Yale School of Public Health alumnus Shadrack Osei Frimpong, MPH ’20 (Global Health), is not one to rest on his laurels (of which he has many) when he has a nonprofit to help run and has returned to Yale to pursue a Doctor of Medicine degree.
But that’s not to say he doesn’t appreciate the recognition he’s received for his hard work. In June, Frimpong earned his PhD in public health and primary care from England’s University of Cambridge, where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar. On July 13, he was granted an honorary doctor of science (social sciences) degree by Royal Holloway, University of London.
Royal Holloway bestowed the honor to Frimpong for his work with Cocoa360, the non-profit organization he founded in 2015 in his home village of Tarkwa Breman, in Ghana’s Western Region. Cocoa360 is a community-based organization that supports local cocoa farmers by providing tuition-free schooling and localized health care that the farmers help fund and manage.
“Shadrack Frimpong has transformed the lives and prospects of over 20,000 people living in rural communities, creating a sustainable farming model which delivers income, education, health care, and hope,” Royal Holloway Professor Gloria Agyemang said. “His determination and ambition to create a better world sets an inspiring example to our students and the wider community.”
Frimpong accepted the honor on behalf of his family, Cocoa360’s team, board, partner communities, and the “many individuals and organizations who make our work possible.”
Most importantly Frimpong said he views the honor as “an endorsement of our drive to radically transform how global health and international development is done – truly put communities at the forefront of impact.” To date, Cocoa360’s “farm-for-impact” model has treated 21,200 patients, reached 35,000 farmers, and educated 300 students.
Frimpong launched Cocoa360 with a three-year, $150,000 grant he received through the President’s Engagement Prize from the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in biology in 2015 and a master’s degree in nonprofit leadership in 2019.
His mission to improve the lives of Ghana’s cocoa farmers is personal.
One of six children raised in poverty to cocoa farmers, Frimpong nearly had his legs amputated when he was 9 when they became infected after a swim in a river. It took six hours to get him to a hospital. His parents had to put up their farm as collateral to pay for treatment, and only the intervention of his mother prevented the amputations. Given a second chance, Frimpong devoted his life to enhancing public health. A high school counselor encouraged him to apply to colleges in the United States, which resulted in a full scholarship to Penn.
Cocoa360 had been established for five years when Frimpong entered YSPH’s Advanced Professional MPH Program. He applied the skills and knowledge he learned at Yale to firm up the organization’s mission and operations. Frimpong credits Yusuf Ransome, associate professor of public health (social and behavioral sciences), and Dr. Elijah Paintsil, MD, professor of public health, with helping him strengthen Cocoa360’s farm-for-impact model during his time at YSPH.
“It is no surprise that Shadrack has received widespread acknowledgment for his work,” Ransome said, “because ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighted in his way’ (Psalm 37:23, New King James Version), and ‘A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men’ (Proverbs 18:16). When I connected with Shadrack (then, as a student in my SBS 505 summer course), we connected on more than an academic level. I learned his purpose in life, and it is to improve the lives of people in his community. This is only the beginning of his work, and today, I continue to support him on this journey.”
While Cocoa360’s farm-to-impact model was a success locally, it had yet to build the necessary structures and evidence base that would allow the program to be replicated in other communities. Ransome and Paintsil used funding from a Hecht Global Health Faculty Award to help Frimpong develop the necessary frameworks, community partnerships, and evidence he needed.
“One of global health’s biggest challenges is effective community engagement,” Frimpong said. “And this is largely due to our inability to generate evidence to assess how well communities are being engaged, what modalities drive engagement, and what could be done better.”
So far, Frimpong’s collaborations and research have yielded 10 peer-reviewed publications, including one with YSPH Dean Emeritus Dr. Sten Vermund, MD, Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health. While at YSPH, he also took several classes, including some in epidemiology with Mayur M. Desai, professor of epidemiology of microbial diseases, and health financing with Robert Hecht, professor of clinical epidemiology.
Those classes, he said, “gave me a sound methodological and theoretical framework and laid the grounds for my decision to pursue a doctoral degree that focused on the role of community engagement in community health financing.”
Frimpong, a 2018 recipient of the Queen’s Young Leader Award from Great Britain and a 2019 recipient of the prestigious Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award, stepped down as Cocoa360’s CEO last year in anticipation of his return to Yale, but remains its chief strategy officer.
His background, work experiences, and academic pursuits at Yale and elsewhere have all culminated in what he calls “an all-consuming passion for ending extreme poverty.” Seeing healthcare access as the first and only pathway to making this possible, he plans to return to Ghana after his medical training to expand Cocoa360’s clinic and school into Africa’s first mission-focused rural teaching hospital and medical school.
“We have all the resources to end extreme poverty in our lifetime,” he added. “We can and we will.”