Isabel Dos Santos is a power player in Angola. She is a creative visionary, an educated businessperson, and a force for change. The development, upliftment, and transformation of Angola is foremost in her mind’s eye. She has single-handedly changed the course of history for her countrymen by adopting a can-do attitude through empowerment projects, gender equality, and the dismantling of entrenched frameworks and stereotypes in developing countries.

Yet, despite her oversized contribution to society, she sees herself primarily as a proud Angolan woman, loving mother, and doting wife. This solid foundation provides her with the footing to bring about the change she wants to see in society. We caught up with Isabel Dos Santos, to conduct a one-on-one interview with her.

Isabel Dos Santos talks about investing in Angola
photo credit: Reuter

Isabel’s status as a power player is well known. Naturally, we are honored to have the pleasure of her company and learn a thing or two about the work that she does, the initiatives she is part of, and the projects she is privy to. Our comprehensive interview covers multiple topics such as gender equality and female empowerment, social change, economic transformation, and her upcoming projects.

Q: Mrs. Dos Santos, it’s great to have you with us. Kindly tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.

A: Good day, my name’s Isabel Dos Santos. I am first and foremost a proud Angolan citizen. I believe that an identity is important. My country is my heart and soul and everything that I do is geared towards the upliftment, improvement, and development of Angola. As a mother, I can tell you that the safety, security, health, and education of young people is everything. My story began with a loving family who always encouraged me to achieve the highest accolades. I attended the prestigious Kings College in London and qualified with an electrical engineering degree. That’s also where I met my husband and life partner. Once qualified, I set about implementing my strategic objectives in Angola.

The challenges faced by Angola are tremendous. Gender inequality is pervasive, rural development initiatives are severely lacking, and technological infrastructures are sorely needed. I have decided to tackle each of these exigencies head-on. My vision for Angola is one of a just society where every person has an opportunity to aspire towards excellence. That means breaking down entrenched systems and replacing them with a just societal model. Change takes time. It begins with baby steps and eventually grows into a national movement. I am honored to be part of this movement, and the men and women who have joined me certainly make it worthwhile.

Q: What projects are you part of? Where can we find examples of your development initiatives?

A: Allow me to preface this by saying that men and women can achieve greatness when barriers to entry are removed. For too long, women have been prevented from acquiring the skills, training, and education needed to rise through the ranks. Women have been ostracized from the business world by entrenched systems designed to keep them at home and tending to the children. This failed model only serves to perpetuate the status quo. Rather than advocating for specific roles for men and women, I believe that everyone should take part in these processes. To this end, it is important to tear down these patriarchal structures and frameworks and replace them with frameworks geared towards gender equality. When women are given the tools and resources to succeed, they do so with increasing alacrity.

Our country is undergoing a dramatic transformation. We have displaced Nigeria as the premier oil-producing country on the continent. We are a resource-rich nation of business owners, entrepreneurs, and skilled labor. We must push forward with these initiatives to drive an agenda of gender equality, women empowerment, skills training, and infrastructure development.

I am deeply invested in the companies I run. These include Unitel, CANDANDO, Zap, and scores of others. More importantly, I’ve instructed our human resources departments to initiate skills training and development for women in all our companies. This means that women will be presented with opportunities to rise through the ranks into positions of management and authority. The only way to bring about the change you want to see is to be the change you want to see. In my companies, women comprise 37% of the workforce and 40% of the managers are female. In technical positions, women are laggards at just 20%, but we are working overtime to increase these figures through skills training and development.

As a response to the second part of your question, you can see examples of our work with several projects. These include an ambitious undertaking known as ‘Women for the Future’ for attracting women into the telecom sector and IT, ‘World Girls Day’ initiatives to showcase girl power in innovation, tech, and telecom, ZAP TV efforts to promote improved living conditions for kids at Lar Betânia, and ‘Seeds for the Future’ to bring college students to China to study Mandarin and immerse themselves in Asian culture.

These are but a few of the many bold undertakings we are part of in Angola. We developed strawberry plantations to help local women understand small business enterprise and take charge of their financial future. We are also working tirelessly to combat the scourge of malaria, childhood diseases, and malnutrition across Angola and elsewhere.

Luanda skyline, Angola
photo credit: David Stanley / Flickr

Q: Why is Education so Important to You and to Angola?

A: Education is a powerful tool that you can use to change your lot in life. Without knowledge, skills, or training, you are destined to failure. The world is changing so quickly. Take the IoT (Internet of things) as a case in point. Telecommunications structures, broadband Internet, electric vehicle technology, alternative fuels, AI, AR, and other innovative systems and solutions are here. If we don’t embrace this technology and these changes, we will slumber in backward isolation. We certainly don’t want a situation where Africa is the laggard of the world, because this will place us at a distinct disadvantage.

Education and skills training empower people. This is particularly true of women in patriarchal societies. Entrenched systems in Africa and other developing countries tend to downplay the importance of education for women, to their detriment. I am an electrical engineer by trade, and an entrepreneur by design. I battled the stereotypes at home and aboard, struggled to make my voice heard, but ultimately triumphed. I want all women to have the opportunity to realize their full potential. Anything less is unacceptable. To facilitate this type of change, we have awarded multiple scholarships at the Royal Agricultural University in the United Kingdom. Our Seeds for the Future Program, in partnership with Huawei is an example of our corporate social responsibility projects to introduce our students to the latest in IT.

Isabel Dos Santos is an international business person with financial interests all over the world. She is focused on her home country Angola, and is working to support equal pay for equal work, gender equality initiatives, skills training, and other corporate social responsibility projects. She speaks up for Angola on the world stage and encourages large-scale investment in the country too. The companies she manages now employ thousands of Angolans, men and women. She actively promotes various projects at grassroots level and on a broader scale to bring about the change she wants to see.

For more insights from Isabel, you can follow Isabel Dos Santos’ Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or in her own website.