Who we are

We are a non-profit, philanthropic organization that works independently to broaden the debate on and the possibilities of care for mental illnesses prevention and mental health promotion in Brazil.

We support initiatives and projects that provide, through mental health, an improvement in the quality of life for all people, with a particular focus on adolescents and women.

We provide grants for the development and offering of tools and interventions that can create effective solutions and generate best practices in mental health, with the potential to be scaled, and we support the development of scientific evidence, as well as practical tools to support the public sector in its mission to provide accessible and high quality mental health care to all.

We believe mental health
is a collective effort

We believe that mental health is a collective responsibility, therefore we focus on building an ecosystem that enables an open dialogue between civil society, academia, and the private and public sectors, and on developing partnerships aimed at influencing public policy and fostering innovation in mental health.


Our History

São Paulo,
August 3, 2020

São Paulo, Monday, August 3, 2020, Brazil in a pandemic: After spending a long time developing an innovative idea, social investor Maria Fernanda Resende Quartiero founded the Cactus Institute. The organization was created for the purpose of transforming the future of Brazilian society through mental health, and the symbol chosen to represent it shows what the institute stands for: the cactus represents strength, persistence and adaptability, and it is has extreme resistance, just like the human mind.

The road to get here was long: Since childhood Maria Fernanda has been involved in initiatives for the care of others, together with her family. First it was with her paternal grandmother and mother, and later with her mother-in-law and friends, different generations of women who bet on care. But something always bothered her; repeatedly putting out fires year after year wasn’t enough and this social investor felt impotent facing structural problems that created such demand for basic necessities.

When she realized that none of the social sectors that received investment prioritized the subjectivities of the groups being cared for, that is, who they are, what they feel and how they relate to the world based on their own successes and frailties, our founder had identified a gap: how can you understand someone without understanding their mental health?

She knew it would be impossible to raise educational levels, improve performance on the job, reduce violence, increase access to healthcare and many other basic necessities, without taking into account that the protagonist of this whole story is the individual. That was when she started this pioneering work with mental health in Brazil. This work becomes more essential every day because of its omnipresence in all facets of life; undeniably, mental health is everywhere. Around here we say that mental health is everybody’s business, and it is everywhere, though sometimes silently.

Since then, we have been working tirelessly to promote this debate in all areas of society and we have consolidated our choice of which groups to prioritize to maximize the impact: working with adolescents’ and women’s mental health is potentially transforming and all of society benefits.

As part of the effort to base our work on evidence and data, one of our first steps was to form a strong partnership with the Veredas Institute to prepare and publish a first-ever report on the pathways to working with mental health in Brazil. We presented an overall panorama of the field around the world, with the main approaches, necessities, opportunities and strategies, and we mapped some of the pathways and main gaps in the area.

In the foreword, we had the honor of having two voices who work side by side in mental health and who represent so many of the other voices in this field, reinforcing our belief that by combining knowledge and vision we will go further.

Since then, we have increased our work on projects that impact mental health structurally, joining forces with civil society, government and the private sector.

We believe that, with the diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, generations and ecosystems building the mental-health narrative, we will be closer to making the cultural change we want and need for a future that is both healthier and possible. We will keep working continuously and permanently to make a positive impact on mental health in Brazil.

Our purpose:

Our mission

Our mission is to improve the quality of life for every person by supporting projects in mental illnesses prevention and mental health promotion. We aim to expand initiatives that value each person as the protagonist of their own journey when it comes to mental health and that contribute to democratizing the access to high quality and affordable mental health care.

We finance projects and initiatives, advocate, communicate, and strengthen the mental health ecosystem in order to achieve our goals of access to mental health care to all in Brazil, especially to adolescents and women, which are, for us, key groups to transform the mental health scenario in Brazil.


Our vision

We dream of a future in which our society is committed to improving mental health, particularly with regards to its promotion and prevention, since a healthier future depends on proactive actions we take in the present. We want to strengthen the mental health ecosystem in Brazil and build networks and alliances across all social sectors. We know that there is no way to improve other social agendas without first tackling mental health as a social issue, therefore we design collaborative solutions and strengthen partners and allies to be multipliers in this cause.

We engage more actors to join us in our mission, so they can incorporate the “lens” of mental health into their work. We’re helping to build a future in which everyone willing to take care of their mental health has the conditions and resources to access care, by producing and sharing data, evidence and best practices with the public sector and other decision-makers in this theme.

Our Manifesto

We are working for a future in
which all of society takes
care of mental health the same as we
dedicate ourselves to physical health.

Our practices

To inform is to form:

we work to eliminate stigma and discrimination related to mental health, through providing quality information, and sharing best practices.


we believe in the adaptability of the human mind, in positive and systemic changes and in the power of civil society as an agent of change.

Access and equity:

all people, regardless of age, gender or social status, have the right to access high quality mental health care.

If you want
to go far,
go together:

with the combined efforts of the third sector, the private and the public sectors combined, and with a strong ecosystem around this cause, we will be better equipped to achieve our mental health goals.

We are different,
so we need
segmented approaches:

through active listening, we seek to approach mental health using segmented views, considering the specifics of each person and group.



Founder and Chief Executive Officer

“Become who you are”

Maria Fernanda is a social investor with 20 years of experience in philanthropy and social impact, holds a bachelor’s degree in communication and is a mother of 3.


General Executive Manager

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie

Executive Manager at Instituto Cactus, with a professional career that combines 20 years of experience in the private sector, including notable performance in the financial market with experiences at prominent institutions such as Banco Safra and the position of COO at Kiron Capital. Her professional journey is marked by essential skills in project management, product development and building high-performance teams. With a degree in Business Administration from FGV and a master’s degree in Economics, Silvia has a solid foundation to understand and address complex challenges. Furthermore, Silvia is recognized for her ability to work effectively in multifunctional environments, demonstrating leadership and strategic vision in all areas in which she operates.


Mental Health Specialist

Bianca has a degree from New York University (NYU) in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies and a master’s degree in Global Mental Health from King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She was a Research Assistant at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Project Coordinator at Columbia University assisting in research and implementation of mental health studies for vulnerable populations in low-income countries.


Project Coordinator

"The greatest punishment for those who are not interested in politics is that they will be governed by those who are." Arnold Toynbee

Bruno holds a master’s degree in Public Policy from the Hertie School (Germany), a specialist degree in Political Science from FESPSP and a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from ESPM. He has experience in government relations and political analysis, having worked in multinational consulting, third-sector organizations and government agencies.

Mariana Rae

Project Coordinator

"Know all the theories, master all the techniques, but when you touch a human soul, just be another human soul." Carl Jung

Mariana holds a Master’s and PhD in pharmacology from USP and a Master’s in Public Health from Harvard University. She has experience in research, data analysis and public-health policies focused on mental health and substance-use disorders.

Rafaela Rodrigues

Communications Coordinator

"We have to talk about liberating minds as much as liberating society." Angela Davis

Rafaela has a degree in Integrated Communications, with a major in Advertising and specializes in Strategic Marketing. She has worked in communications consulting, planning and implementing internal and external communication strategies. She has experience in the areas of education and the third sector.

Yllana Calori

Executive Secretary

"I believe that respect, affection and hospitality can strengthen our relationships. A frank and honest conversation allows us to be ourselves, regardless of the difficulties of everyday life."

Yllana has a degree in Hotel Management and Office Administration and is currently studying for an MBA at FGV. She has worked for institutions such as Mattos Filho, Ayres Ribeiro Advogados and Accor Hotels.

Advisory board

Christian Ingo
Lenz Dunker

Psychoanalyst and professor of psychoanalysis and psychopathology at the Institute of Psychology at USP

Marcia C.

Professor and Head of the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard School of Public Health

Marina Feffer

Social investor and co-founder of the Generation Pledge


Journalist specialized in healthcare and founder of Futuro da Saúde


Psychiatrist and coordinator of the Anxiety Laboratory at the USP School of Medicine


Cofounding partner of Wright Capital Gestão de Patrimônio

We are causing structural changes
based on mental health, because
there can be no sustainable change
without focusing on the people.

Activities Report

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