Google Doodle Celebrates Women’s World Banking Co-Founder Esther Afua Ocloo

On what would have been her 98th birthday, Google Doodle is celebrating self-made business woman Esther Afua Ocloo.

Ocloo was born on April 18, 1919 in Ghana, where she made a living making marmalade and orange juice, according to Google. While she eventually landed a supply contract that provided her with enough money to start her own company, Nkulenu Industries, it's Ocloo's advocacy for fellow female entrepreneurs in under-developed counties that Google Doodle is highlighting on her birthday.

Ocloo is considered a pioneer of microlending, or giving low-income women small loans when they couldn't get loans from banks. She also taught other Ghanian women what she knew, including the food processing techniques she picked up during a trip to England.Deeply aware of the impact supporting women in this way could have on both their lives and their communities, Ocloo helped co-found Women's World Banking in 1979—a non-profit organization that provides low-income women in 29 different countries with small loans to start or further their businesses. The organization is still working to empower women around the world through financial inclusion to this day.


Esther Afua Ocloo: Ghana's inspiring businesswoman

Founder of Nkulenu Industries, Ocloo started her business with less than a dollar and grew into a global inspiration.

Esther Afua Ocloo launched her entrepreneurial career as a teenager in the 1930s on less than a dollar.

She quickly became one of Ghana's leading entrepreneurs and a source of inspiration around the world. Today, on what would had been her 98th birthday, Google dedicated to her a 'doodle' illustration.

In addition to her own business, she taught skills to other women and co-founded Women's World Banking (WWB), a global micro-lending organisation.

On its website, the WWB microlending network says it lends to 16,4 million women around the world, managing a loans portfolio of over $9bn.

Known as "Auntie Ocloo", Esther dedicated her life to helping others like her succeed.

"Women must know that the strongest power in the world is economic power," she said in a speech in 1990.

"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."

How she started

As a high school graduate with only a few Ghanian shillings given to her by an aunt, she bought sugar, oranges and 12 jars to make marmalade jam.

Ocloo sold them at a profit, despite the ridicule of her former classmates, who saw her as an "uneducated street vendor".

Soon she won a contract to supply her high school with marmalade jam and orange juice, and later managed to secure a deal to provide the military with her goods.

On the basis of that contract, she took out a bank loan.

In 1942, she established a business under her maiden name, "Nkulenu".

Ocloo then travelled to England to take a course in Food Science and Modern Processing Techniques at Bristol University.

In 1953, determined to grow her business with her newly acquired knowledge in food processing and preservation, she returned to her homeland with a mission to help Ghana become self-sufficient.

Nkulenu Industries still makes orange marmalade today and exports indigenous food items to markets abroad.

In 1962, the company relocated to its present location at Madina, a suburb of the capital city, Accra.

Award-winning leadership

Besides working on her thriving business, she also set up a programme to share her knowledge with other women who cook and sell products on the streets.

''You know what we found? We found that a woman selling rice and stew on the side of the street is making more money than most women in office jobs - but they are not taken seriously,'' she said.

In 1990, she became the first woman to receive the Africa Prize for Leadership.

She proposed alternative solutions to the problems of hunger, poverty and the distribution of wealth - championing the development of an indigenous economy based on agriculture. In 1999 interview  she said:

Our problem here in Ghana is that we have turned our back on agriculture. Over the past 40 years, since the beginning of compulsory education, we have been mimicking the West

Esther Afua Ocloo
"We are now producing youth with degrees who don't want to work in the fields or have anything to do with agriculture." She added.

Ocloo died in 2002 after suffering from pneumonia. At her state burrial in Accra, former president John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor said: "She was a creator and we need many people of her calibre to build our nation".

She was a real pillar... worthy of emulation in our efforts to build our nation. Her good works in the promotion of development in Ghana cannot be measured.

Former Ghanaian President Kufuor
Today would have been Esther Occlo's 98th birthday. In her honour Google changed its homepage logo in the United States; Ghana; Peru; Argentina, Iceland; Portugal; Sweden; Australia; Greece; New Zealand; Ireland and the UK to a "doodle" – or illustration – of her empowering the women of Ghana.

Google also recently celebrated  Jamini Roy, Hassan Fathy, and Abdul Sattar Edhi with their own doodles.

How Did A Jam Queen From Ghana Get To Be A Google Doodle?

A dollar.

That's all Esther Afua Ocloo needed to kickstart Ghana's first food processing factory in 1942. She was a college student. And she was broke. So she used the money, a gift from her aunt, to buy some oranges, sugar, firewood and jam jars. She produced 12 pots of marmalade. And Nkulenu Industries was born. She sold the jam to her classmates, then the school, then the country, then the world.

Ocloo, the star of today's Google Doodle, was more than a jam star. She also became a pioneer in the field of microfinance — lending a small amount of money to women with a dream like she once had.

The daily drawing, which sits just above the search bar on Google's homepage, depicts a group of women in colorful printed dresses selling citrus fruit, blankets and jam. They represent the small business owners Ocloo helped throughout her career. Ocloo, who passed away in 2002, would have celebrated her 98th birthday today.

Ocloo wanted women in Ghana to be financially independent, especially women farmers and agricultural workers. Although they produced much of the food in West Africa, they weren't making enough money. "Women must know that the strongest power in the world is economic power," she said in a speech in 1990. "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."

Early on in her career, Ocloo dreamed of starting a "women's World Bank." If she could just help low-income women access more credit and free themselves of greedy moneylenders, she believed, they could increase their profits.

That's how Women's World Banking was born. The microlending group, which Ocloo cofounded in 1976, provides small loans, often as little as $50, to women in developing countries.

Ocloo also taught women how to properly store food, process it and market it to customers. Her efforts earned her the Africa Prize for Leadership in 1990 and the African Entrepreneurship Award in 2001 for providing outside-the-box solutions to increasing food production in Africa.

Google says its daily doodles are meant to highlight fun and surprising moments in global innovation.

But there's actually a surprising twist to the topic of microfinance. Researchers have found that small loans don't necessarily have the impact we once thought. Yes, they can be helpful. But in a story about microfinance in November 2016, NPR correspondent Nurith Aizenman spoke to Dean Karlan, a professor of economics at Yale University who co-authored several microfinance studies. He told her that "the results have just not been as dramatic as was originally hoped for."

But Karlan isn't too worried about the Google Doodle: "Getting people more exposed and thinking about poverty issues around the world is a good thing."

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