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Jesus PhD student will be speaking on a panel with Secretary Hillary Clinton

Jesus PhD student Shadrack Frimpong (2020) will be speaking on 4 March on a panel with Secretary Hillary Clinton at Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Shadrack will be participating in a CGI U session on Protecting the Rights of Girls and Women During Conflict and Uncertainty. The session will be moderated by Secretary Hillary Clinton. He tells us more about the event, how he became involved, and what he will be speaking about.

Can you tell us about the Clinton Global Initiative University and how you came to be involved?

CGI U is the Clinton Foundation's initiative to unite students to develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. In my quest for lessons on leadership and impact, I first got involved with CGI U in 2012 as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania and attended the event every year. The annual event brings students worldwide to learn from each other and from seasoned leaders like President Bill Clinton, Secretary Hillary Clinton, and Dr Chelsea Clinton. It sparked my journey to starting Cocoa360, an award-winning global health non-profit that facilitates access to education and healthcare for thousands of cocoa farming families in rural Ghana.

Why have you been selected as a speaker for this discussion? What do you plan to bring to the discussion?

I have been invited to speak on the topic Protecting the Rights of Girls and Women During Conflict and Uncertainty, and I believe this is due in large to the work I’ve done with the Cocoa360 team to provide healthcare and educational access for women and girls in rural Ghana. Coupled with the years I have spent studying and researching Cocoa360’s innovations, my personal experiences growing up in a rural community where I encountered the same challenges Cocoa360 is addressing gives me unique insights that will enrich this discussion.

In much of the history of international development, community members have been seen as “beneficiaries”, and not as “active partners”. At Cocoa360, we set out to do things differently: we have developed a model that places decision-making in the hands of community members whose in-kind efforts generate revenues to fund educational and healthcare services. Cocoa360 maintains a campus in rural Ghana comprising a tuition-free girls' school, a community clinic, and cocoa farms whose revenues sustain the school's operations. This campus serves as a “living-learning laboratory,” where we research how best to scale innovations, and it has been the focus of my PhD studies at Cambridge. Currently, Cocoa360 has 45 staff members who educate 300 students and care for over 18,000 patients annually, and we are gearing up to integrate boys into our school this September.

Is this a topic you feel particularly strongly about?

According to the Brookings Institution, 13 of the 15 countries worldwide where over 30% of school-aged girls are out of school are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, this same population of girls remains the most vulnerable during pandemics when schools are closed. At Cocoa360, we witnessed this first-hand during the COVID-19 pandemic when we had to work with the communities we serve to co-design and co-implement initiatives to prevent infections and deaths and address spill-over effects such as sexual assault and abuse. Through Cocoa360’s work and papers I have published during my PhD, I have observed the clear need for educational interventions for young girls that can withstand the financial shortfalls and the capacity-weakening effects on educational systems that pandemics cause. As a brother to four amazing women, these challenges are ones I have witnessed, and some of them navigate these issues – making conversations like CGI Us more personal for me.

An additional issue I am passionate about regarding this topic is the missing role of context in implementing community initiatives. As scientists and innovators mostly based in the West, it can be easy for us to ignore the nuances that make communities unique. At Cocoa360, this lesson, from years of working with and learning from our community partners, has eventually led us to integrate boys into our girls' school. Indeed, an all-girls elementary school may prove extremely beneficial in certain contexts. Yet, we’ve learned that in the communities we work with, there are so many long-term and short-term unintended consequences that inform the need for a co-ed school instead.

How do you feel about interacting with senior politicians such as Secretary Hillary Clinton?

Quite humbling, really. In many ways, it is a testament to the incredible work the Cocoa360 team and our partner individuals, corporates, and communities have done and continue to do. I am also grateful to my Cambridge PhD supervisor, Professor Carol Brayne, and my Jesus College advisers, who recognise and encourage my dual passions for research and advocacy as an academic practitioner. Also, I am indebted to the Gates Cambridge Scholarship programme, which funds my PhD and gives me the intellectual freedom to research how best we can finetune Cocoa360’s work and scale it into other farming contexts globally. Without their support, none of this would be possible.

What would you like the outcome of this discussion to be?

Cocoa is a multi-billion-dollar industry globally, and in Ghana it earns the country about $2 billion in export revenues annually. Yet, much of the money goes to corporations instead of the 1.6 million cocoa farmers like my parents and family members. My hope is that this discussion opens the door to further conversations and actions, and galvanizes other leaders to join in Cocoa360’s quest for a more equitable, dignified, and healthier world.