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Ensuring equitable recovery in a post-pandemic world

Jesus PhD student Shadrack Frimpong (2020) is to speak on an upcoming panel on closing the global gender gap.

Shadrack is pursuing a PhD in Public Health and Primary Care as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. He is also the founder of Cocoa360.

We spoke to Shadrack about his experiences so far, and the upcoming Gates Cambridge event:

Can you tell us about what led you to Cambridge and your Ph.D.?

My academic and career path has been fuelled by my first-hand experiences growing up in rural Ghana with no electricity, and lack of access to quality education and healthcare. At age nine, my legs were nearly amputated after contracting a water-borne infection, and I’ve watched many family members die from preventable diseases.

These experiences led me to establish Cocoa360, a non-profit, which leverages community farm revenues to improve health and educational access, which are two major social determinants of health. Over the past five years, we have been able to enrol 240 girls in our tuition-free school and attend to over 9000 clients at our healthcare facility. Yet some questions remain unanswered, and we’ve come to learn that sob stories and good intentions are not enough. Members of the eight partner communities we serve deserve for our initiatives to be evidence driven. 

In my daily interactions with them, I grappled with questions like; Why do people refuse to go to school even though government schools are tuition free? Why do rural folks avoid getting medical care until their medical conditions are dire? I saw my mother battle with an acute medical condition – she put off seeking help until it became chronic. 

But she isn’t alone. Existing evidence shows that certain low-cost factors such as user fees were a barrier to access to healthcare, especially in rural Ghana. My Ph.D. at Cambridge affords me the freedom to promote evidence-based interventions, seek answers to these gnawing questions, and find evidence-based solutions that can be scalable across Ghana and the world. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”, and evidence can help to minimize those unintended negative consequences. I am grateful to the university, Jesus College, and the Gates-Cambridge Scholarship for making this possible.

Why did you start Cocoa360?

During my studies at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), I took a class in which I learned that Ghana is the world’s second leading exporter of cocoa, earning about $3billion in export revenue every year. At the same time, many of the 2.3 million hardworking cocoa farming families making this possible (my family is one of them) live in rural settings in conditions of extreme poverty. 

What I learned from that class haunted me for days — I couldn’t stop thinking about it and the sight of the scars on my legs from my childhood infection further set aflame this internal fire. I was enraged: how could it be that cocoa farmers, like my parents, who are key drivers of national development live in abject poverty? To me, this was an injustice and I vowed in my heart to do something about it. So, in 2015 when I graduated from Penn with the $150,0000 President’s Engagement Prize, I decided to channel the funds towards this goal.

With the help of four of my Ghanaian friends and classmates, I returned home to Ghana to establish Cocoa360. Our goal was simple: work with the community to use cocoa farming to improve health and educational outcomes. Little did we know that we were also bending the arc of international development towards self-sustainability and less reliance on foreign aid.

Cocoa360 started as an idea for me to pay it forward to the community that raised me in a dignified and self-sustainable way through effective community engagement.

Why is the panel discussion on 18 May important?

For centuries, women have been underrepresented in many facets of our society. As a brother to four amazing sisters, I have had a glimpse into the challenges they face in accessing opportunities in our world.

Equity and dignity are at the forefront of Cocoa360's mission, especially for women and girls hence our immediate focus on the Tarkwa Breman Girls' School and promoting health and gender equity through education. 

In many rural communities like the ones we serve, educating the most vulnerable targets of health infections, girls, can be an excellent way to improve societal health outcomes. And this becomes even more crucial during such times as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, it is important that these seemingly difficult conversations are had and we hold ourselves accountable to turn our words into action. 

What are your plans for the future?

Ghana alone has 1300 cocoa-growing communities where some 2.3million cocoa farmers and their families live. The numbers are higher in Ivory Coast, the leading exporter of Cocoa. That said, Cocoa360's innovative approach to rural development is scalable in Africa, but we could also be looking at life-changing impacts for marginalized cocoa-growing countries in Africa and the Americas.

Our long-term vision is to fundamentally disrupt how rural development is done by scaling our work across the African continent through community-sustained healthcare and educational initiatives.

The ‘Closing gaps for good’ panel discussion will take place on Tuesday 18 May at 5pm BST, and is open to everyone. More information and registration information can be found on the University of Cambridge website.




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