A female African business pioneer has been chosen by Google to be honored in the April 18 doodle. Esther Afua Ocloos was known as “Auntie Ocloo” in her homeland of Ghana. She was born there in 1919 and by the 1930s she had started to build her food empire. It was the difficulties Ocloo had in acquiring start up cash that saw become a trailblazer in the world of microlending. A practice that helps alleviate poverty and help people with no collateral get their business ideas up and running. Ocloo was afforded a state funeral in Ghana when she passed away in 2002. That should give you an idea of the esteem in which she was held in her homeland, and across the world. The doodle appears on what would have been Ocloos’ 98th birthday.
Here’s what you need to know about the life of Esther Afua Ocloos:
1. Ocloo Was the First Black Person to Graduate From the Good Housekeeping Institute in London
According to the Dictionary of African Biography’s section for Ocloo, it talks about her education at the illustrious Achimota School in Ghana. She attended the boarding school from 1936-41 on a scholarship and needed money from her aunt and a grant from chocolate giant Cadbury to continue her studies. Cadbury purchased much of their cocoa in Ghana.
Upon graduation, Ocloo was given another scholarship by the school to attend the Good Housekeeping Institute in London and take a Food Preservation Course at Bristol University. Ocloo was the first black person to graduate from the housekeeping institute in 1951.
After leaving school, Ocloo set up a food canning business on Africa’s Gold Coast. Her products were orange juice and marmalade. She sold her goods outside of government buildings in Ghana’s capital of Accra as well as to the West Africa Frontier Force.
The business expanded into the 1950s while Ocloo spent time in England studying the food canning industry there. Her company was named Nkulenu Industries and it still exists today. Nkulenu was her maiden name. According to Google’s blog on Ocloo, she had great difficulty in securing a loan from a bank to get her business off the ground.
2. Ocloo Was One of the Founders of the Women’s World Banking in 1979
As her business continued to grow in Ghana through out the 1960s, Ocloo served in a number of positions for other organizations. Ocloo was the president of the Federation of Ghana Industries. She was also the Executive Chairman of the National Food and Nutrition Board of Ghana. Her profile on Nkulen’s website adds that Ocloo was “a member of Ghana’s national Economic Advisory Committee from 1978 to 1979 and a member of the Council of State in the Third Republic of Ghana from 1979 to 1981.”
Ocloo’s focus shifted in the 1970s when she became involved in the women’s liberation movement. Among her more notable roles, Ocloo was a founder and the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Women’s World Banking. Earlier, in 1975, Ocloo had been an advisor for the United Nations First World Conference on Women.
Google’s blog posting on Ocloo mentions that in the 1970s, she became involved in the microlending industry. When talking about this the blog reads that the Women’s World Banking provided “millions of low-income women with the small loans needed to reach their financial goals.”
3. Despite Attending a Prestigious Boarding High School, Ocloo Would Prepare Food at Home at the Weekends for the Coming Week
Ocloo had been born into poverty in the Volta Region of Ghana in the town of Peki Dzake. Her father, George, was a blacksmith, and her mother was a potter. The family was able to send Ocloo to a Presbyterian elementary school and later to a boarding school in Peki Blengo. Due to her family’s poverty, at weekends Ocloo would prepare food for the week ahead at school, according to her profile on Nkulenu’s website.
4. Ocloo Says, ‘My Main Goal Is to Help My Fellow Women’
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.”
Occlo is quoted in the Dictionary of African Biography as saying about women’s economic independence, “Women must know that the strongest power in the world is economic power. You cannot go and be begging for every little thing, but at the moment, that’s what the majority of what our women do.”
During her lifetime, Occlo also set up a farm in Ghana that was specifically used to teach women agricultural cultivation.
Ocloo died in Accra, Ghana, in 2002 after she had contracted pneumonia. Her state funeral took place in Accra while she was buried in Peki Dzake. She was married during her life to Stephen Ocloo. The couple had a daughter, Vincentia, and three sons, Vincent, Christian and Steven Junior.
5. In 2005, the United Nations Celebrated the International Year of Microcredit
Ocloo’s belief in microcredit has carried through after her death. In 2005, the United Nations named it the International Year of Microcredit. The system is still used in the developing world due to having “enormous potential as a tool for poverty alleviation.”
Generally, microcredit programs allow for small loans to be given to those with little or no collateral to help them start businesses.
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