Three years ago, Shadrack Frimpong graduated from Penn with one of its most prestigious awards. This fall, he is back on campus to learn more.
A Social Policy and Practice graduate student and 2015 College graduate, Frimpong is a nonprofit entrepreneur who has made education and health treatment more accessible for many Ghanaians. He has returned to Penn to pursue a master’s degree in Nonprofit Leadership, with the ultimate goal of growing his own nonprofit organization, Cocoa360.
The first person from his Ghanaian village to attend college, Frimpong graduated from Penn as a recipient of Amy Gutmann’s President’s Engagement Prize, a $150,000 award for Penn seniors’ civic engagement projects. He utilized this funding to create Cocoa360, which runs a tuition-free all-girls school and community health facility from the proceeds of a cocoa farm in Tarkwa Breman, a small village in Ghana where Frimpong grew up.
Cocoa360 aims to empower rural farming communities by setting up self-sustaining models that tie the success of agriculture to community infrastructure, like education access and healthcare. Frimpong said guiding Cocoa360 requires theory, so he is pursuing a master’s degree to hone his organizational strategies.
Frimpong gives Penn much of the credit.
"I took a course on the biology of food, which helped me realize that many of the problems that we face are related to nutrition and agriculture,” Frimpong said. “I realized that we could take agriculture to impact other parts of the world.”
In particular, he said Penn helped him realize the importance of educating women.
"Coming to Penn and meeting so many young women who are so smart really shifted my mind and understanding of woman empowerment,” Frimpong said.
After finishing his master’s degree, he said he hopes to pursue a one-year degree in public health, which will teach him how to research and publish the organization’s findings. He then plans to obtain a degree in medicine, which will allow him to “get closer to patients and understand what to do better for them at a population level.”
Cocoa360’s Chief Operating Officer Susi Neher said Frimpong’s intelligence and clear visions for the Tarkwa Breman community have contributed to the success of the organization, which now has a staff of around 30 people. Cocoa360 has offices in Ghana and the United States and is planning on opening a center in London.
“Everyone comes to work everyday with such enthusiasm,” Neher said. “Tarkwa Breman has very little internet access, and it can be a harsh environment, but everyone is very much dedicated to their work, which really shows you that you must be doing something special."
Currently, much of Cocoa360’s founding staff, board members, and fellows are Penn alum or faculty members. Frimpong’s mentor and Penn professor of medicine Harvey Rubin said Frimpong has been able to “recruit really smart people to his village, doing health assessments and various projects.”
“Shadrack is one of the most highly-motivated, charismatic, intelligent, caring people I've ever come across,” said Rubin, who is also a Cocoa360 board member. “He has a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish in Ghana, in educating young women and girls and bringing health care to his village."
The President's Engagement Prize intends to fund a Penn students' projects for one year after they graduate, though Frimpong has extended his investment in Cocoa360. Ultimately, Frimpong attributes much of his success to the Prize, which allowed him to create ripples of change in thousands of Ghanians’ lives.
“The President’s Engagement Prize is an impact legacy that Penn should be proud of,” Frimpong said.
“The chances of someone growing up without running water and electricity and ending up at an Ivy League school is zero to nothing,” Frimpong added. “Penn gave me the opportunity to be able to go back to my community to make change.”