Africa is home to 1.216B people. The depressed local economies and, in some areas, lack of infrastructure has kept the continent under-developed. Without the infrastructure to support business growth, unemployment and starvation continue to be significant societal challenges. Some of the largest business owners in the region provide greater insight into what is happening in one of the world’s largest minimally developed populations and how to bring about change.
Isabel Dos Santos, the chairperson of UNITEL and also Africa’s first female billionaire — one of only 11 black billionaires worldwide — is working with a variety of industries and governments to help bridge the gap between Africa today and the region’s future potential. The first step to creating change is an understanding of the regionality of Africa. It is not homogenous. Africa is made up of dozens of countries, all with different laws, institutions, populations, and resources. It takes someone familiar with a region to inspire excellence and identify the best ways to improve quality of life. Isabel Dos Santos is uniquely positioned to understand many of the issues facing some African nations and to provide assistance in building long-term, sustainable systems to improve economic conditions throughout vast swathes of the continent.
Who Is Isabel Dos Santos?
Born in Angola to the man who would shortly become President of the country, Isabel Dos Santos enjoyed an unusual childhood. She was raised identically to her brothers, with the same opportunities and expectations, something almost unheard of in Angola in the 1970s. Her father’s groundbreaking approach to parenting became a blueprint for her later success. After studying electrical engineering at King’s College in London and growing her businesses and wealth, Isabel turned to her home country to bring some of her prosperity back to Angola. Her abiding interest in communications led to the development of UNITEL and its expansion into Angola and other Portuguese-speaking countries like Mozambique. Lack of infrastructure and education are some of the biggest roadblocks to progress in Angola, and bringing internet access to more people is a significant step in removing both. UNITEL obtained mobile operators and licensing in several locations, all with the intent to spread access to one of the world’s most important business and educational tools — the world wide web. In a recent interview, Isabel provided a little background about her success and the challenges of being a minority in the business world.
“I grew up understanding that the social and business frameworks needed to be changed to facilitate economic growth and development. I was one of two women in my class at Kings College in London when I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. I routinely faced challenges working in a male-dominated business environment, replete with chauvinism and entrenched systems of governance.”
Giving Back to Her Community
After overcoming her roadblocks, Isabel dos Santos has become a strong proponent of female equality and a diversified workforce. The International Business Times reports that “she routinely touts the lack of egalitarian frameworks as the biggest stumbling block to prosperity. Females are often sidelined in favour of males, by dint of the fact that males are traditionally stronger and perceived as the breadwinners of families. These archaic beliefs have hampered economic growth in Angola, and across many patriarchal societies. But in her companies, Dos Santos actively advocates for the employment, empowerment, and promotion of women through the ranks.”
With a focus on providing equal opportunities and developing women as thriving and sustainable providers for their families, Isabel has become a name synonymous with philanthropic efforts.
The companies she runs have created expanded economic opportunity, by initiating training programs and bringing development to Angola. Her business interests span the gamut from retail to communications. She even has an interest in satellite TV programming. With all that her business work has done, she is still a strong proponent for charity and the importance of giving back. Isabel believes that one of the best ways to help is through empowerment. Charity is not an open wallet; it is a plan of action that addresses basic needs and helps communities develop the infrastructure and talent needed to perpetuate a cycle of economic growth. By addressing basic needs like access to food and clean water, along with educational resources, she hopes to spread her financial success into disadvantaged communities throughout Angola and all of Africa.
In addition to her broad economic focus for philanthropic efforts, Isabel dos Santos has also become an outspoken supporter of gender equality. The entrepreneur discusses the importance of women in the workforce, like a straightforward equation. More people in the workforce mean more production and more goods and services. Ultimately, the more people working, the more prosperity is available to go around. Women in the workforce can help raise the quality of life throughout Africa, mainly since this is a region where women have traditionally been denied access to training, business development and the ability to be an independent provider. Projects that help promote women and remove the gender gap improve the entire economy.
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Quem amanhã quer ser empreendedor? Hoje é um bom dia para começar. Mas lembrem-se que temos um longo caminho para o sucesso. Nenhum grande empreendedor começou com uma grande empresa. É preciso cair 100 vezes, mas levantar sempre porque é com essas falhas que vamos aprender e aperfeiçoar. Estamos juntos 💪🏾 Vamos construir a nossa própria narrativa, a história de uma África em crescimento #SharingbyIsabeldosSantos #empreendedorismo #Africa #futuroslíderes Who wants to be an entrepreneur? Today is a good day to start. But remember that we have a long road to success. No great entrepreneur was born with a great company. You have to fall 100 times, and always get up because it is with these failures that we will learn and improve. We’re together 💪🏾 Let’s build our own narrative, the story of a growing Africa
Creating a Roadmap
The problems facing Angola are complex. While the country is rich in natural resources, depressed oil prices and moves toward sustainable fuel have hit Angola hard, dramatically reducing per capita income since the global recession of 2008. To combat complexity, Isabel dos Santos suggests goal-focused philanthropic efforts. Setting a long-term goal of economic improvement and creating smaller, more immediate goals that will lead the way toward that larger goal are an essential part of the process. The small goals create a cumulative impact. A focus on the building blocks of a larger goal also allows participants to take ownership of the decision-making process and avoid burnout. Success is a great motivator, and smaller goals enable more opportunities for success. The desire to develop Africa requires a project that is so large in scope, that it involves thousands of moving parts and pieces. Breaking this down into manageable chunks delivers proof of concept for new ways of problem-solving and helps drive engagement for investors.
An excellent example of this practice is a recent initiative to empower local farmers and agriculturalists in Angola. In the town of Humpata, Isabel worked with the locals to establish a strawberry farm that gave women a source of income. When describing the project, Isabel dos Santos said, “Creating opportunities and employment for women means betting on the progress of the communities themselves. When they thrive, women invest their income in the family, health, and education. I value this as a sense of duty, commitment, and dedication. The impact that women create around them is powerful and transformative.”