Isabel Dos Santos is a visionary leader with a proven track record of transformative change. An electrical engineer by trade, she applied her entrepreneurial flair and became a power player in her home country, Angola. Driven by a powerful social consciousness movement, Dos Santos has been a determined advocate of women’s rights, education, empowerment, and technological innovation.
Her companies include Unitel, Zap, Candando, Sodiba, and Efacec to name but a few. Her leadership has inspired women the world over, and she makes her presence felt at international symposiums with world leaders like Chinese president Xi Jinping, Russian president Vladimir Putin, and South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, among others. As one of the world’s most respected business minds, she has built up a formidable following through proven performance.
One of the companies she runs is Unitel, Angola’s largest telecom company. This company has invested heavily in infrastructure development in Angola, connecting the rural heartland with the urban metropolis. Not only has the company performed above expectation, but it has also become a major force in the global economy. Isabel has a personal stake in all the companies she manages. She invests her time, expertise, and capital in building up companies to realise her grand vision.
Her leadership is felt across multiple industries including entertainment, energy, hospitality, education, technology, and finance. This broad-ranging field of interests has allowed her to tap into a cross-section of global enterprise. Each development is another feather in the cap of Angolan self-sufficiency. From the Internet of things and electric vehicle technology to oil, natural gas, and alternative fuels, Dos Santos understands why change is necessary to facilitate economic growth.
Empowerment through action
Her education at King’s College in London was instrumental to understanding the inner mechanics of global enterprise. Her problem-solving ability is one of her core strengths, and it is evident in the solutions she provides to exigent problems across Angola. For example, in the province of Huila, she set up a strawberry farm which provided employment for 120 people.
Today, entire villages and towns are self-sufficient thanks to the skills training and development they received from Dos Santos and her companies. The knock-on effects of these empowerment initiatives have allowed more kids to attend schools and universities and become productive members of society.
Unitel is but one company she has successfully managed and run over the years. As the current board member and CEO, Dos Santos is leading the way for emergent technologies and breakthrough solutions. She has long been a proponent of investment in Africa. At a recent World Economic Forum and international symposium, she highlighted the importance of major investments in Africa.
China has currently invested $120 billion in the continent, India has invested $80 billion in the continent, and Russia has invested $17 billion in the continent. Isabel pushed Russian CEOs and business leaders to up their commitment to Africa by investing in strategic infrastructure projects and transportation networks.
Another major development was the Brazil to Angola undersea cable with fibre optics technology. This project was initiated in 2014 with Unitel and today, there are 12,500 km of cable connecting Angola and Brazil. This has facilitated high-speed Internet connectivity to help drive e-commerce, online learning, access to real-time information, and the dramatic improvement of digital technology. This is but one of many ambitious undertakings she has seen through to completion.
Dos Santos has spearheaded multiple job creation initiatives through her companies, including Unitel. To date, the company has provided 50,000 jobs which support hundreds of thousands of people. Various positions have been filled in sales, marketing, advertising, technology, operations, management, et cetera.
Raising awareness for female leadership
Naturally, she has a particular affinity for women empowerment. This is high on her agenda and is evident at each of the companies she runs. The HR departments at her companies actively promote women through the ranks and encourage skills training and development. She promotes SMEs and entrepreneurship, and the many spillover benefits these provide to society.
Dos Santos walks the walk and talks the talk. She faced many challenges on her path to success. As one of two female students in her class at Kings College, she understands what it feels like to be a marginalized member of society. This was even more pronounced in the business world where she operates in a patriarchal framework often heavily biased against women. She had to fight her way to the top by laying the groundwork for gender equality, accommodating frameworks, and changes in the societal mindset.
According to Isabel, women are unique and experienced members of society. They are professional business people, responsible mothers and caregivers, doting homemakers and stabilizing forces in society. Isabel believes that women extol the best virtues of management and leadership, and that female empowerment initiatives can prove to be the greatest asset for employers. In her own words, companies really need female leaders. That’s why she truly believes in investing in tomorrow’s leaders.