Isabel Dos Santos is a visionary Angolan entrepreneur. An engineer by trade, she has inspired a new generation to reach for their dreams. A staunch supporter of women’s rights, Isabel Dos Santos works tirelessly to effect the changes she wants to see. By affording educational, employment and social opportunities for the betterment of women’s lives, she has become a transformative force in Angola, across Africa and worldwide.
We sat down with Isabel Dos Santos and quizzed her about her ongoing ventures, business projects, and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
What educational and social initiatives do you support?
‘First and foremost, I believe in making a difference in the lives of everyday people.
We have awarded six scholarships at Royal Agricultural University in the UK. Our management teams fully believe in implementing a broad-spectrum plan, encompassing the Diversification of our Economies, and investing in the Agriculture of Africa.
Research indicates that strategic investments in farming provide sustainable employment opportunities. To this end, Unitel in partnership with Huawei have opened applications for the program “Seeds for the Future .” This ambitious undertaking is a global program of CSR (corporate social responsibility) with the overarching objective of empowering the finest university students in cutting-edge ICT (information and communication technologies).
The “Seeds for the Future” program is designed to provide college students with a culturally immersive experience and a basic introduction to Mandarin in Beijing, China. Students will be able to visit to the Huawei campus in Shenzhen, where they will be able to experience the work environment of a global giant in the area of information and communication technologies.
I truly believe that children are our reason to exist. I love children. I am a doting mother. Our dedicated project, Home Kuzola in Luanda, is an inspiration. It welcomes more than 300 children, providing them with love and protection. We at Zap joined in this mission with Global Lives Project. We are going to donate funds to improve the conditions of this children’s shelter.
Our SOS maternal and child project at #Unitelis is an example of corporate social responsibility that we are very proud of. With the help of professionals, future mothers register on a platform that will send them voice messages from early pregnancy until their babies are one-year old.
Additionally, at ZAP TV we are actively promoting the improvement of living conditions of children at Lar Betânia, in Cabinda, by providing equipment and additional comfort to an estimated 90 children.
What is the best way to tackle urban unemployment in Angola?
Unemployment is deeply rooted in many issues. I truly believe that education, training and the empowerment of young people are key for growth in work-related opportunities. We can only fight against poverty and unemployment through the provision of equal opportunities. Therefore, we need to give people the opportunity to sell, work and produce to generate sufficient income.
In Angola we still have many societal norms, prejudices and cultural nuances that place us at a distinct disadvantage. These elements are not restricted to our public life and our interactions in the labour market, but in our own homes too. What we need is a change of mindset that begins with the education of our children; girls and boys. If our mentalities do not change and we do not look at our sons and daughters, nephews and nieces and truly believe that they should be afforded equal opportunities and equal pay, then change will be severely hindered.
What is being done to combat gender stereotypes in Angola?
It’s important for me to stress that this problem of gender stereotypes is not restricted to Angola; it is a global phenomenon. Gender inequalities exist in developed economies too. Unfortunately, the root cause of gender stereotypes is prejudicial thinking. This is grounded in the assumption that there are roles for men and women in society. The perception that women have specific roles in areas of health, sociology, psychology, and law are pervasive.
We now understand that women are capable of achieving anything they want, anything at all. We are going to celebrate the “World Girls’ Day” on April 25th (Information and Communication Technologies), and during that week Unitel will organize various events for young women. We want to show the world the strength and depth of “Girl Power” in areas such as telecommunications, technology and innovation.
In 2018 we launched the “Women for the Future” scholarship program with the intention of attracting more young women to the field of telecommunications and information technology. We know that many families find it difficult to pay for their children’s education. Added to that, preference is given to boys. Fortunately, this program allows us to reverse course and level the proverbial playing field.
How are men being taught to be accepting of gender equality in Angola?
We bet on diversified teams, which unite the talent of men and women. This new paradigm brings additional advantages to the business world: productivity. All organizations dream of productive teams, but only gender diversity can guarantee it. In these teams, the challenges are faced with different approached adopted by men and women. This complete approach to problem resolution provides a richer and more complete set of solutions.
By affording men and women the same rights and opportunities in the workforce is not just a question of social justice and equity. There are also myriad economic benefits for organizations, for communities, and even for countries’ economies. The positive repercussions of empowering women and leveling the playing field span well beyond economics; it’s a transformative change in society that we are cultivating.
What is your vision for the new Angola?
My vision for the future of Angola is crystal clear. I’m deeply committed to the transformation of Angola and the African continent as a whole. I would dearly love to see Africa brimming with entrepreneurs, in businesses big and small, with bold and ambitious initiatives taking place. African people are determined to succeed. We need to provide them with all the tools and resources needed to effect these changes.
In my vision, I believe that we have plenty of leverage to effect change in Africa, and it’s not through our abundant natural resources, but through education. The quality of the education we are able to give our children will determine the future and prosperity of Africa. Anyone who dreams of changing Africa, undoubtedly knows that education is the key. We must educate our girls, as they are the future mothers, and they are the bedrock upon which their children rely. They possess an encyclopedia of knowledge for their children and their families.
How do you plan to contribute to health and wellness for Angolan women?
Thankfully, my companies rank among the largest investors and employers in Angola. I am committed to contributing enormously to state and woman empowerment initiatives. Taxes garnered through increased business opportunity serve to build schools, hospitals, roads, and infrastructure across the country. The banks I work with are the largest financiers of the Angolan economy and the State.
We share the same vision and ambition of the executive leadership of the country, to make Angola a self-sufficient economy, replete with maximum capacity and resources. For all of these reasons, I am a proud ambassador of Angola. I intend to continue making substantial investments in Angola. It heartens me to know that these projects contribute to the economic, social and cultural evolution of the country I love.
How can women access business opportunities and access to banking services in Angola?
I believe in young girls and women, and that they have a key role to play in society. It begins with primary education. In a society like ours, we have several factors impacting the choices of women vis-à-vis work opportunities. Many girls do not have access to education. Others begin but at some point, boys are given priority and women become responsible for families and housework. This is wrong. For cultural reasons, we believe that disciplines such as mathematics and physics are for men. A change in the cultural zeitgeist is needed, and an improvement in education is the key to access greater opportunities all round for women.
Do you actively promote women in your companies?
As a manager, I have nurtured the empowerment of women, ensuring that when hiring and promoting the numbers are balanced, salaries are equal, and that career paths are equally open to both genders.
On this journey there is still much to conquer. For example, it is unusual to meet women in top positions in business administration roles. I’m often the only one in a boardroom. Can we change this reality? Yes, we can. We have to look at our organizations and implement concrete measures that transform mentalities.
It is the duty of managers to encourage and support women to evolve in their careers, gaining leadership. As a manager, I actively encourage the empowerment of women at an early age, whether in hiring in equal numbers, in equal pay or in the evolution of their careers.
What ratio of male/female employees are in your company?
Super question. Women make up 37% of our workforce. In management positions, about 40% of our managers are women. In technical areas, our percentage is low. We are currently at around 20%. However, these numbers are fantastic motivators to us and we are working hard to invest in women’s education. There is lots of work to be done and we’ve taken on this challenge with tremendous enthusiasm.
What strategic objectives have you set to help women realize their true potential?
We have extraordinary women in Angola; very competent ladies who are just looking for an opportunity to display their excellence. And it’s precisely these young women we’re looking for. What is common in all of them is a great will to overcome. We at Unitel want to give hope, and support because we know the potential is there. Angola is a country of young people, 60% of the population is under 18 years of age. The future is young; this is a great opportunity for all of them to be all they can be. Together, we can make a difference to the lives of everyone.
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