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 Technology Exchange Lab 2019 Annual Report is now available to download here.

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 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 Ruthly Cadestin

    Ruthly Cadestin

    Administrative Associate

    Ruthly Cadestin is an advocate, storyteller, creator, and a servant for the global community. She has a strong interest in international development, post-conflict and reconciliation, and anti-human trafficking efforts. Ms. Ruthly Cadestin assisted many projects pertaining to international development and studied in Thailand and Bosnia-Herzegovina. She also worked on several initiatives focused on community empowerment, education reform, economic equality, and human rights.

    In May of 2018, Ms. Ruthly Cadestin acquired an M.A. from the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, specializing in International Law and Human Rights and Post-Conflict State Reconstruction and Sustainability. In May 2014, she received a B.S. in International Business and two minors, which were History and Economics, at King's College. Ms. Ruthly Cadestin is dedicated to promoting the common good for global citizens through economic, social, and artistic avenues and seeks to make a lasting impact on the global community.

    All in all, Ms. Ruthly Cadestin has played many roles, which includes being a Community Organizer for Common Cause New York, an Executive Editor for the Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, and an English Teacher with the Rotaract Chapter of Webster University of Thailand. Lastly, she is the former Treasurer, State and Regional Board Member of Citizen Action of New York, a grassroots organization taking on issues that are at the center of transforming society.

The TEL Advisory Board

  • X Brennan Lake

    Brennan Lake

    Advisory Board Member

    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.

  • 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 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