Duke Woman Crush Wednesday: Esther Afua Ocloo

Esther Afua Ocloo, (born Esther Afua Nkulenu) lived from 18 April 1919 to 8 February 2002. She was an entrepreneur from Ghana and the creator of the microlending movement, which involves giving modest loans to companies to help them grow.

In 1976, along with Michaela Walsh and Ela Bhatt, she co-founded Women’s World Banking. The first trustees’ chair was held by Ocloo. For her efforts on behalf of the economic empowerment of women and families, she was honored with the 1990 African Prize for Leadership as well as several other awards. Unity Worldwide Ministries was one of her affiliations.

George Nkulenu, a blacksmith, and his wife Georgina, a farmer and potter, welcomed Afua Nkulenu to the world in the Volta Region both of the Ewe descent.

She was enrolled by her grandmother at a Presbyterian primary school before moving on to Peki Blengo’s coeducational boarding school. Due to her financial situation, she traveled each week from her house to the school, bringing food supplies that she cooked herself each week to save money. She then received a scholarship to attend Achimota School, and her aunt helped pay for her transportation there. From 1936 through 1941, when she graduated with a Cambridge School Certificate, she studied there.

Afua started selling marmalade in Accra in 1943 using a small financial present from her aunt and the skills she had learned in Achimota. She obtained a contract from Achimota to provide the school with orange juice prepared from oranges grown on its campus after deciding to pursue further employment in the food business.

She subsequently secured a second contract to supply juice to the Royal West African Frontier Force. In order to create Nkulenu Industries, the first food processing facility in the Gold Coast, she obtained a loan from a bank because she lacked the resources to fulfill the commitments on her own.

She was sponsored by Achimota College to visit and study in England from 1949 to 1951 after she had started her firm. She was the first person of African descent to complete the post-graduate Food Preservation Course at Bristol University’s Long Ashton Research Station and get a cookery diploma from the London-based Good Housekeeping Institute.

After leaving, she went back to Ghana, married, and had children. Esther married Stephen Ocloo, and the two of them produced four kids.

In 1956, she went to England to create recipes for industrial canning. She established a manufacturers’ group and helped plan the first “Made-in-Ghana” goods display in 1958 to combat prejudice in Ghana against locally produced goods. She was elected as the first President of what would become the Federation of Ghana Industries, serving from 1959 to 1961, after being encouraged by President Kwame Nkurumah.

The National Food and Nutrition Board of Ghana’s Executive Chairman position was first given to a female Ghanaian in 1964 when it was Afua.

She increased her efforts and entered the tie-dye textile industry in the middle of the 1960s.

Afua began working on the economic empowerment of women in the 1970s, both nationally and internationally. She was chosen to serve as a councilor for the Council of Women and Development from 1976 to 1986, a member of Ghana’s national economic advisory committee from 1978 to 1979, and a councilor for the Third Republic of Ghana’s council of state from 1979 to 1981.

She served as a consultant for the 1975 Mexico City First World Conference on Women.

She then pushed for women to have access to credit through modest loans known as microcredit to encourage their ability to launch enterprises. It was discovered that giving these loans to women will improve their capacity to raise their families and provide financially for their children.

From 1979 until 1985, Afua served as the organization’s first chairman of the Board of Directors and a founding member.

She was a founder member of several religious organizations, including the Unity Group of Practical Christianity (Ghana), a branch of Unity Worldwide Ministries, and the Evangelical Presbyterian (E.P.) Church in Madina, an Accra suburb.

She also helped establish the E.P. Church’s Bible Class, a group of women who meet to study the Bible and manage their homes. She spent 12 years on the E.P. Church’s synod committee.

After developing pneumonia in February 2002, Afua passed away in Accra, Ghana. She was given a state funeral in Accra and laid to rest in Peki Dzake, where she was born and raised.

Awards and Honours

She was honored for her outstanding Church Service in 1982 by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Ghana

Honored for meritorious service by the All Women Association of Ghana (AWAG) (1985).

Acknowledged and confirmed as one of the Most Important Women of the Twentieth Century by the Editorial Board of the English Biographical magazine.

She was the first African woman to receive this honor as a co-winner with Olusegun Obasanjo of the 1990 African Leadership Prize for Sustainable End to Hunger by the Hunger Project, New York.

Presented with the 1991 National Arts and Culture Award by the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (by Ghana National Commission On Culture, 1992).

In 1993, she became the Gottlieb Duttweiler female Prize recipient.

Junior Achievement honors (Global Leadership Award, 1995)

Ghana Association of Women Entrepreneurs (GAWE) presented honors during the first global women’s investment exhibition in July 1996.

Honored by the Peki Union for her commitment to the welfare of her village of Peki, Ghana.

Honored by Women World Banking Ghana in May 1995.

Honored by Women World Banking International in Beijing, September 1995. Honored as one of the “100 Heroines for the Cause of Women in the 20th Century” by Beijing Women of Rochester, New York ASA in October 1998.

Millennium Excellence Awards for Women and Gender Balance Development in Ghana, 1999

On April 18, 2017, she was recognized with a Google Doodle.

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