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Esther Afua Ocloo: Remembering the Extraordinary Ghanaian Entrepreneur

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esther afua ocloo giving a speech

Born on the 18th of April 1919 in Ghana’s South Dayi District, Esther Afua Ocloo was an African entrepreneur and micro-lending pioneer. She founded Nkulenu Industries and launched her very own business with less than a dollar. That company grew into a worldwide inspiration.

Thanks to her wisdom, dedication, and passion, Ester became a leading Ghanaian entrepreneur, inspiring women from all over the world. 

Ester was also the co-creator of WWB (Women’s World Banking), an international nonprofit micro-lending organization on top of running her own company. Besides that, Auntie Ocloo taught various skills to numerous other women, helping them become independent and support themselves as well as their families. 

Esther strongly believed that economic power is the strongest power out there and that women shouldn’t beg to their husbands for it. 

The humble and brave beginning of an inspiring career 

When Esther Afua Ocloo was only a teenage high school graduate, her aunt gifted her ten Ghanaian shillings, which was less than one American dollar. She decided to invest the money and purchased twelve jars, oranges, and sugar. Her plan was to make marmalade jam and sell it at a profit.

Esther started to earn her own money in spite of her former schoolmates’ ridicule. She was also contracted first by her high school and later by the military to supply them with marmalade and orange juice. 

In 1942, thanks to being on a contract, she was able to apply and get a bank loan which she used to start her business. The name of her company, Nkulenu was actually her maiden name. Esther wanted to expand her knowledge of food processing. Thus she decided to travel to England where she took a food processing and preservation course at the renowned Bristol University.

esther afua ocloo


Ester decided to use her new skills and knowledge to grow her company even further. In 1953, she moved back to Ghana. Another goal that she had in mind when she returned to her home country was to help her native land become self-sufficient.

In 1962, Esther’s business relocated its headquarters to Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Nowadays, Nkulenu Industries still produces orange marmalade as well as exports indigenous food products to markets abroad. 

Becoming an award-winning and inspiring international leader 

Esther’s next project was educating other women about business. Simultaneously to running her successful company, Esther Occlo founded a program for women who sell products they cook on the streets. With the help of this initiative, she discovered something brilliant: despite not being taken seriously, women selling home-cooked items on the streets were actually earning more than a lot of those who worked regular jobs. 

esther afua oclooIn 1990, Esther Afua Ocloo became the very first woman who was awarded the African Prize for Leadership. She came up with several solutions for issues like wealth distribution, poverty, and hunger by focusing on an agriculture-based local economy. In an interview from 1999, she declared that one of Ghana’s major problems was ignoring agriculture and mimicking Western societies.  

Esther Afua Ocloo died on the 8th of February 2002 after suffering from pneumonia. At her funeral that took place in Accra, Ghana, John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor (former president) stated that Ocloo was a creator who has made an unmeasurable contribution to the country’s promotion and development. 

This year would have been Esther Afua Ocloo’s 100th birthday. This awe-inspiring and empowering woman certainly deserves being remembered and celebrated every single day. She is one of the world’s most important entrepreneurs whose work continues to help millions of women.