Isabel dos Santos Exemplifies Historical Changes in Wealth Gap


When measuring wealth accumulation, many people tend to think in tiers, with the uppermost tier belonging to the world’s billionaires. These individuals are those whose wealth not only puts them far above others from a monetary standpoint but also throws them into a spotlight, where they are often looked to for guidance with respect to business and entrepreneurial endeavors. However, these levels of wealth have historically been the purview of a certain kind of person: white males. This paradigm has shifted over the years, but many would be surprised to learn that, of the 2,043 billionaires in the world, only 11are black. Isabel dos Santos is one of those 11, and a look at her professional life can be instructive for those interested in seeing how the accumulation of wealth is slowly changing across the world.


Representation Contributes to Opportunity


One reason why the presence of black billionaires among the world’s wealthiest individuals is important relates to a question of representation and how it brings opportunity to a diverse range of people. Power, including monetary power, has a tendency to be distributed to those who are part of the same groups who have held power previously. So, as the world begins to see increased representation of black people among billionaires, it is only natural to expect that those individuals will seek to use the power stemming from their monetary wealth to help those in their communities. Such a situation could help those who have historically been disenfranchised due to struggling economic conditions in their countries of origin.

This is indeed the case with Dos Santos, who has often used her position as a leader in Africa’s business community to work to bring opportunity to the continent. She is a frequent speaker at conferences across the globe aimed at promoting development in Africa and among the world’s poorest nations. A topic on which she often focuses during these opportunities to speak is the importance of technological development in poor nations. The businesswoman recognizes the ability of developments in technology to increase economic opportunities in Africa, much in the same way that they have in wealthier nations.


Background in Technology


The above focus on technology is perhaps an unsurprising one, given the entrepreneur’s area of expertise in much of her work. As the head of Unitel, Angola’s largest telecommunications company, she has utilized technological advancements to improve communication abilities throughout the country’s many regions. In the process, her company has instituted infrastructure upgrades and brought increased access to economic opportunity through the creation of more than 50,000 jobs.

That the above achievements owe much to the advancement of cellular technology over the past few decades is not lost upon the entrepreneur. To further encourage the adoption of technology in Angola, her cellular company has begun laying high-speed fiber-optic cabling in the country. The goal is to have a data network that rivals those found in countries across the western hemisphere. This access to advanced technology can provide opportunities to participate in the large global economy centered around the internet.


Bringing International Perspective to Africa


In much the same way that Dos Santos’ historical spot as a black billionaire is helping bring opportunity to her home continent, so is her firm grounding in the international community. Educated in Kent, England, for primary and secondary school and, later, London for university, the entrepreneur has grown up with a firsthand look at the world beyond her home country’s borders. Coupled with this perspective was an educational foundation in engineering that has served her well when engaging in problem-solving with respect to her many business ventures.

That grounding in the global economy and technology has afforded the businesswoman the ability to identify economic potential in a range of undertakings. This, again, has provided Africans with increased access to jobs and international experience through projects that offer the chance for travel outside of their home countries. This is another example of the increased access to opportunity that comes with having representation at the upper tier of the world’s wealthiest individuals.


Modeling Success


Another notable aspect of the entrepreneur’s billionaire status is that, beyond being one of only eleven black billionaires in the world, she is one of only two in that group to be female. The other person with whom she shares this distinction is Oprah Winfrey. Her success as part of a historically underrepresented group among the wealthiest of individuals has not only provided opportunities for others but also singled the businesswoman out as a role model for many.

Dos Santos’ ability to provide inspiration for underrepresented groups to strive for success is important from both a historical perspective and a practical one. In a modern world seeking to bring the benefit of new technologies to all, opportunities are still disproportionately allotted along lines of existing power. Wealthy individuals that belong to groups struggling to find visibility at the highest levels of success do much to help the cause of their compatriots by modeling what that success can look like. In this area, again, the businesswoman is furthering the cause of increasing access to wealth and economic potential throughout Africa and across the world.

Though billionaires represent only a small percentage of the global population, the impact that they can have in their communities and beyond can be very large indeed. It is therefore noteworthy when people who belong to underrepresented groups, such as Dos Santos, become a part of this wealthiest tier of individuals. With the influence wielded by these individuals, along with their ability to model success for others, they provide an emerging counterexample to the historical lack of diversity that has often accompanied power. For those interested in how these dynamics are slowly shifting in the modern world, these examples make for an interesting and informative lesson in economic change.

More about Isabel dos Santos at


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here