Esther Afua Ocloo

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Esther Afua Ocloo
Esther Afua Nkulenu

(1919-04-18)18 April 1919
Died8 February 2002(2002-02-08) (aged 82)
Cause of deathPneumonia
Known forPioneer of microlending and campaigner for economic empowerment of women

Esther Afua Ocloo (born Esther Afua Nkulenu, 18 April 1919 – 8 February 2002) was a Ghanaian entrepreneur and pioneer of microlending, a program of making small loans in order to stimulate businesses. [1] [2] [3]

Ghana republic in West Africa

Ghana, officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country located along the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean, in the subregion of West Africa. Spanning a land mass of 238,535 km2 (92,099 sq mi), Ghana is bordered by the Ivory Coast in the west, Burkina Faso in the north, Togo in the east and the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean in the south. Ghana means "Warrior King" in the Soninke language.


She was one of the founders of Women's World Banking in 1976, with Michaela Walsh and Ela Bhatt. Ocloo served as its first chair of trustees. She received the 1990 African Prize for Leadership and numerous other honours for her work on behalf of economic empowerment of women and families. She was a member of Unity Worldwide Ministries.

Womens World Banking organization

Women's World Banking (WWB) is a nonprofit organization that provides strategic support, technical assistance and information to a global network of 40 independent microfinance institutions (MFIs) and banks that offer credit and other financial services to low-income entrepreneurs in the developing world, with a particular focus on women. The WWB network serves 24 million micro-entrepreneurs in 28 countries worldwide, of which 80 percent are women. It is the largest global network of microfinance institutions and banks in terms of number of clients, and the only one that explicitly designates poor women as the focus of its mission.

Ela Bhatt founder of the Self-Employed Womens Association of India (SEWA)

Ela Ramesh Bhatt is an Indian cooperative organiser, activist and Gandhian, who founded the Self-Employed Women's Association of India (SEWA) in 1972, and served as its general secretary from 1972 to 1996. She is the current Chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapith. A lawyer by training, Bhatt is a part of the international labour, cooperative, women, and micro-finance movements and has won several national and international awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1977), Right Livelihood Award (1984) and the Padma Bhushan (1986).

Early life and education

Afua Nkulenu was born in the Volta Region to George Nkulenu, a blacksmith, and his wife Georgina, a potter and farmer, both of the Ewe people. Sent by her grandmother to a Presbyterian primary school, the girl advanced to a coeducational boarding school at Peki Blengo. Because of poverty, she traveled weekly from home to the school, taking food supplies each week which she cooked for herself to avoid expenses. When she won a scholarship to Achimota School, her aunt provided her with money to travel to the school. She studied there from 1936 to 1941, when she obtained the Cambridge School Certificate.

Volta Region Region in Ghana

Volta Region, is one of Ghana's ten administrative regions, with Ho designated as its capital. It is located west of Republic of Togo and to the east of Lake Volta. Divided into 25 administrative districts, the region is multi-ethnic and multilingual, including groups such as the Ewe, the Guan, and the Akan peoples. The Guan peoples include the Lolobi, Likpe, Akpafu, Buem, and Nkonya people, et al.

Ewe people West African ethnic group, largest in Togo

The Ewe people are an African ethnic group. The largest population of Ewe people is in Ghana with (3.3m) people, and the second largest population in Togo with (2m) people. They speak the Ewe language which belongs to the Niger-Congo Gbe family of languages. They are related to other speakers of Gbe languages such as the Fon, Gen, Phla Phera, and the Aja people of Togo and Benin.

Achimota School Coeducational boarding high school located in Accra, Ghana

Achimota School, is a co-educational boarding school located at Achimota in Accra, Greater Accra, Ghana. The school was founded in 1924 by Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey and the Rev. Alexander (Alec) Garden Fraser. It was formally opened in 1927 by Sir Frederick Guggisberg, then Governor of the British Gold Coast colony. Achimota, modelled on the British public school system, was the first mixed-gender school to be established on the Gold Coast.

Nkulenu was the first person to start a formal food processing business in the Gold Coast; she built up a business supplying marmalade and orange juice to Achimota School and the RWAFF. [4] After getting her business established, she was sponsored by Achimota College to visit and study in England from 1949 to 1951. She was the first person of African ancestry to obtain a cooking diploma from the Good Housekeeping Institute in London and to take the post-graduate Food Preservation Course at Long Ashton Research Station, Department of Horticulture, Bristol University. [5] She returned to Ghana. She had also married and started a family.

Gold Coast (British colony) former British colony from 1867 until 1957, now Ghana

The Gold Coast was a British colony on the Gulf of Guinea in west Africa from 1867 to its independence as the nation of Ghana in 1957.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Business activity

Ocloo worked at expanding her business. She traveled to England in 1956 to develop recipes for commercial canning. To overcome prejudice in Ghana against locally produced goods, she formed a manufacturers' association and helped organise the first "Made-in-Ghana" goods exhibition in 1958. Encouraged by President Kwame Nkrumah, she was elected as the first President of what became the Federation of Ghana Industries, serving from 1959 to 1961. In 1964 Ocloo was the first Ghanaian woman to be appointed as Executive Chairman of the National Food and Nutrition Board of Ghana. In the mid-1960s she expanded her activities into the tie and dye textile business.

Kwame Nkrumah Pan Africanist and First Prime Minister and President of Ghana

Kwame Nkrumah PC was a Ghanaian politician and revolutionary. He was the first Prime Minister and President of Ghana, having led the Gold Coast to independence from Britain in 1957. An influential advocate of pan-Africanism, Nkrumah was a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity and winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962.

From the 1970s onwards Ocloo worked at a national and international level in the economic empowerment of women. She was appointed as 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. She was an adviser to the First World Conference on Women in Mexico in 1975.

Council of State (Ghana)

The Council of State in Ghana is a small body of prominent citizens, analogous to the Council of Elders in the traditional political system, which advises the President on national issues.

Following that, she promoted the availability of credit to women, with small loans known as micro-credit, to stimulate their ability to found businesses. Making such loans to women was found to strengthen their ability to provide economically for their children and develop their families. Ocloo was a founding member and the first chairman of the Board of Directors of Women's World Banking from 1979 to 1985. [5]

Religious activities

Ocloo was a founding member of religious groups such as the Evangelical Presbyterian (E.P.) Church in Madina (a suburb of Accra) and the Unity Group of Practical Christianity (Ghana) associated with Unity Worldwide Ministries. She also assisted in forming a women’s group, known as Bible Class, in the E.P. Church, with the aim of studying the Bible and home management. She served on the synod committee of the E.P. Church for 12 years. [6]


Esther married Stephen Ocloo and they had four children together: daughter Vincentia Canacco, and three sons, Vincent Malm, Christian Biassey and Steven Ocloo Jr.


Ocloo died in Accra, Ghana after she developed pneumonia in February 2002. She received a state funeral in Accra, and was buried at her hometown, Peki Dzake. [5]

See also


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  2. Douglas Martin, Esther Ocloo, 83, African Leader and Microlending Pioneer, Dies, obituary in The New York Times , 10 March 2002, accessed at Africa Prize website, 12 April 2007.
  3. Esther Ocloo Passes Away, 8 February, 2002, GhanaWeb
  4. 1 2 "Esther Afua Ocloo: An inspiration from Ghana". Retrieved 2017-04-18.
  5. 1 2 3 Amenumey, D. E. K. (2002). "Dr (Mrs) Esther Afua Ocloo (née Nkulenu)". Outstanding Ewes of the 20th Century: Profiles of Fifteen Firsts. Accra: World Publishing Services. pp. 135–42. ISBN   9964-978-83-9.
  6. Dr. (Mrs.) Ester Afua Ocloo Profile, GhanaWeb.