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 was an inspiration 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 skills to other women and co-founded Women’s World Banking, a global micro-lending organisation.
“Women must know that the strongest power in the world is economic power,” she said in 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 shillings given to her by an aunt, she bought sugar, oranges and 12 jars to make marmalade jam.
Ocloo 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 provide the military with her goods.
On the basis of that contract, she took out a bank loan.
In 1942, she established a business under her maiden name, “Nkulenu”.
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.
Besides working on her thriving business, she also set up a programme to share her knowledge with other women who cook and sell products on the streets.
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. In 1999 interview, she said:
Ocloo died in 2002 after suffering from pneumonia.
“She was a creator and we need many people of her calibre to build our nation”, he added.
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.