Entrepreneur Isabel dos Santos rose to international prominence by becoming the first woman billionaire in continental Africa, and just one of a handful of Black billionaires in the entire world (the only other Black woman being Oprah Winfrey). Born to a Central African father and Russian mother in Azerbaijan, Ms. dos Santos was taught to reach for the stars from an early age and strive for the same opportunities that boys received. In a stark contrast to the all-girls school she attended in England for her entire education, she’d later find herself the only woman, or only other woman, in many of her classes. It’s no surprise that her life experience, drive, and ability to battle tension in male-dominated fields led her to become highly successful upon her settling into Luanda, Angola where she kicked off a diverse variety of ventures.
Among dos Santos’ most notable accomplishments are the founding of Unitel, which came about after developing international business relationships and increasing telecommunications service to Angola upon acquiring T+ and forming a partnership with Portugal Telecom. She has a significant number of diversified investments in Angola and Portugal in telecommunications, energy, oil, diamonds, media, retail, banking, and other sectors, coming a long way from opening the first night club and beachfront restaurant in Luanda.
Infrastructure, Education, and Bolstering Women’s Rights in Angola
What makes Isabel dos Santos such a remarkable leader isn’t just that she gained control of several ventures, made a great deal of money, and created thousands of jobs just like her male counterparts have throughout the ages. Historically, Angola has not ranked very high for women’s rights and women have been held back from equal opportunities in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. After seeing how she benefited from legislative reforms that helped Angolan woman, she has been a vocal proponent of stronger legislation concerning women’s rights. One of Ms. dos Santos’ focal points has been improving education in Angola and continental Africa since it will be impossible for ventures to find qualified talent to fill thousands of jobs if applicants lack the necessary skills.
In bringing much-needed telecommunications and digital infrastructure to Angola, Ms. dos Santos specifically used her positions and supreme access to funding and international business partners to make major social improvements in her home country. In turn, her chief goal has been to make life better for women in Angola and other parts of Africa. In empowering African women to become self-sufficient with stable and well-paying employment after receiving well-rounded education, they can now contribute to the economy and their communities in unprecedented ways.
This also positions Angola for unprecedented economic growth, and adopting environmentally-sustainable technologies at a more rapid pace compared to other emerging countries.
As we say in #Africa, when you have troubled waters, the best thing is to build a bridge. I believe we are building bridges with Russia and bridges between us African countries towards #development. Watch my interview with @RT_com here at the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi pic.twitter.com/GsXO95RAIC
— Isabel Dos Santos (@isabelaangola) October 24, 2019
Why Isabel dos Santos Voicing Concern About Environmental Protection is Important
Governments around the world are either developing and implementing sustainability policies or drastically failing their citizens by refusing to take action. The immense influence that private sector leaders have on public policy is creating a moral imperative for them to speak up about climate change.
Many legislators have to be convinced by economic growth that can be resultant of efforts to combat climate change. When a billionaire who’s spearheaded several ventures over two decades like Isabel dos Santos can make the economic case for green technology, policy leaders and decision-makers are more likely to listen.
In the private sector, leadership of large, established enterprises may have been reluctant to adopt sustainable policies due to cost concerns or the risks that come with disrupting operations. In leading by example, Ms. dos Santos demonstrates that business practices which prioritize environmental protection can be quite lucrative in both the short and long term.
She is also leading the way for a new generation of young entrepreneurs to adopt new methods of attaining growth rather than relying on the traditional model of trying to grow as quickly as possible to ensure a fast track to venture capital. By emphasizing that social responsibility is a literal responsibility and not just a buzzword, she is showing entrepreneurs entering the green technology field to pursue partnerships with organizations aside from business relations.
Ms. dos Santos worked with children’s hospitals in Angola as well as charities dedicated to sanitation, education, and housing. In forging partnerships with nonprofits, new ventures focused on sustainability and social responsibility have more resources to work with at the ground level. These organizations will also be interested in what green entrepreneurs have to offer and provide new ventures more stable revenue than the individual market alone.
Green Initiatives in Angola
In addition to educational initiatives in Angola and continental Africa, Isabel dos Santos has focused on improving transportation with infrastructure projects and increasing access to electric vehicles.
In focusing on education and increasing the pool of technology talent in Angola, Ms. dos Santos created a partnership between Unitel and Huawei called Seeds for the Future. In improving Angola’s infrastructure and investing in skills training, IT and communications students are given the opportunity to receive on-site training and learning at the main Huawei campus in Beijing. At Unitel, she specifically called for programs designed to build women’s skill sets for green technologies which paved the way for their Women for the Future scholarship program, to get young girls interested in STEM fields without having to worry about paying for their education.
Ms. dos Santos’ environmentally-focused vision of creating jobs in Angola isn’t solely in technology, though. One of her most notable investments in recent years was a strawberry plantation in Humpata, which provided 120 jobs to women. The plantation was designed to provide stable employment to Angolan women and improve both their business management skills and sustainable farming practices. The project was very successful with the workers and owners improving their communities in the Huila province. Ms. dos Santos and Unitel have also funded scholarships for Angolan farmers, and future farmers, at the Royal Agricultural University in England to learn more about sustainable agricultural practices.
In placing such a high priority on education as the foundation for switching to more sustainable energy and infrastructure, Isabel dos Santos is spurring discussion of these critical issues throughout the public and private sectors around the globe. She has also gotten leaders and decision-makers to address the role of women’s equality and empowerment in green technology initiatives, and how improving women’s rights has a positive ripple effect throughout entire economies. By setting an incredible example for the next generation of entrepreneurs, Ms. dos Santos has proven that sustainable business practices are priority for people and the planet.