When Shadrack Frimpong was awarded a President’s Engagement Prize from the University of Pennsylvania in 2015, the 23-year old thought he was putting his life on hold. Armed with a three-year, $150,000 grant, he, instead, found his life’s purpose.
Shadrack returned to his native village, Tarkwa Breman, a remote cocoa-growing community in western Ghana. There, his vision to open a school and medical clinic with the farmers as active participants in the financing and operation has been a notable success. In just 4 years, the venture he started, Cocoa360, has developed a 10-acre communal farm that supports a tuition-free school attended by 150 girls, and a clinic that has served over 4,000 people from eight communities. Forty employees — including teachers, nurses, a midwife, a physician, community liaisons, financial managers, communications staff and other support staff — from all over the country and from the United States have moved to the village.
The global development community has also taken notice. Shadrack, an MPH student in the Advanced Professional Program at the Yale School of Public Health, is a winner of the 2019 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards given to six individuals, age 30 and under, who serve as advocates, activists and role models in transforming communities and bringing about positive change in the world.
“The Muhammad Ali Award is a very humbling and significant endorsement of the work our team does,” says Shadrack. “What we are doing has potential to bring something unique to global health and development. The community is in a remote forest location, so it is not an easy choice for the staff to come here to work. But our team sees the work we do as a clarion call.”
Ghana is the second leading exporter of cocoa—used in the production of chocolate—worldwide, generating about $2 billion in revenue annually. But most of the country’s 1.6 million farmers do not benefit, earning less than 50 cents per day and often living in areas that lack basic health care, education and infrastructure.
Indeed, Shadrack is no stranger to poverty and its effects on health and education. At age 9 he nearly lost a leg to an infection because his parents could not afford treatment. His two older sisters did not go to primary school so that the family could afford to send Shadrack and his brother instead. The link between education and one’s future was made even clearer to him when he watched his older brother graduate from high school and initially return home to few opportunities.
Shadrack credits a high school counselor with steering him toward the SATs and applying to colleges in the United States. With a full scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, he majored in biology and planned to pursue biomedical research. But when he won the University of Pennsylvania’s premier prize, he was compelled to give back to his village.
The village is a key part of Cocoa360’s success. People in Ghana have a strong sense of “we,” explains Shadrack. As a child, he could go from house to house in the evening and be fed dinner in a congenial, extended-family atmosphere. These cocoa farmers are willing to invest in the communal benefits of the school and clinic through their own hard work on the farm, in part, because there is transparency about the business and an active role for the Village Committee and Parent Teacher Association in determining spending priorities for both the school and the clinic. And, of course, their families now have access to the clinic and a school for their daughters.
Shadrack’s dream to change the impact of poverty on his community has garnered attention from the international global development and public health funding communities. “This is not a passive community receiving long-term international aid,” explains Shadrack. Instead, by partnering with the Ministries of Education and Health and the Cocoa Board, the community is able to fill funding gaps that had undermined the delivery of basic services for Tarkwa Breman. Cocoa360’s “farm-for-impact” model also has the potential to be sustainable.
In addition to the Muhammed Ali Award, Shadrack has recently received a host of other accolades including Forbes’ 30 Under 30–Social Entrepreneurs, the 2018 Queen’s Young Leaders Award, the National Youth Authority of Ghana Award, the 2019 Most Influential Young Ghanaians and they were finalists in the MassChallenge Boston accelerator program. Former President Bill Clinton called Shadrack “the Paul Farmer of [his] generation, “and the late UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, said he was an “embodiment of youth leadership.”
Shadrack’s desire to do research has not died; it’s just been redirected, he says. Currently, his studies at the Yale School of Public Health are directed toward population health research and epidemiology as they relate to global health. Besides being granted the Horstmann Scholarship, his decision to attend YSPH was fueled by an opportunity for him to work directly with his Ghanaian mentor, Elijah Paintsil, a physician and professor in Yale’s schools of medicine, public health and management. His goal is to acquire the research skills needed to evaluate and implement Cocoa360’s model given its novelty, and YSPH was a perfect match for him.
The success of Cocoa360 has been so great that other communities and international global development agencies are eyeing it for scale up. Shadrack, although he has already co-authored a chapter on re-imagining community development for which has been accepted for The Research Handbook on Community Development being published by Edward Elgar Publishing, Ltd. (UK), feels the need to develop his skillset to see that transition through.
“With 1,300 cocoa-growing communities in Ghana and other similar communities throughout Africa, the potential for this model is significant,” he said. “[It] would change global health.”