An official website of the United States government

Millennial Women In Business Find Their Competitive Edge
March 22, 2018

Millennial Women in Business Find Their Competitive EdgeBy Emily Bowman

The women behind She Leads Africa know all about competitive advantage, and they want to teach other millennial women from the continent how to showcase their own business potential.

Yasmin Belo-Osagie and Afua Osei launched their website, She Leads Africa, or SLA, after moving from the United States to Nigeria to take advantage of the country’s growing business opportunities. Belo-Osagie’s parents were from Nigeria, and Osei’s family was from Ghana. The two met while working at the Lagos offices of McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.

The women understood their competitive advantage in the Lagos business sector — they were well-educated, well-connected young businesswomen in an emerging global market. Belo-Osagie and Osei believed there were more young women like them who just needed the advantages they were given to get off the ground. So they set out to find them, mentor them, and create the next generation of African business leaders.

SLA is an online community and resource hub for young female entrepreneurs from across Africa. The site, sheleadsafrica.org, publishes original content aimed at women working their way up the business ladder. It also produces tools and courses for the SLA community, such as “Build a pitch deck that brings in the cash.”

The SLA community extends offline too. Women are given access to real-world business mentors. They are invited to attend #SheHive conferences across Africa to network and participate in training. An annual accelerator program gives community members the opportunity to earn real funding for their ventures and valuable feedback on their business plans.

The ideal customer

Part of their success is due to their laser focus on SLA’s ideal customer. They say they understand her needs and give her access to resources better than anybody else in the market.

Defining their ideal customer was easy for Belo-Osagie and Osei because they were her — almost. The pair’s competitive advantage was exactly what their customer needed to get ahead: networks and know-how, the kinds of things that Belo-Osagie and Osei had gained from years of education abroad and experience working for international firms.

Know the competition (to know the customer)

And while Belo-Osagie and Osei didn’t let their competition drive their decisionmaking, they had to know the competition in order to understand where it failed to meet their customer’s needs — so SLA could.

They found that most business development services targeting female entrepreneurs in Africa were set to a microscale: microlending for microbusinesses. While these services might be ideal for populations fighting their way out of poverty, they are not appropriate for the youth of Africa’s rising middle class. Belo-Osagie and Osei were proof that young African women wanted to do more and were capable of attaining it if they only had the resources. This is what sets SLA apart from the pack.

SLA didn’t say that it was better than the competition. Instead, SLA emphasized how it was the best fit for the customer’s unique needs. If a business can convince a customer of that, then whatever the competition is doing does not matter. Take a look at their mission statement. The customer — not the company — is central:

She Leads Africa is a community that helps young African women achieve their professional dreams. With engaging online content and pan-African events, our vision is to become the #1 destination for smart and ambitious young women.

After five years in operation, SLA leads the field in business development for young female entrepreneurs in Africa.

“If you’re interested in starting up your own company, spend time understanding who your customers are and why they should care about you,” Osei told entrepreneurs in a CNN interview.

Interested in taking the next step with your business? Check out our #YALIEntrepreneurs page.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blog posts contributed by members of the YALI Network.