was founded in 1956, when Angela Lina Balzan, inspired by her father Eugenio Balzan’s intentions, decided that the considerable inheritance left to her at his death should be used for an institution in honour of his memory.
Eugenio Balzan, born in Badia Polesine in 1874, was a journalist for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera before becoming manager and then co-owner. He left Italy and went to Switzerland in 1933 because of Fascist opposition and hostility to the paper’s independent stance. A shrewd, capable administrator of his investments, Balzan died in Lugano in 1953.
Every year, the Balzan Prizes are awarded to four scholars, scientists or artists who are distinguished in their fields on an international level. The aim of the Balzan prizes is to foster culture, the sciences and the most outstanding humanitarian initiatives of peace and fraternity among peoples, regardless of nationality, race or creed.
Since 2001, the Articles of the Balzan Foundation have established a stipulation that prize-winners must destine half of the Prize
they receive for financing research projects that are preferably carried out by young scholars or scientists.
The Prize for Humanity, Peace and Fraternity among Peoples is a special prize assigned by the Balzan Foundation at variable intervals, but never less than three years apart. It is destined for a person or organisation that has achieved distinction for outstanding humanitarian work.
The Prize, awarded in 2007, had a value of 2,000,000 Swiss francs.
The four subject areas for the awards change every year. As stipulated in the Articles of the Balzan Foundation, they are selected from among “literature, the moral sciences and the arts” and “the physical, mathematical and natural sciences and medicine”. Rotating the subjects ensures that new or emerging research gets recognition, while at the same time it supports important fields of study that may have been overlooked by other great international awards.
Moreover, since 2001, the Articles of the Balzan Foundation have enforced the stipulation that each prize-winner must set aside half of the prize received to finance research projects that preferably involve young scholars.
The Balzan Prizes are assigned by the General Prize Committee, an independent body working within the “Prize” Foundation in Milan, with Professor Salvatore Veca as its Chairman. It is comprised of twenty members of the most prestigious learned societies from all over Europe.
Self-nominations are not accepted. Each year, the General Prize Committee establishes the subject areas for the awards and chooses the winners from among the nominations entered by the world’s most important international cultural institutions (universities, research institutes, academies) at the Foundation’s request, and by leading figures whom the General Prize Committee recognizes as competent in the chosen fields for that year.
The winners of the Balzan Prizes are announced in the first half of September. The Prizes are presented to the winners in November alternating years in Rome and Bern.
To the present day, the Balzan Foundation has awarded its prizes to 134 personalities from all over the world who have distinguished themselves in the exact sciences or in the humanities, or who have been involved in outstanding humanitarian initiatives.