Isabel Dos Santos is known to millions of Angolans as a self-starter, and a force for change. Her impeccable work ethic coupled with an egalitarian approach to driving change are hallmarks of her leadership brand. This self-styled empowerment prodigy has fueled a regional movement of reshaping existing frameworks and rebuilding them with inclusive systems and structures. Lady Boss Blogger caught up with Isabel Dos Santos to discuss details of her latest projects in an eye-opening interview.
Q: What Makes Isabel Dos Santos a Power Broker in Socio-Economic Circles?
A: Good day, I am certain that my determination to right the wrongs in socio-economic circles is the reason why this perception exists. As an African woman, I can tell you that it is difficult to break into the domain known as the ‘Big Boys Club’. Entrenched systems and frameworks make it difficult for women to access opportunities, resources, capital and contacts that are clearly geared towards men. I have been a tireless proponent of women’s rights for as long as I can remember.
My upbringing was such that I was taught that hard work and determination always pays off – gender never factored into the equation. From a logical perspective, empowering women makes all the sense in the world. Your economy grows, opportunities develop, and there are multiple positive externalities for society as a whole. The subjugation of women is a failed formula. We know that women are exceptional at everything they do. They are productive members of society, they are the bedrock upon which society is built. When we empower women with all the tools and abilities they need to succeed, then we see a quantum leap taking place in society.
Q: What Have You Done to Champion the Cause of Women in Angola and Beyond?
A: The work is ongoing. We need to keep the momentum going in everything we do because we certainly don’t want any of our hard work to be wasted. In terms of what we’ve already achieved, perhaps the most remarkable development is that of a ‘social consciousness movement’ in Angola and beyond. Women are stepping up and finding that they have the necessary support to further their skills and educational training; they have companies that are willing to train and promote them; and they have the right to pursue their dreams wherever and however they see fit.
We must remember that entrenched patriarchal frameworks are the status quo across much of the developing world. Egalitarian structures are a relatively recent phenomenon in developed countries too. As a leader of multinational corporations headquartered in Angola, I can personally attest to the difficulties faced by women trying to get a foot in the door, or simply trying to get ahead in socio-economic circles. We must raise awareness of these issues. We must champion the cause of equality in the workforce. We must shatter age-old beliefs that women are destined for certain types of work.
Over the years, I’ve been invested in female empowerment at every level. One personal favourite was a strawberry plantation initiative. This bold plan in Humpata in the province of Huila was a success story for rural women. Some 120 women were given the opportunity to take charge of their own future. We equipped them with the tools, skills and training necessary to be their own bosses. Now they are a productive outfit. They are self-sustaining and they are contributing to their local economy. They can better provide for themselves and their families and it’s having a domino effect across the region, and at macroeconomic level too.
Leadership training and development takes time. That’s why we have poured tremendous resources into education and skills training. One of my companies, Unitel has always supported Agricultural Development in Angola. We have sent 6 farmers to England to study at the Royal Agricultural University, and post-graduate studies are readily available too. Unitel has developed myriad programs to empower women through hiring and promotion. We have the Women for the Future Scholarship program to get many more women involved in the IT and telecoms sector. For me, nothing is more important than service to my countrymen and women. Gender equality is what drives me and I will always stand beside women for a fair and just society.
Q: You Mentioned Macroeconomic Level – What Do You Think Angola Needs from Foreign Powers?
A: Great question. No country is an island – we need the global community to get involved in developing our infrastructure and committing to Angola’s development. I recently had the distinct privilege of attending an international economic symposium with major world leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian premier hosted a gala dinner with 50 high-powered global business leaders and I had an opportunity to impress upon these CEOs and business moguls just how much Africa needs FDI (Foreign Direct Investment). Our continent currently boasts three major benefactors including China, India, and Russia.
Over the years, China has outstripped all other nations with over $120 billion invested in Africa, followed by India at $80 billion, and Russia at $17 billion. During the soviet era, Russia was deeply committed to Africa with massive investments in systems, frameworks, infrastructures et al. We are hoping to reignite Russian investment in Africa. Angola has remarkable potential, with the continent’s largest oil reserves, and a burgeoning pool of talent to tap into. I will champion this cause at every international conference I attend because we need macroeconomic investment to bring us up to speed, particularly in telecommunications and transportation infrastructure.
Readers who want to learn more about the incredible work being done by Isabel Dos Santos are welcome to follow her on social media. Connect with her through Sharing by Isabel Dos Santos, Instagram, and Vimeo to stay up to date with her work and projects.