Esther Afua Ocloo: An inspiration from Ghana

Founder of Nkulenu Industries, Ocloo started her business with less than a dollar and grew into a global inspiration.

Esther Afua Ocloo: An inspiration from Ghana

Founder of Nkulenu Industries, Ocloo started her business with less than a dollar and grew into a global inspiration.

18 April 2017 Tuesday 11:32
Esther Afua Ocloo: An inspiration from Ghana

Esther Afua Ocloo launched her entrepreneurial career as a teenager in the 1930s on less than a dollar. She quickly became one of Ghana's leading entrepreneurs and an inspirational example around the world.

Known as 'Auntie Ocloo', Esther dedicated her life to helping others like her succeed. In addition to her own business, she taught business skills to other women and co-founded Women's World Banking, a global micro-lending organisation.

She died in 2002, and today would have been her 98th birthday.

In her honour Google is changing its homepage logo in the United States; Ghana; Peru; Argentina, Iceland; Portugal; Sweden; Australia; Greece; New Zealand; Ireland and the UK to a doodle – or illustration – of her empowering the women of Ghana.

Google recently also celebrated Jamini Roy, Hassan Fathy, and Abdul Sattar Edhi. 

Esther championed women's empowerment. 

"Women must know that the strongest power in the world is economic power," she said at a speech in 1990.

"You cannot go and be begging to your husband for every little thing, but at the moment, that's what the majority of our women do."

How she started

As a high school graduate with only a few Ghanian shellings given to her by an aunt, she bought sugar, oranges and 12 jars to make marmalade jam.

Esther sold them at a profit, despite the ridicule of her former classmates, who saw her as an "uneducated street vendor".  

Soon she won a contract to supply her high school with marmalade jam and orange juice, and later managed to secure a deal to supply the military.

On the basis of that contract, she took out a bank loan and in 1942 established her business officially under her maiden name "Nkulenu".

Esther then travelled to England to take a course in Food Science and Modern Processing Techniques at Bristol University.

In 1953 she returned to Ghana determined to grow her business with her newly acquired knowledge in food processing and preservation, and with a mission to help Ghana to become self-sufficient in feeding itself.

Nkulenu Industries still makes orange marmalade today, as well as exporting other indigenous food items from Ghana to markets abroad.

Nkulenu Industries relocated to its present location at Madina, a suburb of the capital city Accra, in 1962.  

Her leadership

Besides working on her thriving business, she also set up a programme to share her knowledge with other women cooking and selling on the streets.

''You know what we found? We found that a woman selling rice and stew on the side of the street is making more money than most women in office jobs - but they are not taken seriously,'' she said. 

In 1990 she became the first woman to receive the Africa Prize for Leadership. Her work inspired men and women, she proposed alternative solutions to the problems of hunger, poverty and the distribution of wealth - championing the development of an indigenous economy based on agriculture.

"Our problem here in Ghana is that we have turned our back on agriculture. Over the past 40 years, since the beginning of compulsory education, we have been mimicking the west," Esther said in an interview in 1999.

Esther died in 2002 after suffering from pneumonia, but her life still inspires many across the world. 

Saluting her contributions to Ghana's development, former Ghanaian President John Agyekum Kufuor said at her state burial: "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."

"She was a creator and we need many people of her calibre to build our nation", he added.

Updated: 18.04.2017 11:35
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