Icon: Dr Esther Ocloo (1919-2002)
Nkulenu is a name synonymous with industry and enterprise. If you don’t know, ask your parents. In a time when there are so few female industrialists, it is also a name that one woman came to be known by. Dr. Esther Afua Ocloo (1919-2002) was the founder of Nkulenu Industries Limited, Ghana’s first food processing and preservation factory.
Started back in 1942 with only six shillings, the company came to be known for its fruit juices, marmalades, and soup bases. Its founder is a lot more than just that though. Dr. Ocloo is recognized by the Cambridge Biographical Society as one of the foremost women of the 20th century.
A Ghanaian industrial pioneer, she was a founding member and the first elected president of the Federation of Ghanaian Industries (now the Association of Ghana Industries). Coming from a poor background, it was always her mission to assist and economically empower the underprivileged in society. Engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility before it became cool to do so, Dr. Ocloo was the quintessential humanitarian and had a total of eight NGOs to her name, including Aid to Artisans; an NGO dedicated to pushing Ghanaian artisans into international export trade. She was also a direct contributor to Ghanaian arts and crafts, engaging in tie-and-dye and handicraft businesses herself.
That said, the most prominent of her NGOs is the Sustainable End of Hunger Foundation (SEHUF), an organization focused on providing women with employable skills: “My main aim is to help my fellow women”, Dr. Ocloo said at the time; “If they make better marmalade than me I deserve the competition”.
She was the first chairperson of Women’s World Banking, advocating strongly for the microfinancing of small women-run businesses. In recognition of her commitment to improving the lives of her fellow Africans, she became the first woman to win the Africa Prize for Leadership in 1990.
Dr. Ocloo passed away in February 2002, taking with her a long list of honours and achievements both locally and internationally. This extraordinary woman is a testimony to what the Ghanaian can achieve, once determined and in empathetic touch with his or her identity. The legacy she has left is (or ought to be) an inspiration to all.
In the end, Dr. Esther Afua Ocloo embodies three words necessary for the revolutionizing of our society:
Industrialist, Humanitarian and – most importantly – Ghanaian.
Words by Esenam Dogoe
Illustration by Alfred Achiampong