Isabel dos Santos is a well-recognized businesswoman from Angola. She’s also the richest woman in Africa. Ms. dos Santos is the first woman billionaire in Africa. It is also important to note that she is the oldest child of former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. He served as president of Angola from 1979 through 2017. This has helped to launch Isabel dos Santos into the public eye. As a recognized leader, and noted influential women, her opinions are well-respected, including that in regard to improving energy access in Africa.
AfricaCom 2019 and Energy
AfricaCom 2019, held in November, is one of the largest telecommunications and technology conferences in Africa. This year, it took place in Cape Town. It was a key opportunity for Isabel dos Santos to communicate her ideas and goals for energy investment in Africa. During the event, she appealed to those in attendance to improve investments across all aspects of the energy sector on the continent. The goal was simple — ensure better energy access to allow for 5G network connectivity to occur across the continent.
Dos Santos is quoted as saying, “Telecom operators are early to deploy the 5G network, but that requires a strong investment in energy, just as it happened in telecommunications.” She continued, “I would like to see in the energy sector the same thing that happened in the telecommunications sector: a big investment from the private sector.” She then noted, “Today we are 1.2 billion people in Africa, by 2050, we will be 2.4 billion — more than in China. The investment required in infrastructure is huge.”
The energy sector in the country is prime for development and expansion, but a continued lack of private funding and the unwillingness or inability of local countries to support it outright has led to a lack of connectivity. The area continues to have regions that are sorely underrepresented and lacking even basic access to these amenities. Isabel dos Santos hopes that her knowledge and skill, along with her influence, can help to change that.
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Hoje na AfricaCom, na Cidade do Cabo – África do Sul, partilho a minha visão para o futuro de África: tecnologia é chave e vai criar oportunidades para o desenvolvimento de Angola e do nosso continente. Oportunidades de emprego, de negócio, de desenvolvimento… um número ilimitado de oportunidades. A tecnologia tem um efeito multiplicador e nós Unitel fazemos parte desta mudança transformadora #SharingbyIsabeldosSantos #Unitel #Angola #Africa #AfricaCom #AfricaTech #desenvolvimento Today at AfricaCom, in Cape Town – South Africa, I’m sharing my vision on the future of Africa: Technology is key and will create opportunities for the development of Angola and our continent. Job opportunities, business, development… limited opportunities. Technology has a multiplier effect and we Unitel are part of this transformative change @unitelangola
Taking a Step Back: Early Life
Much of Isabel dos Santos’s passion comes from her early life. She was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. Her parents instilled in her, from a very early age, the importance of being successful and reaching new heights. They taught her early on that women were just as important as men were. Unlike other families in a region where men dominated life, she was treated the same as her brothers. They encouraged her to be different from the type of woman that she saw growing up around her. They expected far more from her than what the average woman in the country was likely to achieve at the time she was born.
A component of this helped to encourage her passion for business. She was just six years old when she took it upon herself to sell chicken eggs so she could purchase her favorite sweet — cotton candy. Even in her studies at Cobham Hall in Kent, England had a business focus to them in both primary and secondary education. She also studied electrical engineering, where she was the only girl in some classes. She often found herself engaged in activities and within organizations traditionally male-focused, and working hard to stand out from a crowded room.
These experiences, though challenging for someone of her age, allowed her to have the don’t-give-up attitude she maintains today. Her education in electrical engineering also helps her to see the true potential in developing Africa’s energy network.
Building a Successful Business Career
In the early 1990s, Isabel dos Santos moved to Angola, where she took a position with Urbana 2000. The organization was tasked with cleaning the city of Luanda. In 1997, she decided to invest in a restaurant and nightclub called Miami Beach. It was located on Luanda Island. This initial investment spurred more, leading to the creation of Trans-Atlantic Investment Services. She would later transfer that business to her mother to pursue other ventures.
Another area of her specialization comes from her desire to not only become wealthy and successful herself, but also to help support those around her. That is one key reason why she developed a trucking company in Angola. It helped to foster the creation of jobs for those in need. This business itself was unique in that it provides an opportunity for Ms. dos Santos to see firsthand the communication problems that seemed to hold the region back. The only form of communication for truck drivers was through walkie-talkies, which had limited range. The business, which was a success, was the first real application of her engineering education as well.
Yet, this did not stop her from further expanding. Dos Santos then launched Unitel, a telecommunications company that is one of the largest on the continent. This success led to the acquisition of mobile carrier T+, which would set up and operate in Sao Tome and Principe, serving as the second telecommunications company in the region.
Her further developments and business ventures would put added money and development into infrastructure throughout the country. As the co-founder of Unitel, which is perhaps one of her most passionate projects, she was able to help improve telecommunications throughout the continent. Much of this was done through the use of private investment, lacking any government investment.
Her leadership within Unitel would help to provide the region with much-needed access to telecommunications, including the completion of cell phone towers as well as the building of technology centers in various areas to encourage equipment makers to produce the necessary product. As a direct result of the work she has done within telecommunications, Angola has become connected to the rest of the world, including the business world itself. People in the country can now speak to others around the world — something that was not possible to do over traditional telephone lines. She also helped in the creation of over 50,000 jobs for the people of Angola.
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Acredito em Angola e acredito que em África, os empreendedores locais podem fazer muito se tiverem a oportunidade adequada e a visão certa. Na Unitel, ligamos pessoas, ligamos empresas, contribuímos para o crescimento do país, para a criação de empregos, desenvolvimento de negócios e para a criação de oportunidades. #SharingbyIsabeldosSantos #Unitel #Angola #Africa #AfricaCom #AfricaTech I believe in Angola and I believe that in Africa local entrepreneurs can do a lot if they are given the right opportunity and the right vision. At Unitel we connect people and companies. We are contributing to the country’s own growth, creating jobs, developing businesses and creating opportunities.
What Can Unitel Do for 5G Expansion?
At AfricaCom 2019, Isabel dos Santos played a pivotal role in communicating the need for further energy investments in the country to allow for the implantation of 5G. She noted that Unitel, with her at the lead, has invested over U.S. $2.2 billion in fiber optic cables in the last 20 years. All of this was done through private money investments without government aid. She states, “Today we have 14,000 km of optical fiber, we promote the expansion of the internet nationwide with one of the most modern telecommunications networks in Africa. We bring people together, we bring companies together, we support business, and we see our country grow, develop, and compete internationally.” She continued, “It is important that companies and governments work together. If African governments create business models, it will stimulate positive investment environments.”
The achievement of 5G and internet connectivity across Africa will be life-changing and future-building in many ways. It would allow for the launch of a successful e-commerce platform, which would bring exceptional opportunities to people throughout Africa who may lack necessities or access to physical stores. Noting the importance of this, dos Santos states, “There are fewer barriers, costs go down, and we will be able to communicate our product better and to a much larger audience,” referring to the benefit of launching an e-commerce platform. This would then allow for new companies to develop in the region and, in many ways, create a digital economy for the country.
In order to reach these goals, there needs to be significant investment in infrastructure as well as markets and financial services in place. At AfricaCom 2019, it was clear that this is perhaps the most important investment for the country to move ahead (or to catch up) to other countries throughout the world.
A Passion for Helping Others
Throughout her lifetime, Isabel dos Santos has worked to support a variety of organizations, which is why much of her work on telecommunications and energy is so valuable. Because she understands first hand the type of limitations remains present in a male-dominated business world, especially in Africa, she aims to support women through new ventures. Within Unitel are development programs designed specifically to help support women in the information and communications industries. She provides scholarship opportunities to help women study these areas.
She is also an advocate for peace and building public awareness of the needs of people in Africa. She works to support or is a member of various organizations that help to promote the development of Africa, the furthering of peace in the region, and the need for conflict resolution. As one of the only two black billionaires in the world that are women, she takes pride in working to support the needs of her region.
As an entrepreneur, she is calling for more energy investments in Africa to allow for the development of 5G. As a philanthropist and dedicated supporter of women and the region as a whole, she recognizes that such investments are going to allow for the development of the country’s digital economy, allowing people from around the continent to gain access to the world around them.
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