Google Doodle Honors Ghanaian Microlending Pioneer Esther Afua Ocloo

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Esther Afua Ocloo was the first Black person to get a cooking diploma from the Good Housekeeping Institute. (GhanaWeb)

Innovative Ghanaian entrepreneur Esther Afua Ocloo has been honored with a Google Doodle in countries including the U.S., Ghana, Argentina and New Zealand on what would’ve been her 98th birthday.

Born Esther Afua Nkulenu in 1919, she advocated for giving small loans to low-income women after she secured a loan for her marmalade business decades later. According to a Google press release, Ocloo had just six shillings in the bank, the equivalent of a dollar, when she sold her first jar of marmalade as a teen during the 1930s.

“Esther was determined to expand her livelihood of making marmalade and orange juice, but she needed a loan to increase production, and credit was hard to come by for women with little economic resources,” the release said. “It took persistence and a supply contract to secure the money to start her company, Nkulenu Industries.”

Nkulenu Industries, established in 1942 using six of the ten shillings Ocloo’s aunt gave her, according to the website, is a leading company in Ghana’s food processing industry. Its products are distributed in Nigeria, England and the United States and now includes drinks and other staple foods like the dumpling dish kenkey.

She was the first person to start a formal food-processing business in Ghana, according to the Independent, and later became the first Black person to earn a cooking diploma from London’s Good Housekeeping Institute.

Esther Afua Ocloo helps fellow Ghanaian women in Google Doodle (Google)

Known as Auntie Ocloo, her industry success led her to the UK’s Bristol University, where she learned the latest food-industry methods. Ocloo used that knowledge to help other Ghanaian women succeed and went on to establish global nonprofit Women’s World Banking in 1979, where she also served as chairman of the board of directors. Google reported Ocloo founded the organization to help low-income women who were ignored by banks get loans that were difficult to obtain due to lack of collateral.

“Women must know that the strongest power in the world is economic power,” she said in a speech in 1990 according to AlJazeera. “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.”

Ocloo died of pneumonia in 2002 at age 82 after a life of advocating for sustainability and agriculture and offering alternative answers for the issues of hunger and poverty, according to The Guardian.

“Her good works in the promotion of development in Ghana cannot be measured,” former Ghanaian president John Agyekum Kufuor said at Ocloo’s state burial.

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