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MamaDay Mondays #1: Dr. Esther Afua Ocloo

Happy MamaDay y’all!

In honor of our first MamaDay Monday’s post, we will be featuring one of Ghana’s most influential women in the business world, Dr. Esther Afua Ocloo. Last week, she was premiered as the cover of Google’s logo in honor of her birthday, April 18th. Today, here at S.I.S. we dedicate this Monday to discuss how much of an impact she had not only on her native land but all across the world.

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Dr. Ocloo is the perfect fit for today’s post because not only did she help to bring more life into this world by way of motherhood but she became the driving force of creating a plethora of business women throughout Africa. As women, there are glass ceilings set up in nearly every sector of our lives, especially for Black women. Thus, our contributions are not valued as much as they should be in terms of what we are paid, or even simple recognition in history books. This lack of recognition becomes even worse for Women of Color. Yet in the same breath we are also expected to hold the world on our backs.

Nevertheless, women who are mothers whether biologically often put their own happiness on the back burner to nurture their children and often times their significant others. Auntie Ocloo, as she is affectionately known, was one of those women and more.

According to multiple sources, Dr. Ocloo began her first business with no more than $1 to her name. Now that’s one helluva way to stretch a dollar! Can I get an Amen? Not only did she barely have any money to her name but she also started her company as teenager. Yeah, so when most of us were too busy going boy crazy, Dr. Ocloo was going the ways to be business savvy. This is why we must invest in our youth at an early age. Furthermore, Dr. Ocloo made sure to stick to her roots, by naming her company after her maiden name in which it was then known as Nkulenu Industries.

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So in the spirit of MamaDay let’s break down just why Dr. Ocloo is deserving of today’s feature.

1. Motivational /Motivated 

As aforementioned, Dr. Ocloo’s business venture began at a very young age. Not many people can say that their globally recognized business started during their adolescence. Auntie Ocloo was a very motivated woman who also served as a motivating force for other women around her. She is known for having stated

“Women must know that the strongest power in the world is economic power. You cannot go and be begging for every little thing, but at the moment, that’s what the majority of what our women do.”

While her efforts did in fact contribute to her own direct financial gain, her efforts also motivated other women to work on gaining their financial independence. Ocloo advocated for independent vendors or street merchants that others viewed as having simple jobs that did not contribute much to society. Ocloo saw the greatness in the women who sold their goods on the roadside, for these were the women who indirect provided food for the homes of the local people.

“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 understood the importance in their work and therefore saw to it that their voices were heard through the programs she organized. In fact, she understood their value so much that Ocloo empowered poor women through teaching them skills needed to move their street merchant businesses into even bigger companies that could attract greater financial gain. Thus, according to one source  she  became known as the pioneer “of micro-lending after setting up a bank to assist those on low economics.”

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“…Women in Dr. Ocloo’s factory make palm oil.”
2. Aspirational 

Ocloo’s overall life was an aspirational example for individuals who come from impoverished backgrounds on how to take the little that they have and expand upon that. Although born into poverty in the Ghanaian town of Peki with a father and mother who both worked menial jobs such as a blacksmith and potter. Regardless of their low socioeconomic background, Ocloo’s family was able to send her to a boarding school and during the weekends she would cook enough food there to bring back home.

After she graduated from high school Ocloo received a few Ghanaian shillings from her aunt. With those few shillings, Ocloo went on to buy sugar and oranges. She also bought 12 jars in order to make and begin to sell marmalade.

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Example of Nkulenu’s Marmalade of Today
Eventually her efforts were made known at an even greater scale by way of a contract through her high school which allowed her to sell her products to them. Later, she was granted the opportunity to form a contract with the military in order to service them with her supplies as well.

Ocloo soon took out a bank loan which was one of the stipulations of her contract and in 1942 she founded the business which we now know as Nkulenu Industries. Today, Nkulenu Industries is still thriving by creating jam and exporting those goods to foreign markets. Sticking true to its Ghanian roots, Ocloo’s company still operates out of Accra, the capital of Ghana.

3. Marvelous

Her contributions to womankind and the people of Ghana were recognized throughout the many awards bestowed upon her. As well as, the fact that she held the title of first in a few arenas. Prior to her much acclaimed success she was the first Black person to graduate from the Good Housekeeping Institute in London. After graduating from college, she went onto to create a food canning business on Africa’s Gold Coast. The products sold included orange juice and marmalade (jam/jelly). While others sold products in more local areas, she saw to it that her products were sold right outside of government buildings and the West African Frontier Force.

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She eventually founded the Federation of Ghana Industries which is now known as the Association of Ghana Industries. Ocloo even became one of the main people to help create the first Made-in Ghana goods exhibition starting in 1958. Further, she was then elected as the first president of the federation from years 1950-1961. Ocloo also served as the first Ghanaian woman to be the Executive Chairman of the National Food and Nutrition Board of Ghana in 1964. Later on down the line, Ocloo became the first woman to be a recipient of the Africa Prize for Leadership.

4. Ambitious

Dr. Ocloo lived a life full of ambitious actions which can be seen in many examples of the legacy she left behind. Take for example, in the 1970s when she visited Mexico for the very first United Nations World Conference on Women. Following this meeting she became the co-founder and chair of the board of directors of Women’s World Banking. In fact, she even became one of the founding members of the Women’s World Banking (WWB) which is an international micro-lending organization. Her ambition to assist women with obtaining small business loans in order to use their own ambition to start up their own companies.

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Since then, WWB has propelled the dreams of millions of women forward. Ocloo even went as far as setting up a farm in Ghana that was dedicated to teaching women about agricultural cultivation.

5. Dedicated

As we now know, Ocloo dedicated her personal and professional life to uplifting her fellow woman. Rather than seeing other women as steps in the ladder of success, she viewed them as her fellow champions in the fight for women’s liberation. With such a dedicated professional life, Ocloo also became a member of several financial organizations.

According to her website, during the 1970s and “onwards she was involved at a national and international level in the economic empowerment of women. She was an adviser to the Council of Women and Development from 1976 to 1986, a member of Ghana’s national Economic Advisory Committee from 1978 to 1979 and a member of the Council of State in the Third Republic of Ghana from 1979 to 1981.”

6. Admirable

Why should we admire such a woman? Dr. Ocloo is proof that regardless of your prologue, your epilogue can be absolutely epic. Starting off as a young girl who more than likely was unaware of the success that was to come, she invested in her dreams and saw to it that her company expanded. In the same breath, she did not keep the fruits she bared to herself, instead she shared it with the world. She is quoted for saying

“My main goal is to help my fellow women. If they make better marmalade than me, I deserve the competition.”

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“Suits made and sold by local women who have been trained by Dr. Ocloo.”
7. un-Yielding

Even in the face of possible defeat, Ocloo’s efforts were unwavering and unyielding for sure. She stood in the face of any roadblock and still crossed that road to accomplishment. All the while making an effort to accomplish her goals, others around her would sometimes doubt her vision. Regardless, she pushed on to educate, empower, and uplift her country, as well as other independent business women. Let’s not forget that Mrs. Ocloo was able to do all of this even in spite of being a mother of four children, three sons and one daughter. Now that’s one helluva mama!

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Sources: 

1. Nkulenu’s

2. Aljazeera

3. Heavy

4. The Guardian

5. World Trek

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