Written by: Arielle Brousse 

Edited by: Danielle Mazzeo

Photography by: Eva Cruz

Multi-media Video Provided by Shadrack Frimpong

Shadrack Frimpong (C’15) believes that healthcare and education are the keys to ending the cycle of poverty.

And when he tells you about his plan to address these issues—and he will tell you!—he will do so with such conviction that you almost can’t stop yourself from asking him how you can help.

This fall, Shadrack will be starting a health clinic and community school for girls in his home village of Tarkwa Breman in Western Ghana.

This is a project that’s deeply personal for him. It all began with his Uncle Cofey.

Shadrack was there when his Uncle Cofey George suffered an asthma attack in the middle of the night. With no money for an inhaler and no health facility nearby, he and his relatives had to try to carry his uncle on their backs to the closest physician—two hundred miles away. It was too much. His uncle died during the journey.

But Shadrack’s revelation about health and education access didn’t stop there. Growing up, Shadrack had the second best marks in class—his friend Bernis had the best. Shadrack was horrified when Bernis’s parents pulled her out of school; money was tight, and educating a girl was not a priority. At 22 years old, Bernis is now the mother of five children, trying to keep her family afloat while battling chronic health conditions, lacking any of the opportunities that an education would have afforded her.

“I’ve come to realize that if we can resolve the problems that are facing rural communities, which are almost entrenched in poverty, we’ll have to start from the side of rural medicine,” he says.

“Before I realized, we had actually come up with something tangible that we could do going forward,” he says.

The idea of a clinic and community school is something Shadrack has been working toward for years. Having scrimped and saved for the opportunity to come to Penn, Shadrack has made all four years of his college experience count. As a pre-med student interested in learning ways to give back to his home community, he’s earned international research fellowships; founded two nonprofit organizations at the university; and been invited to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative Conference.

He has been so clear and focused on his goals that he received the honor of winning a Penn Engagement Prize to put his plan into action. The prize will afford him $150,000 in seed funding—$100k for program development, and $50k for living expenses.

Having won this prize, Shadrack felt set. He had a calling. Moreover, he had a business plan—and funding. It would be easy to conclude that he had it all figured out.

But Shadrack’s friend Hannah Cutler (ENG’17) recommended that he take a moment before forging ahead.

Hannah had been a Penn Social Impact Fellow in 2014. Attending the Social Impact House had opened many doors for her, and she thought that Frimpong would find the experience to be worthwhile.

“The Social Impact House will be a perfect place for you to begin this journey,” Shadrack recalls Hannah telling him.

Shadrack looked up Penn Social Impact House online, and thought it seemed exciting. Hannah wrote him a recommendation. And in July, he traveled to Norfolk, CT to meet the 21 other fellows.

When he arrived, he wasn’t necessarily skeptical that he would learn anything; “humble” is a word that comes up with startling frequency when Shadrack’s friends are asked to describe him. But he wasn’t sure what was in store, and he felt fairly secure about his project plans.

“I thought I had it all figured out,” Shadrack says. “Here was my proposal. Here was what I needed to do. I just need to bring and galvanize people together, and get it done.”

But within a day or two of immersing himself in the life of the Social Impact House, he found himself learning much more than he bargained for.

Shadrack was invigorated  by the curriculum on human-centered design. He was placed in a team of fellows working on projects ranging from dental health for low-income children to restaurants featuring food cooked by refugees, and they were all told to work together on a solution to a public problem—to prototype, test, and pitch it.

“Before I realized, we had actually come up with something tangible that we could do going forward,” he says.

As soon as it concluded, he ran to his computer to contact his business partners. He looped them into a Skype session and, using his new collective brainstorming tools, they quickly developed five different models to solicit community buy-in from chiefs and elders in Shadrack’s home village. His human-centered design training was having immediate effects on his business model.

The skills offered by the team at Social Impact House are helping Shadrack reexamine and reshape his project for maximum impact. “I’m learning much more about how to refine my why,” he says. “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”

Shadrack has been inspired by his own experience all along; it’s what drove him to come up with the idea for the clinic in the first place. But with feedback from other fellows and catalysts, he now feels better equipped to articulate his story and his value proposition to potential funders and partners with greater focus and clarity.

Challenging himself in this way, taking the time to learn from his peers, Shadrack has thoughtfully altered much of his original business plan—right down to the name of the clinic.

The skills that Shadrack has learned will certainly help drive his future work, he says, but he is also grateful for the way in which he learned them—in the communal, supportive, retreat environment of Social Impact House.

Part of what makes Social Impact House unique, he thinks, is the disruption to the routine of the urban university. But a big part of it is the people; the fellow social entrepreneurs and potential partners who work together to build a community.

“It’s just really exciting to meet such people,” says Shadrack. “People who believe in you, who come to you and ask you, ‘Hey, is there any way I can help?’ ‘Hey, are you getting what you’re wanting?’ ‘Hey, I knew you had a question earlier. Did you get the right person to speak with? I can connect you.’”

He gets a twinkle in his eye. “It’s been like the village experience all over.”

In August, Shadrack returned to Ghana to start setting up the offices of the Tarkwa Breman Community Alliance. He’ll use what he learned in his classes and in his research, to be sure, but also what he learned from his community.

“We’ve studied enough in the classroom,” he says. “it’s also important that we’re able to take this classroom knowledge and apply it directly into the world.”

Learn More About The Tarkwa Breman Model

Click here to read more about Shadrack Frimpong’s model, featured in Penn News in 2013.

Learn More About Penn Social Impact House

Penn Social Impact House (PSIH) helps social entrepreneurs focus on growing their venture, recharge themselves, and connect with a new community.

Get to Know More Entrepreneurs

Visit our Global Network and read about other entrepreneurs like Shadrack.

Find Out More About Our Impact

Want to know more about our impact? Read about Dr. Jenni Dawson, an alum of our Executive Program, and the CEO of TraumAid International.