Between 2005 and 2015, Ethiopia lost 75% of skilled professionals. Even though Betlihem “Betty” Teshome is part of these statistics, she’s doing her part to stop the bleeding from the country’s brain drain. She co-founded Jegna to create opportunities for the Ethiopian community around the globe to give back through their expertise.
“I want to make a difference in Ethiopia,” said Betty. I want to build my community and see my country grow. I want to see people have better lives. Jegna is my way of giving back and bringing change to different sectors. That makes me happy.”
As a child, Betty was curious and inquisitive. She always loved science. When she was in elementary school, she fondly remembers the small projects given by Mr. Saha. He used to have them collect and study different insects and plants. Her curiosity for how things work eventually led her to a career in science.
A week after finishing high school at Hillside School in Addis Ababa, Betty moved to Chicago, Illinois, during the summer of 2010. In her first
year in the U.S., she had to get her ducks in a row for life in a new country with a blend of different cultures.
“I didn’t know how to interact with non-Ethiopians,” said Betty. “It took me some time to figure out what’s important to people and what’s important to me. Plus, I didn’t know what resources were out there, which university I should attend, and what to major in. The first year was a little rough, but my family was here with me, so that helped a little.”
Unruffled by the challenges of adjusting to the American way of life, Betty started college at Harold Washington College. She took general
courses and transferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Although she wasn’t sure about her major, medicine was one of the top disciplines she was eyeing, primarily due to family influence, like Obse “Kuku” Tesfu, the executive director of Jegna. However, a semester of internship in a lab at UIC College of Chemistry would alter her career path.
“During that college internship, I was exposed to lab experiments and projects,” says Betty. “There’s so much we don’t about this world. I wanted to do research to learn about the unknown. That’s why I decided to study biochemistry — and not medicine.”
In addition, biochemistry’s interdisciplinary nature was another lure for Betty because she loves biology, chemistry, and physics.
Currently, Betty is a manufacturing quality associate at AveXis, a company that’s making progress in the treatment of rare and life-threateningneurological genetic diseases through cutting-edge technology. She provides quality expertise to transition a novel gene therapy from manufacturing into a commercially approved product. Betty aspires to be an expert in the field of gene therapy and genomics. She also wants to be a part of building and developing Pharmaceutical Industries in Ethiopia.
“I think we have a shortage of pharmaceutical companies in Ethiopia,” said Betty. “We have a nice hub of tech people. What’s lacking is the application towards the natural sciences. I want to take this idea to Ethiopia in the future, but it’s daunting because I don’t know where to start. But that’s the very reason why Jegna exists. We make it easier for people like me to pursue their passion in Ethiopia.”
As Jegna’s diaspora relationships director, Betty hunts for talent that can solve the challenges of organizations in Ethiopia. She builds a global network of diaspora professionals that are ready to leave their mark.