The center for high-impact, low-cost solutions to problems of proverty
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TEL believes that many adverse effects of poverty in the developing world can be addressed by leveraging innovative technologies currently being rapidly developed at universities, commercial research labs and entrepreneurial ventures throughout the world. These innovations can help deliver safe drinking water, improved irrigation, sustainable fuels, and other life-saving benefits through creative, cost-effective, point-of-use(1) solutions. Unlike larger-scale, centralized projects and technologies that are often well-funded and well-publicized, these new point-of-use solutions with the potential to transform remote or underserved communities are often poorly publicized or not commercially available. Hence, it is often prohibitively difficult and time-consuming for nonprofit organizations, government organizations, local farmers, and other end users working in the developing world to find, compare, and evaluate these technologies.
TEL's goal is to facilitate the deployment of these high-impact, low-cost, point-of-use technologies to the people who need them the most, as well as to encourage further innovation. It accomplishes this via an interactive website that connects technology solution providers (e.g., inventors) with solution seekers (e.g., farmers and nonprofits doing development work) on the ground in the developing world. The website allows an exchange of information between the two sides and reduces the search costs associated with connecting them to deliver solutions. Some examples of potential collaborations might include:
Besides connecting these two groups of users, TEL's underlying philosophy is to give individuals living in poverty a wide variety of choices on the technologies they could use to improve their lives.
(1) Point-of-use solutions refer to methods that alleviate the effects of poverty at the point of consumption. For example, point-of-use solutions to improve water quality might be treatment or filters applied while drinking or cooking, and not at a centralized scale through a distribution network.
"While volunteering in a rural clinic in Haiti in 2001-2003, I witnessed both the daily toll of extreme poverty on people and the natural environment and the ingenuity of the people surviving on minimal resources. Busy staffs trying to find appropriate, sustainable equipment such as alternative stoves and medical devices. I was frustrated by the lack of a unified, reliable, and independent source of information. In order to bridge this gap for communities world- wide, I started the Technology Exchange Lab with fellow MIT Sloan School alumnus Gary Bergstrom in 2009."
— Karen von Bismarck, Co-founder of the Technology Exchange Lab
The ideas that led to the foundation of the Technology Exchange Lab (TEL) came from an informal conversation by two MIT Sloan alumni at a Sloan Fundraising Event in 2007. The two founders Gary Bergstrom and Karen von Bismarck had a long conversation at the event and discovered that they had a similar vision of how the world's problems of poverty could be tackled. Their vision was inspired by von Bismarck's recent volunteer work in Haiti and their collective experience at MIT back in the late 1970s of introducing innovations grounded on technology to improve the lives of people around the world.
The vision for the Technology Exchange Lab was to create an online platform that would become the center for high impact, low-cost solutions to the problems of poverty. TEL would serve two main customers: companies/nonprofits working on innovative solutions to some of the challenges faced in developing countries, and solution providers who are delivering these solutions on the ground. For companies and nonprofits developing innovative low cost technologies, this would mainly serve as a marketing platform. For organizations focused on delivering assistance to impoverished and disadvantaged people with companies and non-profits it would serve as a database of ideas and innovative low-cost, life improving solutions. In essence, the platform could be used to improve the standard of living for people in developing regions everywhere.
After a series of casual conversations between 2007 and 2009, they decided to launch the Technology Exchange Lab. The Technology Exchange Lab was founded as a 501(c)3 public service corporation and registered in the state of California. Over time TEL has been funded entirely by charitable donations. The TEL team is quite talented and has a broad range of skill sets from which to draw, the daily operations are coordinated remotely and in person from Paris, San Francisco, CA, and Boston, MA. Over the past six months the TEL team has been heavily focused on the design of the new version of the website and creation of new content for the website. The TEL team is also conducting direct outreach to solution providers, development non-profits and other solution seekers.
TEL is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides a platform where the global community can share and discuss innovative, locally implemented solutions to problems of poverty and sustainability. We are a growing international network of inventors, engineers, non-profit workers, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, micro-financiers and community leaders, welcoming new members.