Segenet Kelemu has always been a discoverer. As a scientist, she would achieve breakthroughs–“Crack the constraints,” as she puts it–and feel euphoric. But she came to a realization: “So you do research, you publish the paper–and then what?”
Having constructed an international network of biotechnology laboratories in Africa and now serving as director general of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology–a research facility in Nairobi that solves problems posed by insects to public health–Kelemu ensures that research reaches people.
Thanks to improved seed and farming technology, the ICIPE has been able to control grain pests and improve soil, now reaching at least 20,000 Ethiopian farmers.
Kelemu, 60, grew up in a small Ethiopian village with only one dress and no shoes to wear. She rebelled against the constraints placed on her as a girl. (They cracked.) Along the way, she has fostered a faith that each problem possesses a solution. Among her discoveries: “Life is always a lesson,” she says. “Every day, I learn from everybody.”
This appears in the January 15, 2018 issue of TIME.