Isabel dos Santos is no stranger to hard work. She has spearheaded an impressive list of startup businesses and social action efforts in Angola and proved her business mettle, ingenuity and dedication through entrepreneurial ventures typically considered out of bounds for women. Today, she has business ties to media companies, financial and energy enterprises and retail firms in Angola, Portugal, and other countries.
She is also no stranger to speaking out about what she believes, taking chances, and advocating on behalf of youth and women. She says that she learned those things at an early age from her parents, who never treated her differently from her brothers, and who reinforced the idea that she could compete and achieve in any field of her choosing.
Championing a Global Future
Now Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s only woman billionaire, has set her sights on environmental protection. She believes deeply in the need for action now, speaking of a renewed dedication to the cause of finding “solutions to make business sustainable for the environment.” She is taking the message to the world stage, and participated in the third Bloomberg Global Business Forum in September 2019, attended by 200 international business leaders. It marked her second opportunity to interact with this influential group.
“Planet Earth is unique and it is our responsibility to think of solutions to ensure a sustainable future. All our actions have an impact on this future. Every step we take in technology and digitalization means change for business, cities and our lives. Why not combine technology with environmental protection?”
The invitation-only forum provided a “one-of-a-kind platform for leadership, relationship building, and collaboration” that, according to its organizers, “moved beyond analysis and provided participants with a chance to shape an economy that meets our collective challenges and creates opportunity for all.”
Isabel dos Santos is an impassioned spokeswoman for the environment. She refers to herself as “a citizen of the world,” explaining that:
“I believe young people are really educating older generations, they are educating parents, and they are making the difference. They are the face of the protests that are taking place in various cities around the world, sharing hopes and fears and their messages are being heard. What kind of world are we going to have tomorrow? That is the question that most worries our young people.”
The tragedy of climate change affects us all. We cannot think that these problems are invisible. #SharingbyIsabeldosSantos #Cunene #Angola #ClimateChange #Environment #estamosjuntos #BloombergGBF pic.twitter.com/9tSCxuAAik
— Isabel Dos Santos (@isabelaangola) September 29, 2019
Meeting Diverse Challenges
In her view, entrepreneurs and politicians alike “want to think about solutions” and what can be done to ease the problems and “make the future better,” adding that the world’s youth wonder about their own futures as well as the planet’s future. She points to plastics and emissions as some of the greatest threats but also believes they are only “distractions” that can be eliminated through concerted effort. She is proud of Angola’s record of educational progress and other incentives that reward environmental efforts.
At the New York conference, she cited the achievements of a young Angolan female marine biologist, Adjany Costa, who was featured in a 2018 National Geographic film, “Into the Okavango.” The film chronicles a 1,500-mile journey across three African nations to explore the river that supports a dizzying array of wildlife and supplies water to more than one million people. The delicate ecosystem along the river is in danger, as is the wilderness area of the Angolan highlands, and the film emphasizes the need for action in order to preserve the region’s biodiversity, a world treasure according to dos Santos.
This unique business leader also has other passions. She believes that education and jobs are the building blocks that will pave the way to solutions for all the problems of the future, not only the environmental concerns, and not only in Angola or on the continent of Africa. She sees them as global issues and willingly brings the message to anyone who will listen, citing examples from her own experience to illustrate the changes that are possible.
Among the ventures she has helped to foster are a strawberry-farming enterprise that helped women contribute to the economy of a small town in Angola’s Huila province, scholarships for future farmers to study at the Royal Agricultural University in England, a home for more than 300 children that is part of the Global Lives project, and support for university students who choose to specialize in communications and information technology.
She was a keynote speaker at a conference of the Yale Undergraduate Association for African Peace and Development, aimed at promoting conflict resolution, and she also addressed the European Parliament in Brussels on the topic of African development through education and infrastructure.
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É sempre tão bom voltar a um país onde nos sentimos em casa. A verdadeira morabeza 🙏🏾 Desde 2012 que estou presente em Cabo Verde enquanto investidora. Sempre tivemos um diálogo aberto e próximo, sentimos que as pessoas estavam a ouvir o que dizíamos. Somos africanos, somos irmãos. Temos o dever de defender e potenciar o nosso continente. Vamos continuar este diálogo e parceria pelo futuro de África #SharingbyIsabeldosSantos #Africa #Morabeza #HighStandardsforAfrica #proudlyAfrican It’s always so good to be back in a country where we feel at home. The real morabeza 🙏🏾 Since 2012 I have been here in Cape Verde as an investor. We always had an opened dialogue, we felt that people were listening to what we were saying. We are Africans, we are brothers and sisters. We have a duty to defend and empower our continent. Let’s continue this dialogue and partnership for Africa’s future
Tirelessly Pursuing Excellence
The eldest daughter of the man who served as president of Angola for nearly four decades, Isabel dos Santos was born in Azerbaijan, the former Soviet Republic, and educated in England. She earned a degree in electrical engineering from King’s College, London, where she met and married fellow student Sindika Dokolo from Zaire. The couple has three children.
Returning to Angola from England in the early 1990s, dos Santos was employed as a project manager-engineer for Urbana 2000, the company with a contract to “clean and disinfect” the city of Luanda, Angola’s largest city and primary port. She later formed a trucking business, became involved in a diamond-mining enterprise, established a beach restaurant and nightclub named the Miami Beach Club in 1997, and invested in a variety of other firms and fields, both in her own country and other Portuguese-speaking countries.
Today Isabel dos Santos is the controlling shareholder in a number of firms, once served as chairwoman of Unitel, the country’s premier telecommunication company that she helped to create, and is a major stakeholder in a growing roster of businesses.
By 2013, according to Forbes Magazine, the wealth of Africa’s richest woman topped US$2.1 billion. In 2015, dos Santos was named one of the 100 most influential women in the world by the BBC. She continues to search for ways to expand her influence, joining the ranks of other billionaires who use their wealth and influence to foster change in the world.
The future-oriented entrepreneur also started a blog called Sharing by Isabel dos Santos, in which she chronicles interesting stories of people from Angola and around the world. Visit it at isabeldossantos.com.