Google Doodle honors Ghanaian entrepreneur and microlending pioneer Esther Afua Ocloo

Working hard.
Working hard.
Image: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde
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Google rolled out a doodle April 18 to celebrate the 98th birthday of the Ghanaian entrepreneur and a pioneer of microloans, Esther Afua Ocloo.

Ocloo championed the role of women in economic development and advocated their access information on markets and product development. As the first chairwoman of the microlending nonprofit Women’s World Banking, she pushed for low-income women to get business loans and gain the skills needed to invest and run their businesses.

“As both an entrepreneur and an advocate for microlending, “Auntie Ocloo” worked tirelessly to help others like her succeed,” a note from Google read. The doodle shows Ocloo empowering the women of Ghana with the tools to improve their communities.

Ocloo’s story resembled that of millions of women whose lives she transformed. As a teenager in the 1930s, with less than one US dollar given to her by an aunt, Ocloo bought sugar and oranges and sold her first 12 jars of marmalade jam for a profit. Even though her classmates “ridiculed” her for hawking the product “like an uneducated street vendor,” she nevertheless persisted.

After securing a contract to supply juice to the military, Ocloo started a business under her maiden name “Nkulenu” in 1942. Afterward, she traveled to England to study modern food processing techniques and returned home to share those skills. Nkulenu Industries went on to produce canned tomatoes, soup bases, and continues to produce orange and pineapple marmalade, and palm drinks.

In 1979, after realizing that women had less access to financial markets than men, she started Women’s World Banking. The project was co-founded by New York investment banker Michaela Walsh, and Ela Bhatt, an Indian cooperative organizer. As her influence spread, Ocloo once said that her children lamented the fact that the women she trained competed against her.

“I don’t listen,” she said. “My main goal is to help my fellow women. If they make better marmalade than me, I deserve the competition.”