During a biology class at the University of Pennsylvania, Shadrack Frimpong — the child of poor cocoa farmers from a remote village in Ghana — learned something shocking. Ghana is the second-largest exporter of cocoa in the world, making about $2bn in revenue every year from exports.
Without the cocoa farmers, he realised, the country’s economy would collapse.
“In that moment I was so angry and frustrated,” Frimpong said in an interview with NPR. “I thought: My parents and our families’ hard work and contributed so much to the Ghanaian economy, so why are we so poor? Why can’t farmers have quality education and health care?”
Addressing this frustration turned out to be Frimpong’s life calling. Using seed funding that he won through a university prize, he’s set up a community initiative in rural Ghana that turns cocoa farming into free education and subsidised healthcare. It’s employed more than 50 people, schooled about 150 students, and treated around 3,500 patients — including delivering 70 babies.
And this has all been done through an initiative run by and accountable to the local community.
Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash
Cocoa360 in Ghana
Talking to NPR, Frimpong explained that Cocoa360’s so-called “farm for impact” model is simple. “We have about 60 acres of land total from the community, which includes our current campus (with a health clinic and school), 10 acres with matured / harvest-ready cocoa crops and a whole other part that is yet to be cultivated.”
Villagers provide volunteer labour for the community farm, and in return get access to free education and subsidised healthcare. The operations are run by a village committee, nominated by the community, which is held accountable for revenues, profits and expenses. The more money the farm makes, the more is directed back into the education and health clinics.
The clinic serves the community in the village where Frimpong grew up, Tarkwa Breman, and 7 nearby villages.
For Frimpong, the school is an opportunity for health and disease prevention. “We also wanted to send a strong message that there is no tuition fee and so there is no excuse about not sending girls to school.”
Frimpong’s unceasing drive to help others was forged at an early age, when he was struck down by a severe illness that almost led to the amputation of his legs.
As he lived in a mud hut with no running water or electricity, only able to go to school because his mother made extra money selling charcoal, his parents were forced to look elsewhere for medical help. They ended up having to take out loans to travel to the nearest suitable hospital — five hours away.
Thankfully, the treatment saved his legs. And he tells NPR that during recovery, he made a pledge to repay the great love shown to him by his family and doctors by working as hard as possible.
This led to scholarships for local schools, and later scholarships to study an undergraduate and masters degree in nonprofit administration at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s currently completing a masters degree in public health at Yale University, where he also serves as Editor of the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics.
Frimpong has been widely recognised for his work. He was named one of the Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs, and in 2018 was included in the list of the Most Influential Young Ghanaians. He was recently one of six recipients of the prestigious Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award, on the basis of his dedication to the cause, and founded ‘A Healthy Africa’, providing health insurance to AIDS orphans in Ghana.
Even former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan weighed in, describing Frimpong as the “embodiment of youth leadership.”