Isabel dos Santos

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Suit Up!
Jun 6 · 9 min read

In the business world, people often wonder how someone can achieve success without trampling their values. Business is often a dog eat dog world, whether you are on top or at the bottom of the food chain. The business world in Africa is no different than anywhere else in this regard. In Africa, like most countries, the business world is dominated by men. This reason alone may make the story of Isabel dos Santos more appealing to women and business leaders around the world.

Isabel dos Santos is a remarkable story about a woman that has achieved success in a world that is generally dominated by men. From early childhood, dos Santos had many ideas about gender equality instilled in her belief system. She was fortunate to be raised by parents that valued education and the advancement of women in society.

Another thing that is hard to believe for most people is the lack of black billionaires in the world. Currently, there are only 11 black billionaires in the world, and only two of these eleven are women — Isabel dos Santos and Oprah Winfrey. With a lack of black women billionaires, it is easy to see why dos Santos does not get credit for her achievements.

Isabel dos Santos has many ideas on how to create economic opportunities in Angola and Africa. She thinks that education is a big key to advancing economic opportunities in the region. Due to her experience studying and working professionally in a variety of countries around the world, she has the ability to infuse international ideas into forming solutions to problems. Dos Santos knows that her experience of feeling left out or behind in the business world because of her gender is not uncommon for women.

Early Life

Isabel dos Santos was born in Baku, Azerbaijan to Tatiana and Jose Eduardo dos Santos. From an early age, her parents were instrumental in forming in her an attitude focused on success and reaching for the stars. They concentrated on teaching her that women are just as important as men. Her parents made sure that she was treated equally to her brothers, instilling the notion that nothing short of the stars was possible for her and other women. They taught her that nothing was too far from her reach and encouraged her to become a different type of women.

From an early age, dos Santos displayed a healthy appetite for business. When she was six years old, she started to sell fresh chicken eggs to help sustain her love of cotton candy. She would later attend an all-girls boarding school called Cobham Hall in Kent, England where she completed her primary and secondary education. Dos Santos later entered university at King’s College in London where she chose to study electrical engineering. She recalls how in one engineering class during her studies that there was only one other girl. Her experiences at university pitted her against many boys and men in a field generally reserved for males. Also, while at university she met Sindika Dokolo, a fellow student from Zaire. They would eventually marry and have three children. Throughout their marriage, her husband has been the main supporter of her career moves and business ventures.

Isabel dos Santos is quick to point out that her experiences at university helped mould her attitude of succeeding in the business world. She also knows her education in electrical engineering has paid dividends in her career as a businesswoman.

Career Moves

After returning to Angola in the early 1990s, Dos Santos was able to land a job at Urbana 2000, which was contracted to clean the city of Luanda in Angola. Her first business venture was in 1997 when she invested in Miami Beach, which was one of the first beach restaurants and nightclubs on Luanda Island in Angola. From there, dos Santos created Trans-Atlantic Investment Services, which primarily focused on the diamond markets of Africa and around the world. She would eventually transfer this business to her mother. Dos Santos continued to create wealth and jobs for Angolans when she decided to start a trucking business in Angola. Without the necessary capital, she sold her car to start her new venture. Dos Santos learned through her trucking company that communication in Angola was primarily through walkie-talkies, which played into her electrical engineering education. The trucking business was a success and propelled her forward into new ventures. She would later use the experience gained from the lack of telecommunication in Angola to help her trucking business to form a telecommunication giant in the country called Unitel.

Isabel dos Santos continued to hone relationships with other business leaders around the world. She acquired mobile career T+ located in Cape Verde off the coast of Africa, where the company was issued a license to establish the second telecommunications company in Sao Tome and Principe. Through a partnership with Portugal Telecom, her mastermind plan in telecommunications was born when they formed Unitel.

Read: Entrevista com Isabel dos Santos


Isabel dos Santos continued to believe in the potential of Angola and its people to succeed. She would then move on to create several ventures that focused on infrastructure and economic gains for the country. Her most coveted venture was becoming the co-founder of Unitel, the largest telecommunications company in Angola. Through her leadership at Unitel, the company provided the country with much-needed telecommunication infrastructure projects from cell phone towers to technology centres to partnerships with equipment makers. The projects have opened the world to Angola, allowing urban and rural areas of the country to communicate openly with each other and the people of the world. Dos Santos knows that information is key to everything in daily life and the business world. Giving the people of Angola the opportunity to communicate with the rest of the world was imperative to dos Santos. Her telecommunication vision for Angola has ultimately created more than 50,000 jobs for the people of Angola.

Other Business Ventures in Angola and Portugal

One of the more fascinating aspects of Isabel dos Santos is her willingness to invest in numerous sectors with regards to Angola and Portugal. She has made financial investments from banking and financing to transportation and infrastructure to telecommunications and multimedia companies. She is dedicated to succeeding on her terms, which is more difficult in a business world dominated by men.

In 2005 dos Santos partnered with Fernando Teles to open Banco Internacional de Credito. The bank has since become one of the largest banking institutions in Angola. She has been instrumental in developing telecom and cable television and has acquired a controlling share of NOS SGPS based in Portugal. With this partnership, ZAP TV was formed in Angola. The multimedia company has been at the forefront of bringing quality content to its subscribers since her arrival.

Dos Santos has also made investments in other necessary markets to strengthen Angola’s presence in the world. In 2011 she partnered with Sonae to develop a retail trading company in Angola. The partnership opened their first supermarket in Angola during the 2013 campaign directed by Continente and has since opened numerous supermarkets and convenience stores.

While at Sonangol, she helped the energy company upgrade technology and made several needed infrastructure investments in roads within Angola.

Recent Business Ventures

Isabel dos Santos is on the move again with sweeping ideas of how to increase opportunities for women in Africa and around the world. One of dos Santos’s latest achievements is a gem and worth talking about because you can get a feeling for how much she truly wants to help build Africa, and especially Angola. A recent project that has dos Santos smiling occurred in the town of Humpata in the province of Huila, Angola, where she helped local women start to farm strawberries. The project has been a success by allowing women to flourish in a business venture that is helping to develop the local economy and increase commerce in Angola.

Corporate Social Responsibilities

One of dos Santos’s biggest achievements in the business world has been to install a refreshing corporate social responsibility. At her companies, this idea of giving back to the communities is fostered by her own actions as an individual. For instance, Unitel has partnered with Huawei to form Seeds for the Future. The project is to inspire university students to study in curriculum fields of information and communications technologies. The venture actually sends promising students to travel to the Huawei campus in Beijing, China. Here the students get a first-hand look at working for a global giant in the area of information and communication technologies.

Another stellar program that has gained traction through dos Santos’s leadership is the Home Kuzola in Luanda. The home provides protection and love for more than 300 children and is part of the larger Global Lives Project around the world. She is also instrumental in helping children through ZAP TV in Lar Betania, Angola, where they provide necessities for 90 children.

Dos Santos along with Unitel has also supported agriculture in Angola. The company started to help future farmers in the province of Malanje, Angola. Their goal was to send future farmers to study at the Royal Agricultural University in England. Today, there are six recipients of scholarships attending postgraduate studies at the agriculturally based university.

Empowering Women and Education

Empowering women is a goal for dos Santos because she knows how difficult the male-dominated business world is for women to break into. Dos Santos credits her upbringing for her determination. As a young girl growing up, she was encouraged by her parents to compete and think of goals or a career that most young girls would only dream of. Her parents were instrumental in instilling empowerment in their daughter by treating dos Santo and her brothers the same. Not as a boy and girl with different goals for each one. Isabel dos Santos has made those dreams come true.

Dos Santos has instructed Unitel to develop programs that will strengthen the positions of women in information and communication technologies. They developed the Women for the Future scholarship program with the idea of inspiring young women to study in the information and communications technology fields.

Isabel dos Santos is always thinking about the future and trying to bring ideas and people together. She started her own blog called Sharing by Isabel dos Santos, where she highlights the achievements of Angolans throughout the country. The website is fascinating in telling rich content stories about success and how to achieve success after failure. The website features several areas — from inspiration to people to work. The interviews and articles bring to life the struggles and successes of everyday people in Angola trying to better themselves and their families.

Public Speaking and Public Awareness

In recent years, Isabel dos Santos has been on the road — talking about her passion for increasing opportunities for women and the youth of Africa and Angola. She was a keynote speaker at a conference promoted by the Yale Undergraduate Association for African Peace and Development. The organization helps promote conflict resolution, development in Africa and peace. She was also asked to talk at the European Parliament in Brussels. Here she focused her speaking on African development through education and infrastructure in Africa.

Her Legacy

Most billionaires have a passion for helping people. We can see this through the actions of some of the world’s richest people like Bill and Melissa Gates, Warren Buffet, and more recently, Linda Bezos. Isabel dos Santos is leaving her legacy on the playing field by rolling up her sleeves and tackling the issue of gender inequality. Her work empowering women and the youth of Africa and around the world is noteworthy. Dos Santos has truly brought her world perspective to all the companies she has been involved with over the years. Each company she has been involved with brings a number of initiatives to the table to help bring new technology and opportunities to the women and the youth of Africa. There are two other lessons we can learn from this billionaire businesswoman. She has taught us that we can grab for the stars and that investing in a broad spectrum of businesses is a great idea.

Learn More: Isabel dos Santos é a oitava pessoa mais rica de África

Follow Isabel dos Santos Online

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