Esther Afua Ocloo isn’t a widely known name in the world of business, but that might change this week thanks to a beautiful Google Doodle this week honoring her. The Ghanaian businesswoman and pioneer of micro-lending would have been 98 years old this past Tuesday, and her rise to the top is a truly inspiring tale.
She was born Esther Afua Nkulenu on April 18, 1919 in the Gold Coast, now known as Ghana. She attended a prestigious boarding school by way of scholarships provided by the Cadbury chocolate company, which harvested cocoa in the region.
Fresh out of high school, Ocloo became the Gold Coast’s first person to create and run a successful food processing business. An aunt gave Ocloo 10 shillings one day and the budding entrepreneur took the money and bought supplies to make marmalade. She recalled in interviews that friends insulted her by calling her an uneducated street vendor, but Ocloo’s marmalade was a hit.
The sales of the jam landed her a contract with her high school. The Ghanaian military began buying juice she produced. The combination of those two contracts led Ocloo to take out a loan to start her food processing company, Nkulenu Industries. Ocloo then took her profits and enrolled herself into London’s Good Housekeeping Institute becoming its first Black graduate.
Affectionately known as “Auntie Ocloo,” she made became known among her people as a person who generously gave her time and finances. Ocloo created a training program for women on a farm where they could learn food processing and preservation skills, along with agriculture and other disciplines.
In 1976, Ocloo became a co-founder, along with Michaela Walsh and Ela Bhatt, of Women’s World Banking, a multinational institution that specializes in micro-loans.
Among her many awards, she is the 1990 co-winner of the Africa Prize, and was the first woman laureate of the Gottlieb Duttweiler Prize in Sweden, which she won in 1993.
Ocloo passed in 2002 at the age of 82. She is survived by her husband, Stephen Ocloo, and their four children.
PHOTO: Promotional, Nkulenu Industries