Known affectionately as “Auntie Ocloo”, Esther spent her life working tirelessly to improve the lives of women and left behind a truly inspirational legacy.
Who was Esther Afua Ocloo?
Esther was born Esther Afua Nkulenu on April 18, 1919 in the South Dayi District, Ghana – she would have turned 98 today.
Her father was a blacksmith and her mother a farmer and potter.
She studied at boarding school, travelling weekly with food supplies she’d cooked herself, before winning a scholarship to Achimota School, which educated many prominent African leaders.
After leaving school, Esther became the first person to start a food processing business in the Gold Coast (the British colony that became Ghana), selling marmalade and orange juice.
Esther founded her company, Nkulenu Industries, despite having less than a dollar to her name when she made and sold her first jar of marmalade as a teenager.
She travelled to England in 1949 to learn the latest techniques in food processing, becoming the first black person to obtain a cooking diploma from the Good Housekeeping Institute in London.
On her return to her homeland, Esther set about sharing the skills she’d learned with the nation’s women, and imparted priceless business advice to the female population of Ghana.
In 1958, she became the first president of what became the Federation of Ghana Industries, and six years later was the first female Executive Chairman of the National Food and Nutrition Board of Ghana.
Her impact was such that she was invited to the first UN World Conference on Women in 1975 as an adviser.
Then, in 1979, she helped to found the Board of Directors of Women World Banking, becoming its first chairman.
The organisation helps low-income women, who are often ignored by banks, realise their financial dreams through microlending – giving them small loans to help establish businesses.
In giving women their financial independence, Esther recognised that their health, prosperity and ultimately their lives could be drastically improved.
Esther was married to Stephen, and the couple had four children together – a daughter, Vincentia Cannaco, and three sons: Vincent Malm, Christian Biassey and Steven jr.
She died in 2002 after suffering from pneumonia, aged 82.
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.