WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America, — Many people around the world are familiar with Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian who is often described as Africa’s richest man. But Isabel dos Santos, 45, an Angolan businesswoman, is Africa’s richest woman and the eldest child of Angola’s former President José Eduardo dos Santos, who was in power from 1979 to 2017. In 2013, according to research by Forbes, her net worth had reached more than three billion US dollars, making her Africa’s first billionaire woman.
Five years have passed ever since and her wealth has continued to grow. But being a woman in a male-dominated business world is not always easy, especially for African women. In this interview, she talks about business, being a woman in a world dominated by men and how she keeps steaming forward in spite of daily challenges.
How have the men in your life (father, husband, others) supported your growth as a female leader in business, and what advice can you give to men to help contribute to the growth of female leaders?
I realised quite late in life that my education had been quite rare for an African girl. My father raised me exactly has he had done my brothers, and never told me: “girls don’t do this” or “girls cannot be that”. At age 18, going to university, I was undecided on what to apply for, and I remember my father persuading me to become an astronaut or a computer scientist, it never crossed my mind that this is something that African girls don’t do and cannot be. Finally, I choose to study Engineering at University, and there was only one other girl (Chinese) in my class.
How can we get started?
Your best business bet is you, your skills, your motivation, and your passion. You must have an idea, make a five year plan, prepare your money, ground your idea in detail, be persistent, and partner yourself with a trusted team. Stay passionate always, and execute – don’t delegate.
What are some tips and tricks you can share with young women about managing time, juggling responsibilities, and self-care with all your different ventures and responsibilities?
Time unfortunately is one of those things that none of us has enough of! We always end up sacrificing something, whether it be less time with our family, or our friends, or having our social life. Or even less time at the gym! It’s a challenge. Priorities are key. You must allocate your time to your priorities, and your priorities must match your life expectations. How do you manage your time with all your different ventures and responsibilities?
Because you are the richest woman in Africa, many people must ask you for charity and support for their social ventures.
Have you established a formalised way to give back?
Supporting social ventures has always been a priority. From the start, I have installed in my companies a specific division for social responsibility and sponsorship programmes. We sponsor several charities, and we run our own programmes. My vision is that to have a better society; it’s important for us to give back and help others. Today, giving back has become part of our company culture, and we have thousands of employees that are volunteers and help run our programmes in the community.
We created a culture that engages people, and each person has the opportunity to play an active role in our social ventures. We finance and run a large and diverse programme of social responsibility initiatives such as: supporting a children’s Paediatric hospital where we are one of the largest donors and partners; we finance and run the largest nationwide campaign for the fight and prevention against Malaria; we sponsor a charity for clean water initiatives in poor communities; with our volunteers we run a “special day “ programme for underprivileged or sick children in which organise special play days and fun adventures, for over 10.000 children in all the country, to give them the experiences they would never otherwise have. Last year, I have started the first Christmas telethon, on the nationwide television network, it allowed us to partner up with several companies and businesses to further help and support community’s needs.
I have encouraged all our employees to be part of our social responsibility programmes, as volunteers, as I believe we need to multiply our efforts and together we are stronger. I am personally very involved, as a donor, but also personally taking part in these actions, as well as in organizing social ventures and engaging with the community directly, as this is a firm commitment I have made to help improve our society.
How do you decide what causes to support, and when to say no?
I choose to support those initiatives that are focused on the needs of children, and with education and healthcare at the core of what I do. The fight against malaria is a cause that I carry very close to my heart and I am very committed to help to its eradication.
My commitment is for one day to see Africa brimming with entrepreneurs, from businesses small and big, with ambitious initiatives, full of perseverance, support and opportunities. In my vision, I believe that we have a true lever for change in Africa, and it’s not our resources, but our education. The quality of education we are able to give our children will determine the future of Africa. Anyone that dreams of changing Africa, education is the key. We must educate our girls, as they are the future mothers, and an encyclopaedia of knowledge for their children.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Today News Africa.