In October 2019, the first-ever Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum took place in Sochi with the motto “For Peace, Security and Development.” The purpose of the Summit was to bring together delegations and business representatives in order to strengthen and expand Africa-Russia relations.
The Summit was attended by representatives from Russia and 104 other countries and territories. All 54 African states were officially represented by their heads of state in addition to thousands of representatives of international businesses.
One of the most well-known business representatives in attendance was Isabel dos Santos from Angola, the Chair and co-founder of Unitel. She is also the richest woman in Africa and one of only 11 black billionaires in the entire world. In 2013, Forbes included dos Santos in its list of billionaires where she joined the only other black female billionaire on the list: Oprah Winfrey.
Acredito que em #África os empreendedores locais podem fazer muito se tiverem a oportunidade adequada e a visão certa. Na #Unitel ligamos pessoas e empresas, contribuímos para o crescimento de #Angola e criação de empregos, desenvolvimento de negócios e oportunidades#AfricaCom pic.twitter.com/YNqimzItY8
— Isabel Dos Santos (@isabelaangola) November 12, 2019
In addition to the duties that occupy dos Santos at Unitel, her resume includes a myriad of other business involvements which led to her being the successful businesswoman she is today. Her vast experience garnered her a space at the Summit as not just an attendee, but as a major speaker.
When interviewed about the Summit, prior to her speech, dos Santos commented:
“In Africa we say that when you have troubled waters, the best thing is to build a bridge, so this is what I hope that is happening here. Is to build bridges between the African continent — that has a lot of challenges and a lot of problems — and Russia. And, of course they also say, but this I think is a Chinese saying, when there are problems, there are opportunities. So, I hope this is what we are going to be doing here: discussing opportunities.”
Isabel dos Santos’ Early Life and Education
Isabel dos Santos has dedicated her life to becoming the best person she can be. She was born in 1973 and is the daughter of former and long-time Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos. Both of her parents encouraged her to pursue her education, help others along the way, and fostered in her the attitude of “reaching for the stars.”
At an early age, she became aware of gender inequality when she noted that the business world is dominated by men. Her parents helped her see the folly in the inequality and focused on making sure that she was treated exactly the same as her brothers.
When she was only six years old, dos Santos developed her own business of selling chicken eggs. She used the proceeds to satisfy her hunger for cotton candy. That was just the beginning of her entrepreneurship.
She went on to complete her primary and secondary education at Cobham Hall, an all-girls boarding school in Kent, England. Next, she majored in engineering at King’s College in London at a time when engineering was considered a field generally reserved for men. This, along with other experiences, motivated her to be sure her own business ventures created equal opportunities for women.
Isabel dos Santos’ Business Ventures
Isabel dos Santos’ business ventures are almost too numerous to mention. For example, she:
- Invested in one of the first beach restaurants and nightclubs on the Luanda Island in Angola, the Miami Beach Club.
- Created Trans-Atlantic Investment Services which focused on the diamond markets in Africa and around the world.
- Started a trucking business in Angola. She sold her own car to create capital she needed to invest in this business venture. At the time, communication was by way of walkie-talkies, which gave her the impetus to develop a better communications system.
- Formed Unitel, a telecommunication company that is now a giant in Angola and is in partnership with Portugal Telecom in Portugal.
- In 2005, in partnership with Fernando Teles, opened Banco Internacional de Credito, which is now one of the largest banking institutions in Angola.
- Was instrumental in developing telecom and cable television services to both Angola and Portugal.
Her investments and business partnership over the last 20 years are legion. She focused on infrastructures and other ventures that would result in economic gain for the countries of Angola and Portugal.
Isabel dos Santos and Unitel
Perhaps her most significant contribution to Angola and Portugal was co-founding Unitel. Dos Santos realized that communicating with the rest of the world was imperative for the future of Angola. By founding this company, she was able to create infrastructure projects across the country with the building of cell phone towers to technology centers resulting in partnerships with equipment makers.
These projects opened the world to Angola. They allowed urban and rural areas of the country to communicate with each other and the people of the world. Unitel, under the leadership of dos Santos, ultimately created more than 50,000 jobs for the people of Angola. In all dos Santos’ businesses, a minimum of 40 percent of the workers must be women. The majority of the women have leadership positions.
At #Unitel, we are committed to promoting #genderequality in ICTs in #Angola and to giving women the opportunity to have a future. This is our “Women for the Future” scholarship program, which is already in its second edition and will offer 50 scholarships pic.twitter.com/ck8Z0wZjb6
— Isabel Dos Santos (@isabelaangola) November 1, 2019
Isabel dos Santos: Making the World a Better Place
Isabel dos Santos is still on the move with new ventures. Her plan is to increase opportunities for women in Africa and around the world. Here are just a few examples of projects she started or is involved with that serve Angola as well as the rest of the world.
Strawberry farms. Dos Santos is proud of her assistance to women in Humpata in the province of Huila, Angola helping them start strawberry farms. The women have flourished in a business venture that is helping to develop the local economy and increase commerce in Angola.
Seeds for the future. Promising Angola students are sent to China to study in the fields of information and communications technologies.
Home Kuzola. This home provides protection and love for more than 300 children in Luanda.
Zap TV. This company provides necessities for more than 90 children in Lar Betania, Angola.
Help to future farmers in Malanje, Angola. Unitel has given six students scholarships to attend postgraduate studies in agriculture at the Royal Agricultural University in England.
Women for the Future. Under the direction of dos Santos, Unitel established a scholarship program that inspires women to enter the information and communications technology fields.
Sharing by Isabel dos Santos. This is dos Santos’ way of highlighting the achievements of Angolans throughout the country. She focuses on stories about success including how to achieve success after failure. Real life stories are told by Angolans who bring to life their struggles and successes.
Frequent keynote speaker. Isabel dos Santos is a frequent keynote speaker around the world. She has spoken to students at Yale, to the European Parliament in Brussels, and many others. Most recently, she spoke at the Russia-Africa Summit.
Isabel dos Santos Speech at the Russia-Africa Summit
Isabel dos Santos speaks five languages, including Russian. She was cited by the French-language publication, Jeune Afrique, as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Africa. She is also largely influential in Portugal where she has a number of investments and sits on the Board of Directors of NOS, a cable TV company listed on the Stock Exchange. She also sits on the board of Banco BIC Portugues and Efacec.
In her speech, she focused on the importance of science, education, and innovation for economic development. She spoke about bridging the gaps for Angolan businesswomen and about her program of assistance to African women. She emphasized that when “the two countries’ entrepreneurs join efforts and get ahead; it creates a favorable environment for future growth.”
Isabel dos Santos praised the summit and its economic forum and the opportunities it provided to allow the two nations to speak about “threats and challenges they are facing and to search for solutions.” She noted that she was considering investing in Russian companies which she believed could have success in Africa.
According to a formal declaration released after the Summit, the Summit will now be held once every three years. In the interim, the countries will work together to exchange technological products, “generating and trading globally in knowledge and competencies.”