Esther Afua Ocloo (Born as Esther Afua Nkulenu) is One of Ghana’s great entrepreneurs, the founder of Nkulenu Industries Ltd, a food processing company in Ghana and one of the founders of Women’s World Banking in 1976, has been remembered for her role in promoting local industrialisation and popularizing the micro-lending scheme to empower other women.
She was born on April 18, 1919 in Peki-Dzake, Gold Coast, which is now in Ghana, and died on February 8, 2002 in Ghana.
In 1942, she established a business under her maiden name, “Nkulenu”.
Esther Afua Ocloo then travelled to England to take a course in Food Science and Modern Processing Techniques at Bristol University.
In 1953, determined to grow her business with her newly acquired knowledge in food processing and preservation, she returned to her homeland with a mission to help Ghana become self-sufficient.
Nkulenu Industries still makes orange marmalade today and exports indigenous food items to markets abroad.
In 1962, the company relocated to its present location at Madina, a suburb of the capital city, Accra.
In addition to her own business, she taught skills to other women and co-founded Women’s World Banking (WWB), a global micro-lending organisation.
As a co-founder of Women’s World Banking from 1979 to 1985, she promoted the availability of credit to women with small loans to support their businesses and to make them economically independent. Her goal was to help women from an underprivileged background to be financially independent.
On its website, the WWB microlending network says it lends to 16,4 million women around the world, managing a loans portfolio of over $9bn.
She was appointed to many public office positions, including the first Executive Chairperson of the National Food and Nutrition Board in 1963, advisor to the Council of Women and Development, a member of Ghana’s National Economic Advisory Committee (1978-1979).
Esther Afua Ocloo had the fortune to attend one of the most prestigious schools in Ghana all thanks to her aunt. In Achimota boarding school, Ocloo had trouble fitting in as her parents were not as rich as her classmates’ parents.
Her blacksmith father and her potter mother could not afford that kind of education. The conviction she had for entrepreneurship manifested itself from a very early point in Ocloo’s life.
When Ocloo graduated from high school, she was gifted ten shillings from her aunt. In today’s world, that’d be about a dollar. Ocloo did not spend it right away to reward herself. She used the money to buy the ingredients necessary for a dozen jars of marmalade like sugar, oranges etc. She wanted to make some marmalade that could be sold for a profit.
Later in an interview, Ocloo said, “I was determined to turn that ten shillings into two pounds at least. With six shillings, I bought the ingredients to make marmalade and went to the street side to sell the jars of marmalade. Within an hour, I had sold all my jars and turned six shillings into twelve! I was so excited, I treated myself to a delicious lunch.”
In 1990, she became the first woman to receive the Africa Prize for Leadership.
Ocloo died in 2002 after suffering from pneumonia. At her state burial in Accra, former president John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor said: “She was a creator and we need many people of her calibre to build our nation. She was a real pillar… worthy of emulation in our efforts to build our nation. Her good works in the promotion of development in Ghana cannot be measured.”
In Occlo’s New York Times obituary, she is quoted, in reference to the notion of women she taught competing against her, as once saying, “My main goal is to help my fellow women. If they make better marmalade than me, I deserve the competition.”