Esther Afua Ocloo is today being celebrated by Google in the form of a Google Doodle to mark what would be her 98th birthday.
Visitors to Google’s home page might be asking themselves, who is Eshter Afua Ocloo?
Self-made businesswoman Esther Afua Ocloo of Ghana, a champion of entrepreneurship and micro-lending, co-founded the nonprofit Women’s World Banking in 1976. As board chairman of the bank, she facilitated the awarding of small loans to millions of low-income women seeking to launch their own business in 29 different countries. Most of the loans did not require collateral.
At the risk of grossly oversimplifying, perhaps it could be said that the barrier-breaking businesswoman was an entrepreneur before entrepreneurism was cool.
In the 1930s, she started what would develop into her own marmalade business with less than one dollar in her pocket. In the process, she learned first-hand about the challenges involved in business formation, especially for women. Eventually, Ocloo secured enough credit to launch Nkulenu Industries, which is still in operation today, shipping products around the world. The Ghana military became the company’s first client.
After graduating from the Achimota School in Ghana, Ocloo subsequently studied at Bristol University in the U.K. to gain further knowledge about food processing techniques, with which — along with her business acumen — she mentored other budding women entrepreneurs to help them succeed upon her return to Ghana. Over her career, she stressed the importance of economic power for women.
Esther Afua Ocloo summarized her business management teachings in this manner, the New York Times detailed.
“I have taught them to cost the things they sell and determine their profits. 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.”
In the late 1950s, the Federation of Ghana Industries elected her the group’s first president. She later went on to become executive chair of Ghana’s Food and Nutrition Board, the first woman to hold that position.
As a result of her stature in the business community, she was an invitee to the first United Nations Conference on Women, which convened in 1975 in Mexico City.
Ocloo also championed agriculture sustainability “while proposing alternative solutions to the problems of hunger and poverty, and the distribution of wealth,” the Guardian noted.
“Esther and other advisors knew that lending money to women could have a ripple effect, improving the prosperity and health of the women as well as their communities…On what would have been her 98th birthday, today’s Doodle shows Esther empowering the women of Ghana with the tools to improve their lives and communities,” Google explained in celebrating her life and work.
In 1990, Esther Afua Ocloo won the African Prize for Leadership awarded by the Hunger Project for her efforts toward ending hunger in Africa.
Known to her friends and admirers as Auntie Ocloo, she passed away from pneumonia on February 8, 2002, in Accra, Ghana.
“Esther’s life was celebrated in a state funeral in Accra, Ghana’s capital, and Auntie Ocloo’s inspirational legacy still resonates with women across the world today,” the Sun of London recalled.
The latest Women’s World Banking initiative involves partnering with financial services provider JazzCash to help women in Pakistan open bank accounts with minimal red tape.
The first business owner to start a food processing venture in West Africa, Esther Afua Ocloo is also said to be the first black person to obtain a cooking diploma from London’s Good Housekeeping Institute.
As part of the legacy of Esther Afua Ocloo, the United Nations designated the year 2005 as the International Year of Microcredit.
[Featured Image by Mark Lennihan/AP Images]