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 Parker Chastain

    Parker Chastain

    Program Director

    Parker Joined TEL in the Fall of 2018, and believes in TEL's approach to community driven development for sustainable and ecological solutions. Parker received his Biomedical Sciences degree from the University of South Alabama and quickly realized that he wanted to work with a broader audience to address health as a human right. Upon this realization he earned his Masters in Public Health from Boston University focusing in global health where he worked with community development organizations in Ghana, Emergency Medicine services in India, and most recently on the implementation and evaluation of a community driven intervention and social enterprise addressing maternal and child health access in Zambia. Through these experiences he learned firsthand that health is not an isolated issue but is effected by your access to resources, education, and community. He believes that TEL's Database of Solutions, Project Accelerator Programs, and Farthest Reach Consulting address all these by helping communities choose and implement the right solution for their development.

  • 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 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 Stacia Chamberlain

    Stacia Chamberlain

    Research Intern

    Stacia recently joined TEL as an intern while she was finishing her master's degree in the field of Sustainability at Harvard University Extension School. Her master's thesis focuses on blockchain technology for development practice and how and whether blockchain-for-development initiatives are proving to be efficient and sustainable technological practice measures. She has a background in political science from Tufts University, enjoys gardening and dinner parties, painting and drawing, and travel. She hopes to change the way the market approaches biodegradable and compostable packaging alternatives, as she is inordinately obsessed with compost and a healthy environment.

  • 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 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