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Isabel dos Santos 'Your best business bet is you! Your skills, motivation and passion'.

Summary: Entrepreneur Isabel dos Santos is Africa's richest woman. But from this interview, it is clear that being a woman in a male-dominated business world is not always easy, especially for African women. The eldest child of Angola's former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, she describes how she keeps moving forward despite all that has been thrown at her.

How have the men in your life sup- ported your growth as a female leader in business, and what ad- vice can you give men to help con- tribute to the growth of female leaders?

Isabel dos Santos: I realised quite late in life that my education had been quite rare for an African girl. My father raised me exactly as he had done my brothers, and never told me "girls don't do this" or "girls cannot be that". At age 18, going to univer- sity, I was undecided on what to ap- ply for, and I remember my father persuading me to become an astro- naut or a computer scientist. It never crossed my mind that this is something that African girls don't do and cannot be. Finally, I chose to study Engineer- ing at university, and there was only one other girl -- Chinese -- in my class. I do not ever recall hearing things like, "don't worry, your brothers will work and take care of you", or "you are a girl, one day you will marry and find a nice man to take care of you". I was taught to make my own way in life, and never to depend on any man, be it father, brother or husband.

This built in me a strong spirit of independence. My parents were both insistent on an education that focused on confidence and competitiveness.

As a woman I have also been lucky to have found and married an open- minded man who is also African, and who never saw my personal career or success as a threat, and who allowed me the time and space that I needed to dedicate to my work.

My husband has been a pillar of support throughout my career -- cru- cial to my success. He has provided me always with honest advice and encouragement. He is a great father to all of our four children, being there for them when I am absent during my long work schedules and overseas trips.

The advice I would give to parents is to establish very early on a sense of confidence and responsibility in their girls. Teach them to fend for themselves and to rely only on them- selves. Teach your daughter life skills. Teach your daughter the skills of how to manage her finances, her sal- ary, and her investments wisely. And moreover, treat her as an independent person and whole human being with a true role in society, equal to that of a man's.

In a male-dominated society, what are some of the biggest challeng- es you face as a female business- woman?

In the business world there are very few female peers, and it is still a very male-dominated society. Discrimina- tion and prejudice exists. On various occasions in business meetings the other party with whom I am negoti- ating will look solely at my male ad- viser or male lawyer to see what he has to say, even though I am the owner/ shareholder of the business and have already clearly stated my decision.

Your opinions are frequently sec- ond guessed simply because you are a woman. I am also often asked: "What business does your husband do?". Peo- ple just assume that as a woman and a mother you are someone less able to be negotiating at the table or that you built your own business. The toughest thing for women is to raise capital and investment for their business, as the fi- nancial system has 'more confidence' in male-led projects.

Are there particular challenges that you face as an African wom- an?

Being often the only black person in the room is a challenge... people tend to treat you differently. Africa has unfor- tunately been marketed in a very poor way. The narrative around African economies and African business isn't favourable, it's full of negative connota- tions. Africa needs better marketing to promote its success stories better. There is very little knowledge of African busi- nesses or key business players out there.

How do you maintain the strength to keep moving forward?

As an African person, I was lucky to re- ceive a top education. In this way I am privileged, and this provides me with a great sense of duty, to do more for oth- ers, for my country and for our people. To inspire and help others build their dreams, build their business, get good jobs, and educate their children.

What opportunities exist current- ly in Angola or other countries on the continent for women who wish to make money and build success- ful enterprises?

Opportunities for me always start with a simple question: What do you know how to do? What are you good at? And there you will find your opportunity.

Angola in particular has many un- tapped resources, from minerals to agriculture, manufacturing to services and tourism. Each one comes with a different level of complexity, different need for investment, but all are strong and possible starting points.

The more complex the business, the more it will require you to be ex- perienced and skilled, and the need for more capital. Today, the Angolan bank- ing sector offers financing and loans for good projects and businesses, and it is true that interest rates are still high, and that some collateral or partial guaran- tees are required, as well as some start- ing capital (savings or land) as equity from the investors. Angola imports over $9 billion of food commodities and consumer goods. Africa as a whole con- tinues to import vast amounts of com- modities and consumer goods.

A good opportunity in Africa would be the medium-scale production of ag- ricultural produce or animal farming or manufacturing. In some countries there is a growing middle class with a growing disposable income, and thus internal tourism is also a developing op- portunity for small, family-owned busi- nesses. Good quality private education and private healthcare clinics are also sectors of potential growth.

Bigger opportunities, for more cap- ital-intensive investments and bigger deals, lie in industries such as glass or steel manufacturing for construction, or mineral exploration.

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 tips can you share with young women about managing time, juggling responsibilities and self-care?

Time unfortunately is one of those things that none of us has enough of! We always end up sacrificing some- thing, whether it be time with our fam- ily, or our friends, or having a social life. Or even 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.

Because you are the richest woman in Africa, many people must ask you for charity and support for their social ven- tures. 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 division for social responsibility and sponsorship programmes. We sponsor several chari- ties 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 com- pany culture, and we have thousands of employees who are volunteers and help run our programmes in the com- munity. We created a culture that en- gages 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 hos- pital 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 we organise special play days and fun adventures for over 10,000 children. Last year, I 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 communities' needs.

I have encouraged all our employ- ees to be part of our social responsi- bility programmes, as volunteers, as I believe we need to multiply our efforts and together we are stronger.

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 achieve its eradication.

My commitment is for one day to see Africa brimming with entrepre- neurs, from businesses small and big, with ambitious initiatives, full of per- severance, 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 who dreams of changing Africa, education is the key. We must educate our girls, as they are the future mothers, and an ency- clopaedia of knowledge for their chil- dren.



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Publication:New African Woman
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Nov 30, 2018
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