That’s all Esther Afua Ocloo needed to kickstart Ghana’s first food processing factory in 1942. She was a college student. And she was broke. So she used the money, a gift from her aunt, to buy some oranges, sugar, firewood and jam jars. She produced 12 pots of marmalade. And Nkulenu Industries was born. She sold the jam to her classmates, then the school, then the country, then the world.
Ocloo, the star of today’s Google Doodle, was more than a jam star. She also became a pioneer in the field of microfinance — lending a small amount of money to women with a dream like she once had.
The daily drawing, which sits just above the search bar on Google’s homepage, depicts a group of women in colorful printed dresses selling citrus fruit, blankets and jam. They represent the small business owners Ocloo helped throughout her career. Ocloo, who passed away in 2002, would have celebrated her 98th birthday today.
Ocloo wanted women in Ghana to be financially independent, especially women farmers and agricultural workers. Although they produced much of the food in West Africa, they weren’t making enough money. “Women must know that the strongest power in the world is economic power,” she said in a speech in 1990. “You cannot go and be begging to your husband for every little thing, but at the moment, that’s what the majority of our women do.”
Early on in her career, Ocloo dreamed of starting a “women’s World Bank.” If she could just help low-income women access more credit and free themselves of greedy moneylenders, she believed, they could increase their profits.
That’s how Women’s World Banking was born. The microlending group, which Ocloo cofounded in 1976, provides small loans, often as little as $50, to women in developing countries.
Ocloo also taught women how to properly store food, process it and market it to customers. Her efforts earned her the Africa Prize for Leadership in 1990 and the African Entrepreneurship Award in 2001 for providing outside-the-box solutions to increasing food production in Africa.
Google says its daily doodles are meant to highlight fun and surprising moments in global innovation.
But there’s actually a surprising twist to the topic of microfinance. Researchers have found that small loans don’t necessarily have the impact we once thought. Yes, they can be helpful. But in a story about microfinance in November 2016, NPR correspondent Nurith Aizenman spoke to Dean Karlan, a professor of economics at Yale University who co-authored several microfinance studies. He told her that “the results have just not been as dramatic as was originally hoped for.”
But Karlan isn’t too worried about the Google Doodle: “Getting people more exposed and thinking about poverty issues around the world is a good thing.”