Here, we compiled some of the Ethiopian women, or native-Ethiopian ones, who are nationally, internationally acclaimed. We are not listing all of them as you can imagine – rather, just some of them. And, we listed them in the alphabetical order of their first names – as it is a common practice in Ethiopia.

By AFW (contact)

  • Alfa Demmellash

Alfa Demmellash is the founder of Rising Tide Capital, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping entrepreneurs find their footing. Based in Jersey City, NJ, the organization offers courses in starting and running a small business, and helps participants in the program secure funding for their business ventures. Demellash was inspired to help entrepreneurs by her mother, who attempted to obtain small business loans when Alfa was an adolescent, but gave up after becoming frustrated with the endless red tape and bureaucratic complexity of the process. For her efforts with Rising Tide, Demmellash was selected for CNN’s “Hero” series and received recognition from President Obama. Demellash is a member of Board of Trustees at Saint Peter’s University.

  • Bethlehem T. Alemu

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is an Ethiopian businesswoman, Founder and Executive Director of soleRebels, Africa’s fastest growing footwear company. Born in Zenebework area of Addis Ababa in 1980, Alemu has received a slew of honors and accolades for her business acumen, as well as her efforts to shift the discourse on Africa away from poverty alleviation by external actors and instead highlight the entrepreneurial spirit, social capitol, and vast economic potential of the continent, and Ethiopia in particular. Alemu launched a second company, in 2014, The Republic of Leather, focusing on custom-designed sustainable luxury leather goods. She has received a number of awards and accolades from the international community – some, but not limited, of them are Young Global Leader by World Economic Forum (2011), Africa’s Top Female Entrepreneurs by the Business Insider (2012), Africa’s Top Women Achievers by the Guardian (2013), and one of the “12 Female Entrepreneurs Who Changed the Way We Do Business” by CNN (2014). Alemu graduated from Unity University in 2004.

  • Eleni Z. Gabre-Madhin

Eleni Gabre-Madhin, PhD is an economist and the founder and a former CEO of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX). She has had many years of experience working on agricultural markets – particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa – and has held senior positions in the World Bank, the International Food Policy Research Institute (Washington), and United Nations (Geneva). Dr. Gabre-Madhin left her earlier job, at the World Bank senior economist in Washington, DC, in part because she was disturbed by the 2002 famine in Ethiopia and to chase her dream: building a market that protects the African farmer, who is too often living at the mercy of forces beyond his or her control. In February 2013, Dr. Gabre-Madhin became a director of Syngenta – a global Swiss agribusiness that markets seeds and agrochemicals. In the same year, she launched eleni LLC, a company intended to build and invest in commodity exchanges in markets in the developing world, including Africa. In 2002, Dr. Gabre-Madhin was awarded the “Ethiopian Person of the Year”. She was also awarded the Yara Laurate Prize from the Norwegian fertilizer manufacturer Yara International in 2012, Dr. Gabre-Madhin received her PhD in Applied Economics from Stanford University, and Bachelors and Masters degrees in Economics from Cornell University and Michigan State University respectively.

  • Fanna Haile Selassie

Fanna Haile Selassie is a global media specialist, based in St. Paul, MN. In the past, Haile worked as broadcast journalist for ABC-affiliated WSIL-TV, a station serving southern Illinois, western Kentucky, and southeast Missouri. The daughter of Ethiopian immigrants who came to the US to attend university and were unable to return due to the infamous Red Terror in Ethiopia, she began her journalism career in college. Selassie rose quickly through the ranks of local television stations in Minnesota before landing regional work. She focuses on political stories and hosts a short weekly segment on political issues. “I actually find new role models almost on a weekly basis in my career. I have told many stories about strong women breaking barriers,” she says of her work. Selassie received her bachelor in journalism, broadcast journalism, French language study from University of Missouri-Columbia.

  • Genzebe Dibaba Keneni (“Genzebe”)

Genzebe Dibaba is an Ethiopian middle- and long-distance runner, a younger sister of three-time Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and Olympic silver medalist Ejegayehu Dibaba, and the cousin of former Olympic champion Derartu Tulu. She was born in the town of Bekoji, Oromia Region of Ethiois in on February 8, 1991. Genzebe set three world indoor records in 15 days during the 2014 indoor season. On February 1, she ran 3:55.17 for 1500 meters. Five days later, she ran 8:16.66 for 3000 meters. On February 15, she ran 9:00.48 for 2 miles. All of the records were well under the previous records. On February 19, 2015, Dibaba broke the 5000-meter world indoor record with a time of 14:18.86.

  • Hannah Godefa

(Teen) Hannah Godefa was born in Canada on 19 November 1997. Since the age of seven, Hannah has cultivated a desire for giving and founded a project; “pencil mountain”, which has since delivered close to half a million pencils to thousands of children in rural Ethiopia. A citizen of Canada with Ethiopian origin, Hannah has been recognized locally and internationally and has impressed thousands with her mature and kind demeanor and her ability to make a difference in the lives of children and young people. In January 2013, Hannah became a UNICEF National Ambassador to Ethiopia. Her new role opened doors to see UNICEF-assisted programs in different parts of the country in terms of Health, Education, Child Protection, Nutrition and Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). While in the field, she has inspired many of her peers and especially young girls to pursue their education to the highest level. She has also developed Public Service Announcements advocating for girl’s education in Ethiopia.

  • Hermon Hailay

Hermon Hailay, one of Ethiopia’s leading female film writer/directors, with several critically and commercially successful films to her name has just completed her third feature film – Yefikir Wagaw (“Price of Love”) which was premiered on FESPACO 2015. In the past “Balageru” (2012) and “Yaltasebew” (2013) are highly acclaimed feature films in Ethiopia – which she directed both. Hailay does not shy away from sensitive or difficult subjects matters. She is committed to telling important contemporary Ethiopian stories that speak to both a local and international audience to break the stereotypes of both Ethiopian and African society and culture. In 2014 she was one of the five young Ethiopian filmmakers chosen to attend the Cannes Film Festival “From Addis To Cannes Workshop.” Hailay is also working hard to help raise the standard of the young Ethiopian film industry.

  • Julie Mehretu

Julie Mehretu was born in 1970 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She studied at University Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar (1990–91), earned a BA from Kalamazoo College, Michigan (1992), and an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, Providence (1997). She was a resident of the CORE Program, Glassell School of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1997–98) and the Artist-in-Residence Program at the Studio Museum in Harlem (2001). Mehretu’s paintings and drawings refer to elements of mapping and architecture, achieving a calligraphic complexity that resembles turbulent atmospheres and dense social networks. Architectural renderings and aerial views of urban grids enter the work as fragments, losing their real-world specificity and challenging narrow geographic and cultural readings. The paintings’ wax-like surfaces—built up over weeks and months in thin translucent layers—have a luminous warmth and spatial depth Their formal qualities of light and space are made all the more complex by Mehretu’s delicate depictions of fire, explosions, and perspectives in both two and three dimensions. Her works engage the history of nonobjective art—from Constructivism to Futurism—posing contemporary questions about the relationship between utopian impulses and abstraction. Julie Mehretu is a recipient of a number of prestigious awards from all corners of the world. She lives and works in New York City, NY.

  • Mehret Mandefro

Dr. Mandefro began her career as a physician and public health practitioner working extensively with HIV infected and affected communities in Botswana, South Africa, Ethiopia, and New York on issues of prevention and treatment. She subsequently joined the research faculty of the Division of General Internal Medicine at the University Pennsylvania as a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar where she received a pilot grant to create the nonprofit production company Truth Aid. Her HIV research is the subject of a full feature documentary called All of Us that premiered on Showtime Networks 2008-2010. Appointed by President Obama as 2009-2010 White House Fellow, Dr. Mandefro worked on behavioral health policy issues for returning Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan War. Dr. Mandefro is currently Chief Medical Officer of Amida Tech and on faculty in the Department of Health Policy at the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services. Dr. Mandefro also serves on the Board of Directors of the international reproductive health organization EngenderHealth as the Chair of Public Affairs and Development. She received her BA in Anthropology and her MD from Harvard University, and a Masters of Science in the Public Health of Developing Countries at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as a Fulbright Scholar. She completed her internal medicine primary care residency at Montefiore Medical Center.

  • Meklit Hadero

Meklit Hadero, goes by her first and stage name “Meklit,” is a singer and songwriter based in San Francisco, CA. She is known for her soulful performing style, and for combining jazz, folk, and East African influences in her music. Meklit was born in Ethiopia and raised in east coast US even if her music career flourished immensely in the west coast of the US. Her 2010 Album, “On A Day Like This,” attracted attention from music lovers and NPR, PBS, and National Geographic. Venturing into a creative collaboration called CopperWire, along with two hip emcees also from the Ethiopian diaspora, Gabriel Teodros and Burntface, they created the first hip hop space opera, “Earthbound” which hit #5 in CMJ’s hip-hop charts. In 2014, Meklit released her full length solo album “We Are Alive.” Meklit is the founder of Arba Minch Collective, a group of Ethiopian artists in diaspora aiming at to nurturing ties to their homeland through collaborating with both traditional and contemporary artists. In 2011, Meklit co-founded the Nile Project, with Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis to address the Nile Basin’s cultural and environmental challenges at the core of the conflict. Meklit was named a TED Global Fellow in 2009 and a TED Senior Fellow in 2012. Meklit studied political science at the prestigious Yale University.

  • Mimi Alemayehou

In 2010, US President Barack Obama appointed Mimi Alemayehou Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Before that, Mimi was the first African-born person to ever serve as US Executive Director for the African Development Bank. Before that she was Founder and Managing Partner of Trade Links, LLC, a development consulting firm. Alemayehou put herself through college working 40 hours per week as a hotel clerk and diligently pursuing opportunities such as US Senate internships. Her career in politics stems directly from personal experience: “For Ethiopians of my generation who lived through the early years when there was so much political turmoil… it seemed like politics controlled our destiny so much,” she explains. Alemayehou earned her bachelor’s degree from West Texas A&M University and holds a master’s degree in International Business and International Law and Development from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

  • Reeyot Alemu

Reeyot Alemu, an Ethiopian journalist, was born 1980. She was a high school teacher until 2000, when she started working as a columnist for several local newspapers including the independent weekly newspaper Feteh. In 2010, Alemu founded her own publishing house and became the editor in chief of her own monthly magazine called Change, both of which were closed. Alemu’s articles covered social and political affairs as well as poverty and gender issues. In June 2011, she was arrested by Ethiopian authorities on charges of terrorism, for which she was convicted to 14 years of imprisonment and a fine of 33,000 ETB. She is currently serving a 5-year prison sentence following an unfair trial in which anti-terrorism laws were used to silence her writing. Her fiancé, Sileshi Hagos was also arrested in 2011. In 2012, the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) bestowed a Courage in Journalism Award on Alemu in absentia for her “refusal to self-censor in a place where that practice in standard, and her unwillingness to apologize for truth-telling, even though contrition could win her freedom.” She has also won Hellman/Hammett press freedom prize. In May 2013, she was awarded the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to honor her exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.

  • Segenet Kelemu, PhD

Segenet Kelemu, PhD is a molecular plant pathologist from Ethiopia. Currently Dr. Kelemu is the 4th Director General of the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology, (ICIPE), Nairobi, Kenya. Prior to taking this position, she was a research director at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA)-ILRI Platform, based in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2014, she was awarded the L’Oréal-UNESCO Laureate for Africa and the Arab States for improving the resistance and productivity of tropical and sub-tropical forage grasses via the use of microorganisms. Dr. Kelemu graduated with a PhD degree in molecular plant pathology from Kansas State University, USA in 1989, and is a graduate of Montana State University, USA, where she obtained an MSc in plant pathology/genetics in 1984. Before joining ILRI, she was a senior scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agricultural Research (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia.

  • Senait Fisseha, MD

Senait Fisseha, MD, JD, is and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (UMich). She received her combined medical and law degrees from Southern Illinois University in 1999. Dr. Fisseha completed her Obstetrics and Gynecology residency at the University of Michigan Medical Center in 2003 and her subspecialty fellowship training in Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility in 2006. By serving as an Executive Director of the Center for International Reproductive Health Training (CIRHT) at (UMich), Dr. Fisseha has efficiently guided the University’s early global initiatives efforts in Ethiopia, which encompass a partnership with the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health and support the New Medical Education Initiative and a twinning partnership with St. Paul Hospital Millennium Medical College (SPHMMC) in Addis Ababa. In early 2012, Dr. Fisseha was awarded a $1.5 million grant from an anonymous foundation in addition to a 5-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American International Health Alliance to formalize her work. Recently Dr. Fisseha was one of the key role players in a $25 million grant from an anonymous donor, that UMich will begin training doctors in Africa in reproductive health services not widely available to many women living in remote areas of the continent. The Ethiopian Ministry of Health awarded its highest Health Sector’s Award to Dr. Fisseha in 2013 for her significant contribution to Ethiopia’s health sector.

  • Sossina M. Haile, PhD

A graduate of MIT, Dr. Haile spends her days teaching and researching at CalTech, where she is Professor of Materials Science and of Chemical Engineering. She received attention, both from the scientific community and from media sources such as Newsweek, in 2007 after she discovered a way to create a new type of solid-acid fuel cell. Dr. Haile’s focus on creating new solar-derived forms of fuel stems from her philosophical approach to science: “As you add to the body of knowledge, what can you do with it that is truly useful and exciting, that can actually change people’s lives?” Dr. Haile received her BS and PhD degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is a recipient of a number of fellowships and academic/research awards and such as the Fulbright Fellowship (1991-92) and TMS Robert Lansing Hardy Award (1997).

  • Yetnebersh Nigussie

Yetnebersh Nigussie is an activist working to improve the conditions and opportunities for disabled people in Ethiopia, with a special focus on women and young people with disabilities. Born in 1982, in the town of Sayent, Amhara Region of Ethiopia, Nigussie draws her inspiration and insight from her own lived experience, saying, “…within the circle of my own life…I am a woman, I used to be young, and I will always be a person living with disability…”. A major part of her work aims to make sure that the country’s development programs are inclusive of women, inclusive of disabled persons, and inclusive of young people. Nigussie currently serves as the Executive Director of the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development. She has received here LLB degree in Law from Addis Ababa University Law School. Nigussie was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for 2013-14 by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management organizing committee of Ethiopia.

  • Weyni Mengesha

An award-winning theater director and dramaturge, Mengesha founded both the Sound the Horn Leadership Program and the annual Selam Youth Festival (since 2004) in order to bring together artists of Canadian, Ethiopian, and Eritrean origin with a mission for young people to celebrate Ethio-Eritrean spirit and talents, as well as to craft a platform to creatively address the rising rate of HIV in the Ethiopian + Eritrean communities. Mengesha also co-directs The A.M.Y Project, an annual theater training program for young women. Mengesha rose to prominence in the theater world when she directed Trey Anthony’s Da Kink in My Hair, which ran at the Toronto Fringe Festival and Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theater, Canada’s most prestigious venue. Among her numerous other credits, she directed Hosanna at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 2011.

By AFW (contact)


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