Fueled by anger, passion, and ambition, Obse “Kuku” Tesfu is on a journey to improve the healthcare system in Ethiopia. While she faces a long, arduous path, she’s arming herself with the knowledge and expertise she needs to join the United Nations (UN) in the area of public health and policy. And she made a pit stop at Jegna to reach the height she aspires for herself and the country.
Born in Ethiopia, Kuku was raised by her mother, Asnakech Mengesha. Asnakech ran a small business, exporting Ethiopian spices and clothing to Kenya. The company demanded frequent travel, away from home, so she finally decided to move to Nairobi with her family. She wanted to provide a better life for her children. Lured by the American Dream, she moved to Chicago with Kuku and her sister.
Presented with a better future, Kuku was committed to becoming a doctor — mainly because the profession was idealized by her family. Little did she know she was going to steer into a new career path when she became a pre-med student at Loyola University Chicago.
“In my junior year, I took this class called Immunology,” said Kuku. “We discussed how people in Africa were dying from preventable diseases due to lack of resources. And a map of Ethiopia was right there amongst countries with a high mortality rate. That made me angry. I asked myself what I can do about it and forced me to rethink what I want to do.”
After some soul searching, Kuku decided to study public health in grad school to join the U.N. However, she decided to take a detour by studying nursing. She wants to immerse herself in the weeds of the healthcare industry first before she deals with the broader subject of public health. Although her decision brought a flood of are-you-sure questions from concerned family and friends, Kuku had her eyes on the prize.
Kuku earned her B.A. degree in Biology from Loyola University Chicago in 2017 and is now on track to graduate with a nursing degree from Resurrection University. Her stellar academic performance earned her membership on Sigma Theta Tau, an International Honor Society for nurses with a cumulative grade point average of 3.4 and above. In addition, she’s the co-president of the United Nations Associations (UNA), an organization that advances the UN’s mission of achieving sustainable development goals around the globe.
This new-found sense of purpose inspired Kuku to do more as she strides towards her goal. In early 2019, she co-founded Jegna, a signature program of People to People that uses the power of technology and ingenuity to empower local organizations and individuals in Ethiopia.
“There are a lot of problems in Ethiopia across different areas,” said Kuku. “I want to find the root cause of these problems and provide sustainable solutions. That’s the kind of difference we are trying to make through Jegna. We all understand there will be sacrifices to be made, but the reward motivates us.”
As the executive director of Jegna, Kuku provides strategic leadership, ensuring it delivers the promise of true change in Ethiopia. By enabling the diaspora, who are yearning to make a difference, she’s building a bridge between problems and solutions.