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Entrepreneurial Insights from the Life of Esther Afua Ocloo

Entrepreneurs, the innovators who turn ideas into reality through sheer determination and proper execution whilst knowing the risks involved, are the change-makers of society.

Entrepreneurs can bring about change in anything in society through innovation. All they need is the drive to bring the change and support from the people. Speaking of such entrepreneurs, Esther Afua Ocloo’s name comes to mind.

Although we have heard of her accomplishments, many of us still don’t know some facts about Esther Afua Ocloo and the journey that led her to be one of the most influential figures in Western Africa & around the globe. In this article, we’ll be discussing some insights that African entrepreneurs can learn from her life.

7 Lessons to Learn from Esther Afua Ocloo

Esther Afua Ocloo, Ghanaian entrepreneur & founder of Nkulenu Industries, was born on April 18th, 1919, in Peki-Dzake, British Togoland (Ghana). She started her business from scratch and grew it into a global sensation.

She embarked on her journey to become a revolutionary businesswoman during the decade of the great depression when she was just a teenager. Her judgments while handling different scenarios along the way can provide proper guidance to new entrepreneurs –

Wanted in-depth Knowledge

Being successful in her business was not enough for Esther Afua Ocloo. She wanted to learn more about the retail food business. She studied food technology, agriculture, and nutrition at the Good Housekeeping Institute in London, England, and became the institute’s first African graduate.

Later, she joined Bristol University in a postgraduate course and gained expertise in food preservation, modern food processing techniques, handcrafts, and leatherwork. Shortly after, she developed recipes for commercial canning and focused on West African preferences.

Started Her Company

Ocloo set up the first factory of Nkulenu Industries in 1942. Being successful with making marmalade jam and orange juice, she decided to expand her business into other product lines, such as- canned tomatoes and soup base.

She relocated her company to the suburbs of Accra, and took her business global with its food and beverage products. Later on, the company expanded into the textile business.

With the support of Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Ocloo won the presidency of Federation of Ghana Industries and went on to become the first woman executive chairman of the National Food and Nutrition Board of Ghana.

Applied Her Learnings

With the ten shillings (less than a dollar) that her aunt gave her to spend as she saw fit, Ocloo purchased oranges, sugar, firewood, and a dozen glass jars for making marmalade jam, portraying a clear example of budgeting for others.

Selling her jam for a shilling per jar, she made a two-shilling profit off each jar. While doing business and earning profit from that early age, she received a lot of criticism from her classmates.

But little did they know, Ocloo had planned out a different path to success. After winning a contract to supply jam to an entire boarding school, she started supplying orange juice as well. Later, she applied for a loan at a bank to carry out a new contract to supply juice to the country’s military.

Developed the Native Economy

Aside from working on her thriving business, Ocloo also mastered handicrafts, such as leatherwork and lampshade-making, with the aim to pass on these skills to the new generation of rural women of Ghana so that they could earn a living. She wanted to help them gain success in business.

After starting up a program to share her expertise with other women who cooked and sold products on the streets, she proposed alternative solutions on the issues of world hunger, poverty, and distribution of wealth.

Spearheading the development of the indigenous economy of Ghana based on agriculture, she said, “Our problem here in Ghana is that we have turned our backs on agriculture. Over the past 40 years, since the beginning of compulsory education, we have been mimicking the West.”

Elevated the Conditions of Women

Ocloo’s experience in shaping her career path against all difficulties helped her understand the immensity of financial problems that had hindered poor women from all over the globe throughout the years.

She took an oath to help elevate the conditions of women all over the world so that one day girls would no longer have to grow up in poverty and deprivation.

After returning from England in 1953, she founded multiple non-government organizations (NGOs) for supporting underprivileged women and youth in different corners of the country.

Through her efforts, entrepreneurial women gained back their respect and benefited from the stream of resources offered by the Women’s World Banking (WWB), starting from savings accounts, micro-insurance, housing loans, to individual and rural finance loans and other services.

All of these services provided crucial support to the hardworking rural women of Ghana who were committed to gain success through growing their businesses.

Pioneered Micro-lending

Dedicating her life to bring positive change to women in society, Ocloo pioneered micro-lending and opened the doors to female entrepreneurs. After expanding her company in the mid-1960s, she became known globally as she started giving advice to the Ghanaian government at a high level.

Attending the first United Nations Conference on Women, she met women entrepreneurs from other countries, many of whom shared her concerns and wanted to help the underprivileged living under the poverty line.

They believed small loans on a monthly basis given to underprivileged women, who wanted to sell goods on the street, could ultimately help fight against poverty on a global level.

That’s how Women’s World Banking (WWB) came to be. From the start, their goal was to grant microloans of $50 to women living under the poverty line. The WWB coordinated among 40+ member institutions and served around 24 million clients globally.

Promoted Indigenous Products

Through her business, Ocloo fought the deep-rooted notion of not buying local goods among many subjects of the British. After acquiring most of the raw materials from local colonies and converting them into finished products, the British Empire used to offer these commodities to the locals at a profit.

Teaching the new generation of entrepreneurs how to take advantage of the local natural resources, Ocloo became a major promoter of Ghanaian-made products, eventually building the country’s brand image.

Conclusion

The core mindset of any entrepreneur is to set out to solve a problem, find solutions, and take appropriate measures to implement them. While some people might think making money should be the prime objective of an entrepreneur, it is so much more diversified than that.

“Women can bring change to a society,” Esther Afua Ocloo’s entrepreneurial journey to success serves as a true testament to this statement. Through her sheer resolve and enthusiasm, Esther became a cutting-edge Ghanaian entrepreneur, empowering women everywhere around the globe.

She said, “Women must know that the strongest power in the world is economic power.” Her accomplishments will forever inspire millions. She has set a landmark that will be an ever-shining example for all in the days to come.

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