Our Story

An international 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, TEL was founded in 2009 by two alumni from the MIT Sloan School of Management. They identified a gap between existing technology-based solutions to problems of poverty, and countless NGOs, local entrepreneurs and developing world communities that lack the time and expertise to identify, assess and acquire appropriate solutions.

TEL closes that gap by empowering last-mile communities with actionable information and the freedom to choose solutions that best suit their needs. Going beyond a catalogue of products and methods, TEL leverages the creativity of innovators, partners and TEL’s own researchers and volunteers. The result: an up-to-date, curated and globally accessible platform for proposing, discovering and sourcing practical technology solutions for the developing world.

Building upon our solutions exchange platform, we actively work with community-based organizations around the world to co-design development programs. Through our Project Accelerator service, we help communities leverage appropriate technology solutions to maximize the impact of last-mile development.

With a firm belief in the power of bottom-up, human-centered development, we also work with institutional partners and clients looking to introduce innovative products and technologies in developing regions. Through our Farthest Reach Consulting Service, we help organizations identify, evaluate and implement innovative solutions to improve the lives of consumers and beneficiaries in underserved communities around the world.

The TEL Team

  • X Karen von Bismarck

    Karen von Bismarck

    Founder, CEO

    While volunteering in a Haitian clinic, Karen witnessed the toll extreme poverty takes on communities and the environment, and was struck by the resourcefulness of people who live on less than a dollar a day. Meanwhile, the clinic staff was frustrated in its efforts to find appropriate equipment by the lack of a unified, reliable source of information. In order to meet this need on a global basis, she and fellow MIT Sloan School alumnus Gary L. Bergstrom began designing the basics of TEL, with the goal of leveraging technology to help families and communities rise from poverty. After studying political science and economics in Munich, Karen worked as an industrial organization instructor and journalist. She subsequently completed a Master's degree in Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management. As a case manager with the Boston Consulting Group she has consulted to international clients in a variety of industries. Volunteering with the St. Boniface Centre de Santi in Haiti, Karen helped out in the medical-surgical clinic and served as board member and CFO. Two school-years spent in Japan resulted in a deep connection to that country. Karen speaks English, German, French and 'yon ti kras' Kreyol.

  • X Brennan Lake

    Brennan Lake


    Brennan joined TEL in the Fall of 2013, following four years of working across nonprofit and for-profit sectors in South America. Brennan first experienced the versatility of low-cost, innovative development solutions while conducting research in informal settlements outside of Valparaiso, Chile. After graduating from Occidental College in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in Diplomacy and World Affairs, Brennan moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina. There he founded a social enterprise focused on English-language education, and later co-founded a software-as-a-service platform to democratize e-commerce for small businesses in Latin America. As Co-Director of TEL, Brennan designed and leads TEL's Farthest-Reach Consulting and Project Accelerator services, while working across the organization to develop and execute upon strategic vision. If he's not at TEL headquarters, you can find Brennan free diving or body surfing in the cold waters off of Cape Ann.

  • X Éadaoin Ilten

    Éadaoin Ilten

    Operations Manager

    Éadaoin joined TEL in the Summer of 2015, excited to break into the world of nonprofit work. She believes strongly in the goals of TEL, providing access to point­-of-­use technologies to those on the ground, as she has witnessed first hand the sometimes abstract nature of scientific research. Éadaoin holds a Ph.D. in Physics from University College Dublin, with an emphasis on advanced solar cell enhancement materials. After deciding to apply her skills and passion in a more direct manner by entering into the nonprofit field, she worked with a communications based NGO in Geneva, Switzerland before joining TEL.

  • X Cherine Smith

    Cherine Smith

    Team Manager

    Cherine A. Smith joined TEL in early 2018. She has considerable experience working in international development, having worked on several development projects with intergovernmental, governmental and civil society organizations across the Caribbean in public health, agriculture and policy development. Cherine’s chosen field is international development because of its ability to build up and empower communities. She enjoys conducting research, drafting proposals and reports and has a special interest in monitoring and evaluation, as she believes that building capacity only matters if impact is being created. Cherine is also committed to volunteerism and has over the years worked in numerous volunteer capacities. One of her goals is to open rehabilitation centers for the homeless. In her spare time, she writes poetry and songs. Cherine received a Master of Arts in International Relations and Diplomacy from Arcadia University/American Graduate School in Paris, France and a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with Law from the University of the West Indies-Cave Hill, Barbados.

  • X Dave Kramer

    Dave Kramer

    Strategic Development

    Dave joined TEL in the Fall of 2017 after more than a decade of international development work, largely focused on partnerships in Latin America that linked biodiversity conservation goals with livelihoods and empowerment strategies, working as a grant writer, project designer, intern manager, coach, and strategist. He is absolutely passionate about organizational excellence and the power of diverse, versatile teams - and he loves to write and experiment with playful language and ideas. His dedication to sustainable development, teamwork, and creativity stems from early experiences studying abroad for a semester in Mexico and teaching for four years in Cali, Colombia in the late 90's. Dave bore witness to an intense mix of vibrant culture and happy family life on the one hand, and grinding poverty, heart wrenching conflict, and corruption on the other. This led him to pursue a master's degree at Harvard's Kennedy School, where he focused on sustainable development and social entrepreneurship and was awarded a Switzer Environmental Fellowship. In addition to his work with TEL, Dave is launching a consulting/coaching agency called ReImagine Impact International, is the coordinator for the Conservation Coaches Network Mesoamerica Franchise, co-leads the Austin TX Network for International Impact Professionals, and is busy cooking up tours for travelers to experience grassroots Colombia. He resides in Austin TX with his wife, two children, and two mutts. If he's not working from home or juggling parenting shuttle driving duties, he can be found outside hiking trails, swimming in Austin's many fantastic natural springs, sprinting through Austin's airport, or studying up on Colombian slang and cuisine in preparation for his eventual Colombian citizenship.

  • X Adrienne Perez

    Adrienne Perez

    Research & Communications Associate

    Adrienne joined TEL in the winter of 2012 to expand the accessibility of small-scale technologies aimed towards uprooting communities from poverty traps. She has been fortunate enough to work in Latin America, Asia, Europe, and North America collaborating on sanitation, agriculture, youth education, and renewable energy projects with local NGOs. In 2012, Adrienne completed her master's degree in International Development and Social Change from Clark University. She holds dual bachelor degrees in International Relations and Spanish from University of California at Davis. Adrienne lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she is expanding TEL’s presence on the West Coast.

  • X Elena Pascual

    Elena Pascual

    Communications Associate

    Elena joined TEL in the fall of 2014 to help promote TEL’s work across its social media channels. She graduated from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor with a degree in International Studies and Environmental Science. During her time in school she developed a strong interest in sustainable development. Her travels abroad to Kenya and Cuba helped her to see how access to affordable, high-impact technology solutions can address many of the issues faced by people living in the developing world. She is excited to use her background to work together with the TEL team to further TEL’s mission.

  • X Miranda Grizio

    Miranda Grizio

    Contributing Writer

    Miranda is a food scientist and advocate for the use of sustainable food systems and appropriate food technology that can improve the lives of the rural poor in developing countries. She works in R&D for the natural foods industry and has won several new product awards including a Vegetarian Times Foodie Award. She holds a master’s degree in Food Science from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in International Development from Tulane University. She has provided technical assistance to food processing start-ups in Senegal, India, Peru, and the U.S. and is passionate about the role of science in improving food security.

  • X Stephen Herling

    Stephen Herling

    Research Associate

    Stephen joined TEL in January of 2018. With a background as a community organizer, he firmly agrees with TEL's approach to development that grassroots change is more effective, sustainable and equitable than top-down policy implementation. As a Research Associate, he assists with survey design, grant writing and data analysis for TEL's Project Accelerator programs. Prior to TEL, Stephen graduated with a BA in Political Science and International Relations from UMass Amherst and worked in the field of policy advocacy. He is currently pursuing a MA in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University, where his studies focus on energy and climate change.

  • X Dan Swann

    Dan Swann

    Communications Associate

    Dan joined TEL in March 2013 to combine his interest in international development with his interest in communicating through social media. He is especially interested in helping TEL expand its community of solution developers and visitors through online platforms. He enjoys creating new content for online media that allows users to discover the innovative solutions found in TEL’s online database. Dan earned his B.A. in international affairs and a minor in journalism from Northeastern University in 2009 and is currently a graduate student at Yale University. He has worked with various nonprofits focusing on urban education in Boston, and he plans to continue to help TEL expand its online community through creative content creation.

  • X Qingqing Wu

    Qingqing Wu

    Advisory Board Member

    Qingqing joined TEL in the spring of 2014 to further explore her interest in expanding access to healthcare in developing countries. As an Advisory Board member, she is involved with providing counsel to the TEL team for special projects and contributing content expertise in the healthcare sector. After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in Linguistics and Neuroscience, Qingqing has been a consultant in both the public health and the biotechnology sectors, helping clients in areas such as health policy implementation and drug development business strategy. Having lived in four countries growing up, she appreciates the diversity that exists in all regions of the world, and hopes to continue traveling.

  • X Tim Zeb Girouard

    Tim Zeb Girouard

    Advisory Board Member

    Tim joined the TEL team at the end of the summer of 2012, and has been happily spreading the word and coding away since then. Tim's interest in TEL is two-fold: he is driven to simplify the complexity of an elegant technical solution and the complexity of getting solutions to people who need them. Tim is a Software Engineer at Imprivata, and holds a BS in Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University. He spent three years teaching in Taipei, Taiwan, working with children of all ages, where he witnessed the gap between solution providers and solution seekers. Tim believes that education and empowerment are the keys to solving the difficult problems of the world.

  • X Jonars Spielberg

    Jonars Spielberg

    Advisory Board Member

    Jonars joined TEL in the spring of 2016 to lend his support in providing local communities and organizations with the information they need to make informed technological decisions. Currently a PhD student in MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning, his research over the past three years on the adoption of technologies geared toward the Bottom of the Pyramid—from solar lanterns to low-cost water filters to small-scale solar-powered pumps—has allowed him to see first-hand the transformative impact of technology on those living in poverty. Jonars' main interest and expertise lies in investigating best practices for clean water provision, monitoring and management. He is excited to work with TEL, and to advance the cause of appropriate technology in service of promoting greater human well-being.

Our Partners

We are proud to partner with non-profits, universities, social enterprises and other organizations, including:

TEL Off-Grid

TEL Off-Grid is available to download for free on Android phones from the Google Play store, with an iOS version for iPhones under development.

TEL Off-Grid

Contact Us

Please contact us with any questions, comments or suggestions or to report a problem.

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Cambridge Innovation Center
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