Beza Tesfaye: Connecting, Inspiring, Empowering Stars

Her eyes light up, twinkling like celestial beings in the night sky when Beza talks about space science—a field of study of outer space.  Beza Tesfaye is the General Manager of the Ethiopian Space Science Society: ESSS.   Where does the interest come from?  How does one start to be involved with such fields?  …In Ethiopia?

Beza was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Megenagna area.  The interest in space itself goes way back to childhood without a definite starting point.  But besides the science, how organizations that conduct such work interested Beza.  “Science is the future,” Beza says.  She first heard about the society as a high school student while religiously following a radio show about space by the late Dr. Legesse Wetro.  During the show, she learned the formation of the space society and those interested can join the conference organized for the purpose.

When the society was first established, many questioned its necessity and especially in Ethiopia–where considered a luxury.  “They used to call us the ‘crazy people.”  The society worked on providing concrete examples and benefits of space science and it started to change people’s perceptions.  Space technology-based applications can be used:  for weather monitoring and prediction; to enhance agriculture productivity; in urban and city planning; monitor the mining sector, etc.  Once the public understands the benefits, it is easier to move forward.  Ethiopia has to go from users to creators of the science.

Creating inspiration and having the public engage in space science is the objective of ESSS.  Her main duty is finding new ways for Ethiopia to be involved in space science and searching for funds to support it.  Beza is always organizing events, leading projects such as the “Astrobus” and monthly star gazing in Jan Meda.  “Astrobus” is a “mobile astronomy project” where about 25 established scientists from Ethiopia and around the world travel to about 10 Ethiopian cities educating about space.  Mostly 8- to 20-year-olds flock to these outreach events in rural areas.  The society also holds public lectures.  Their motto:  Create a scientific Ethiopian society.

Prior to the Space Society, Beza was part of the Space Generation Advisory Council for about eight years.  She was very active and volunteered in different organizations.  She still volunteers as a part-time manager for the Abraham Wesara Family Welfare Association that supports disadvantaged women and students in need of access to technology.

Leadership to Beza is connecting, inspiring, and empowering.  She values a positive attitude mindset, passion to be productive and impactful.  Her philosophy in life—curiosity.  “Go above and beyond…a curious mind can achieve a lot.”   Speaking of role models, as  a leader she is also one; she inspires  and sparks potential.  Beza has a few role models that helped her see her potential:  her mother W/ro Atsede H. Gebriel and Dr. Isabelle A. Zaugg, PhD, a mentor and friend.  She admires Dr. Nebiha Shafi, one of the Ethiopian women astrophysicists, Dr. Legesse Wetro (The first Ethiopian astrophysicist), and Professor Senait Fisseha.  Beza has a high regard for those women “who are on top of their game.”

Beza is very proud of her impact on development of the space program in Ethiopia.  She is mostly proud of the opportunity to impact the younger generation, involved in knowledge transfer, breaking international barriers, going internationally and being affiliated with known organizations working on similar projects. She currently participates in three committees of the International Astronautical Federation and is part of the African Space Leadership Conference (an initiative).

Beza has won the Young Space Leaders Award (2013) from the Space Generation Advisory Council, and the Emerging Space Leaders Award (2015) from the International Astronautically Federation.

Based on her experience as one of the very few women in the world of space science, Beza ensures networking platforms are created and young women are mentored.  As ESSS wants to guarantee women have a place within the organization, it is active in Women in Science initiative, part of the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute, a sister organization.  Beza is also a representative for the Women in Aerospace Africa, in South Africa.  These are groups where mentorship opportunities exist and women can discuss challenges working in or approaching the space sector.

With so much to acknowledge, Beza is most grateful for being able to achieve, getting the necessary skills and exposure, to have traveled and seen some of the world, work with different kinds of people, and get mentors of all types.  Beza recognizes how her path to and through space science is possible because of her community.  Some travel was made possible by financial assistance from this community.  Family and friends have taught Beza the value of community support, compassion, understanding, and a safe space to fall back on and get up.  Beza credits her success and strength of character to her ever-present community.

As community has given her so much, Beza is all about giving back.  She mentors all students who come to her office—male and female.  ESSS takes about 30 interns as a learning opportunity—if the interest is there they want to nurture it.  Through the society, she teaches science and technology classes at public schools on Saturdays and Sundays.  She gives talks at different schools.  She is constantly organizing events, ensuring people connect with each other.  Beza said giving back includes doing her work “with passion!”  She meets friends every Friday to talk about space.

Beza enjoys sci-fi movies, reading books, spending time with friends.  She is interested learning new skills—especially those that enhance her work—like creating videos.

AWiB, having a strong foundation and being a vast network of inspirational women, she suggests to expand HER outreach in setting policy-setting and assisting in the collective input of the direction of Ethiopia.  It is not just about equality and injustice, but professionalism and engagement.

To the younger generation, Beza said, “One:  No matter what, you should chase your dream.  Remove “impossible” from your thoughts.  Full-heartedly, passionately…pursue (your) dreams.  Two:  Work hard.  Three:  Value your network.  Go out there and meet people.  Ask questions.  Get the guidance.  Find a mentor.”

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