On Tuesday, in honor of a self-made businesswoman from Ghana, Google dedicated a homepage doodle to Esther Afua Ocloo on what would have been her 98th birthday. Ocloo was born on April 18, 1919, and her career as a businesswoman started when she was just a teenager. According to Google, Ocloo had six Ghanaian shillings — less than a dollar — that her aunt had given her. She used those shillings to start making and selling marmalade jam.
"With 6 shillings I bought the ingredients to make marmalade, and went to the street side to sell the jars of marmalade," Ocloo told the Odyssey, an online nonprofit site, in a 1999 interview. "Within an hour I had sold all my jars and turned 6 shillings into 12! I was so excited I treated myself to a delicious lunch."
That was just the beginning for her. Ocloo continued to sell the marmalade jam at a profit as a street vendor, despite being ridiculed by her former classmates. Al Jazeera reported that she then entered into a contract with her high school, through which she provided the school with orange juice and more of her marmalade jam. After that, she managed to score a similar deal with the military.
With the help of a bank loan in 1942, Ocloo started a business, Nkulenu Industries — derived from her maiden name — and soon went to England to take a food science course at Bristol University. She returned to Ghana in 1953, armed with valuable knowledge about preserving and processing food, as well as a renewed determination to make her country self-sufficient.
To work toward attaining this goal of self-sufficiency, Ocloo taught other Ghanaian woman what she knew about food processing as well as about business management. After teaching them how to determine whether or not they were earning profits, Ocloo realized that many woman selling food on the side of the street were making more money than those in office jobs.
Ocloo's work was still not done. She wanted to help these women — many of whom were in the same position that she once occupied — so she co-founded an international nonprofit micro-lending organization called Women's World Banking in 1979. According to WWB's website, the organization provides small loans to low-income women in 29 different countries so that these women can establish their own businesses and ensure their own financial security.
Ocloo also had a concrete structural vision for eliminating poverty and hunger. She advocated for an agriculture-based indigenous economy, arguing that "mimicking the West" would not solve her country's problems. It was well-deserved that "Auntie Ocloo," as she affectionately became known, went on to receive the Africa Prize for Leadership in 1990. She was the first woman to do so.
Ocloo passed away in 2002 after contracting pneumonia, but her legacy endures, and Tuesday's Google Doodle is just one example of this. According to Al Jazeera, Nkulenu Industries still operates from a suburb of Accra, Ghana — and it still makes orange marmalade, which it exports along with other indigenous food products to international markets.
WWB is still around, too, and it continues to focus on the financial inclusion and success of women around the world. Ocloo continues to have an impact on so many people — her vision has enabled many other women to follow in her footsteps, and Google was right to honor her.