Afua Ocloo

From a few shillings to a Global Business Empire: The inspirational story of Esther Afua Ocloo

Esther Afua Ocloo was a pioneering entrepreneur who made significant contributions to food processing and small-scale enterprise development in Ghana and elsewhere. Ocloo, who was born on April 18, 1919, in Peki Dzake, Gold Coast, began her entrepreneurial journey as a teenager when she began making and selling marmalade from her mother’s kitchen.

Early life and education

Afua Nkulenu was born in the Volta Region[5] to George Nkulenu, a blacksmith, and Georgina, an Ewe potter, and farmer. Her grandmother sent her to a Presbyterian primary school, from which she advanced to a coeducational boarding school at Peki Blengo. Because of her poverty, she traveled weekly from home to school, bringing food supplies that she cooked for herself to save money. When she won a scholarship to Achimota School, her aunt helped her pay for transportation. She attended there from 1936 to 1941, earning the Cambridge School Certificate.

Nkulenu began selling marmalade in Accra in 1943, using a small financial gift from her aunt and skills learned at Achimota. She decided to continue her career in the food industry by obtaining a contract from Achimota to supply the school with orange juice made from oranges grown on its campus. She then won another contract to supply juice to the Royal West African Frontier Force. She took out a bank loan to establish Nkulenu Industries, the Gold Coast’s first food processing factory because she lacked the resources to meet her obligations on her own.

She was sponsored by Achimota College to visit and study in England from 1949 to 1951 after establishing her business. She was the first person of African ancestry to receive a cooking diploma from the Good Housekeeping Institute in London and to enroll in the post-graduate Food Preservation Course at Bristol University’s Long Ashton Research Station, Department of Horticulture. She went back to Ghana. She, too, had married and started a family.

Afua Ocloo’s journey in entrepreneurship

She was determined to make a difference despite facing several challenges as a young woman in a male-dominated society, including limited access to education and funding. Nkulenu Industries, which she later founded, produced a variety of food products such as canned jams, canned fruit juices, and tomato paste. Despite early financial difficulties, Ocloo’s business eventually became a huge success, and she was able to expand it to include a factory employing over 300 people.

Ocloo was not satisfied with her own success and was dedicated to empowering other women to be successful entrepreneurs. In 1976, she founded the Women’s World Banking organization with the goal of providing microfinance services and business training to women entrepreneurs all over the world. Her organization assisted thousands of women in obtaining funding and training that enabled them to start and grow their own businesses.

Her influence extended beyond her business and organization, and she was recognized as a leading advocate for Africa’s long-term economic development. She advised the Ghanaian government on small-scale industry development and was a strong advocate for the use of local resources in the production of goods rather than relying on costly imports.

Despite significant obstacles as a woman in a male-dominated field, Ocloo remained steadfast in her determination to make a difference. She has inspired countless other women to follow their entrepreneurial dreams and make a difference in their communities. She is remembered today as a trailblazer and a pioneer who helped to change the landscape of entrepreneurship and women’s economic empowerment in Africa and beyond.

Ocloo’s influence and legacy are still felt today, as her work has inspired many organizations and initiatives. In her honor, the Esther Ocloo Foundation was founded in Ghana with the goal of empowering women entrepreneurs through training and mentoring. The foundation helps women entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses by providing funding, training, and mentorship.

Her global impact has also been recognized, with several awards and honors bestowed upon her in recognition of her accomplishments. She received the International Alliance for Women World of Difference Award in 1990, and the Order of the British Empire in 2000.

Esther Afua Ocloo was a trailblazing entrepreneur and ardent supporter of women’s economic empowerment. Despite significant obstacles as a woman in a male-dominated field, she never gave up on her ambitions to make a difference. Her legacy continues to inspire and empower female entrepreneurs all over the world, and she is a shining example of what can be accomplished through hard work, determination, and a desire to make a positive difference in the world.

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Sophia Celestina Apenkro

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