Esther Afua Ocloo, originally from Ghana, came from humble beginnings. Everything she had she worked endlessly for, her success, wealth and recognition.
She was part of a small group of women who did many atypical things. She pushed the limits, and she was an entrepreneur.
Hard work and dedication propelled Ocloo to do many firsts for both women and men. Ocloo was the first person to start a formal food processing business on the Gold Coast.
After many trials and tribulations, Ocloo finally reached the peak of her success. Instead of gloating in all of her glory she offered women in her community her knowledge and support to help them achieve their own goals.
“I wanted to see to it that women were equipped to help their children so they don’t suffer the same hardships. Women can contribute effectively, socially, economically and culturally,” said Ocloo.
In this article, you will find the top 25 Facts about the pioneer of microlending and Women’s World Banking, Esther Afua Ocloo.
Gone but Never Forgotten
Esther Afua Ocloo was born on April 18, 1919, in Peki Dzake, British Togoland. She came from humble beginnings knowing that getting a good education could change her life.
She started her school career at Presbyterian primary school then later studied at co-educational boarding school at Peki Blengo.
It’s no wonder that Ocloo was a hard worker, she got it honestly. Her father, George Nkulenu, was a blacksmith. Georgina, Ocloo’s mother, was a potter and a farmer.
Money was tight for Ocloo and her family growing up. She couldn’t afford to buy food from school so every weekend she would make the journey home.
Ocloo dedicated her weekends to gathering local foods and cooking meals for the upcoming week for her and her family.
Getting by with a Little Help from her Friends
Ocloo’s teachers saw something special in her. Once she got her business started they asked her to supply the school with her jams and marmalade.
She traveled to the school with her supplies at least twice a week. This helped Ocloo save enough money to help her further her education.
Ocloo’s grandmother sent her to a Presbyterian Primary School. She quickly advanced to a boarding school in Peki Blengo.
Being the excellent student she was, she won a Cadbury scholarship to a co-ed high school in Accra.
Back in her teenage years when the young Ocloo had the idea of her first business, her high school classmates didn’t respond well.
They ridiculed her and taunted her by comparing her to a street vendor with no education. Even though none of Ocloo’s peers stood behind her, her teachers saw the greatness she was about to become.
Passion and Dedication
Ocloo was known for being a bright young woman. Her passion and dedication towards her studies helped her excel at everything that she tried.
Ocloo won a scholarship to Achimota School where she studied for five years and earned the Cambridge School Certificate.
Less Than A Dollar
As a teenager, Ocloo started her very first business with only 10 Ghanian shillings. With less than 1 American dollar in the 1930s, she bought some sugar, oranges, firewood, and a few glass jars.
Ocloo’s marmalade went for a shilling a jar, which made her a 2 schilling profit. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get her in the right direction!
Acknowledged for her Success
Achimota College saw all the hard work it took Nkulenu to establish Ocloo’s juice and marmalade business. They understood the potential the young talented women had to offer.
Thankfully, they sponsored her in getting her diploma from the Good Housekeeping Institute in London. Ocloo was honored by the prospect and was excited to further her education.
Never Stop Learning
Ocloo made her way to London in 1949 to further her education career at the Good Housekeeping Institute. A few years later she graduated with a diploma.
Deep down, she knew that her studies wouldn’t stop there. She decided to take a Food Preservation Course at Long Ashton Research Station, Department of Horticulture southwest of London at Bristol University.
Sharing Is Caring
After coming back from England Ocloo put all her studies to good use. She decided to share her knowledge with women in her village.
She taught her students everything she knew from business skills to food preservation techniques. Her selfless attitude changed the lives of many women in her community.
Becoming a Bank
Around the same time as she began teaching and mentoring the women in her community Ocloo also started giving out money.
She would lend women small amounts of money to help them start their own businesses. She knew there were high risks in lending out her hard-earned cash but helping women achieve their own dreams to her was priceless.
A Macro In The Micro Lending
Ocloo was the pioneer for women who were trying to do better for themselves. She started by giving small loans, called microcredit, to help women start their own businesses.
The loans were small, but the difference it made was extraordinary. Eventually, she knew she had to do more.
Made In Ghana
In 1958 Ocloo formed a manufacturers’ association. With this, she helped the first Made In Ghana good exhibition get put together. She was fighting prejudice against locally produced goods.
It was a fight that was worth every effort. She was able to bring awareness to an issue that needed to be addressed.
More Than Just Woman Empowerment
Ocloo empowered everyone around her. She also founded two religious groups. Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Madina was one of them.
Ocloo formed a Bible Class and served on the synod committee. The other organization was the Unity Group of Practical Christianity. It was associated with Unity Worldwide Ministries.
A Lotta Firsts
Ocloo was the first person to start a formal food processing business on the Gold Coast. It was the business she built selling her marmalade and orange juice to Achimota School.
t's My Honor
Ocloo worked hard on the fight for women, and even though you may not recognize her name, her work did not go unnoticed.
She had over 15 honors in her name. The most recent was from Google. On what would have been Ocloo’s 98th birthday Google featured her in their “Google Doodle.”
Acknowledged by The President
All that Ocloo was and did for the people for her community did not go unnoticed. Her country loved, supported and adored her.
With the help of former President Kwame Nkrumah, Ocloo became the first President of the Federation of Ghana Industries. With a higher platform, she was able to help even more people.
By the 1960s, Ocloo’s business was booming. Her companies branched out into textiles and dyes. She was employing hundreds of Ghana men and women.
With all the success, she was eventually made Executive Chairman of the National Food and Nutrition Board of Ghana
For the Women
Ocloo grew up in a man’s world and was determined to fight for women’s rights. Her hard work and determination paved the way for her as a women activist.
When she reached the top of her wealth and success she turned around to reach down for other women to join her. In 1975 she was appointed as an adviser for the First World Conference on Women in Mexico.
The Importance of Empowering Women
At the First World Conference on Women Ocloo discussed the importance of lending women money to start their own businesses. This debate led to the creation of the Women’s World Banking which now serves over 24 million entrepreneurs all over the world.
Ocloo became the first chairman of the Board of Directors for WWB. To this day that cooperation helps to empower women who came from underprivileged backgrounds.
After dedicating her life to helping others Ocloo was appointed numerous awards. She was awarded the African Prize of Leadership in 1990.
Then in 2001, Ocloo was presented with the African Entrepreneurship Award for her solutions to help increase food production in Africa
Ocloo married her husband Stephen Ocloo after she returned from her studies in England. The couple had four children.
They had one daughter, Vincentia and three sons, Christian, Vincent, and Steven Junior. Ocloo left her company, Nkulenu Industries, to her children. It is still in business today.
Gone but Never Forgotten
Ocloo developed pneumonia in February 2002 and was never able to fully recover from her illness. She passed away at the age of 82.
Ocloo was granted a state funeral in her hometown of Peki Dzake. She was deeply loved by her country, hundreds of people gathered to show their respects at Ocloo’s public funeral ceremony.
Still Going Strong
Although the world lost Ocloo, her spirit is still going strong. That small business she started in school, Nkulena Industries, is still going strong to this day.
It’s a legacy that lives on, and one that continues to influence and change the lives of people. Without a doubt, Ocloo is smiling happily in heaven.