Since 2005 the not-for-profit Tej Kohli Foundation has become a global centre of interdisciplinary innovation for the development of new and novel scientific and technological solutions to major human challenges, most notably in the fields of ending blindness. The ‘Rebuilding You’ philosophy of the Tej Kohli Foundation reflects Tej Kohli’s well-documented desire to use science and technology to rebuild communities and improve lives around the world.
Tej Kohli is the author of A #TejTalks ‘universe’ of blogs and social media posts. On Medium.com Tej Kohli blogs about blindness, inequality, poverty global health and technology transfer. Tej Kohli also blogs on Ghost, CityAM and The Motley Fool about subjects including real estate, cryptocurrency, deep tech and stock market investing. Tej Kohli also shares thoughts and wisdom on social media as @MrTejKohli and using the hashtag #TejTalks.
In 1999 Tej Kohli launched what became a series of companies which grew quickly by specialising in payment gateways and a wide array of associated services including market-leading fraud protection software for clients in high-risk sectors. The group of companies and subsidiaries soon employed armies of software developers in South America and India.
From 2006 onwards Tej Kohli began divesting companies such as Estacion Tramar in a series of high value private trade sales which culminated in the sale of his holding company to a major corporation. The Kohli family moved to the United Kingdom where Tej Kohli began investing the liquidity from these sales into innovative deep tech ventures engaged in machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and genomics. He also continued to invest and grow his interests in the e-commerce segment.
The World Health Organisation says that 14 million of the 39 million people on the planet who are blind live in India. 12.7 million people are currently waiting for a cornea transplant worldwide. Blindness is heavily impacted by poverty, with up to 90% of the people with blindness or severe visual impairment living in the poorest countries in the world. 6 million of them live in India alone.
In 2010 the Tej Kohli Foundation funded its first donor cornea implants at Niramaya Hospital in India. Tej Kohli was present when a 50-year-old patient, who had been blind for decades, had the bandages removed after a corneal transplant and was able to see his wife and grownup children for the first time. Tej immediately decided that eliminating corneal blindness was his calling.
After funding thousands of corneal transplants at Niramaya Hospital, in 2015 the Tej Kohli Foundation substantially expanded its efforts to tackle corneal blindness in poor and underserved communities with the ambitious launch the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, a World Health Organization collaborating centre.
Thanks to Tej Kohli’s enduring commitment to tackling needless corneal blindness, between January 2016 and November 2019 the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute welcomed more than 223,404 outpatients and completed more than 43,255 surgical procedures, largely for free.
Tej Kohli believes that ending corneal blindness worldwide requires a solution that is affordable, accessible and scalable. It cannot be reliant on expensive transplantation surgery using surgical sutures. It also cannot rely on donor cornea, which are severely limited in supply, or on synthetic cornea, which are too expensive.
As an advocate of the promise of new technologies to solve major global health challenges, Tej Kohli has driven the Tej Kohli Foundation’s pursuit of a ‘universal treatment’ for corneal blindness through it’s ‘Applied Research’ program, a longstanding scientific collaboration between researchers in Montreal Canada, and Moorfields Eye Hospital, UK. In January 2020 the ‘Applied Research’ program announced that it had moved one step closer in its mission to invest an affordable, accessible and scalable universal cure for corneal blindness through the regeneration of corneal tissue.
Tej Kohli is a firm believer in the Foundation being a global multi-disciplinary hub for innovation, and so after being approached by Harvard Medical School to support its Department of Ophthalmology to accelerate innovative and collaborative research to achieve unprecedented new breakthroughs in corneal disease in , Tej Kolhi funded the Tej Kohli Cornea Program at Massachusetts Eye And Ear in Boston with an initial donation of $2m.
Tej Kohli strongly believes in levelling the playing field to build better access to opportunity for young people living in poor and underserved communities. Tej’s first philanthropic project was in Costa Rica, providing long term financial and practical support for disabled children. Then in 2005 he launched the FundaKohli’ program. This program has fed hundreds of children every week in its free soup kitchens and continues to do so today, ensuring that hundreds of families and children have access to vital nutrition and sustenance, as well as the little extra help that they need to be able to flourish.
Tej Kohli is a proponent of ‘grassroots philanthropy’ which extends beyond giving money by also investing in generating international attention for major global health issues that are not well served. In 2019 the Tej Kohli Foundation’s ‘Impact Initiatives’ program embarked on a program to highlight the plight of children in India living with Xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare genetic condition that makes the sun’s rays lethal.
Up to one in 370 Indians suffer from the condition, which forces many to live their entire life in the shadows. Young Indian’s with XP face significant social stigma, which combined with the physical effects of the condition, including corneal blindness, robs them of their prospects. Their suffering is hugely compounded by the absence of clinical knowledge and specialist care services in their communities.
This ‘Impact Initiative’ sought to highlight the plight of India’s XP children through a series of high profile collaborations. Working with internationally renowned photographer Simon Townsley and the Global Health section of The Telegraph, the Tej Kohli Foundation brought the realities of life of Indian children with XP visibly to the fore in a major photographic study and news feature. During 2019 Tej Kohli also sponsored the production of an independent documentary short about XP: SeeAgainFilm.com, which premiered at the 2020 Manchester International Film Festival and then toured film festivals worldwide in order to help raise awareness.
People in the UK
Tej Kohli is a strong believer in the power of technology to improve human life, and in late 2019 he was proud to launch the ‘Future Bionics’ program in the United Kingdom. The #FutureBionics program funds the purchase and fitting of 3D-printed bionic ‘Hero Arms’ for young people with limb difference; and highlights how technology can substantially improve the lives and confidence of younger people who are living with disabilities.
The 3D-printed ‘Hero Arm’ can be controlled with the electrical signals generated by a user’s muscles and has a superior multi-grip functionality that enables users to perform many more everyday activities compared to traditional prosthetics. The enhanced ability of the users to be able to personalise their Open Bionics Hero Arm is also a huge boost to their mental wellbeing and to perceived social acceptance, hopefully improving their prospects in life.
Tej Kohli is an advocate of a unique form of venture philanthropy as a vehicle for boosting development and prosperity throughout the Global South. Artificial intelligence is already transforming developing countries, and the United Nations ‘AI for Good’ campaign is fostering dialogue amongst policy makers on the beneficial use of technology for humanitarian work.
Tej Kohli believes that technology investors must also have a seat at the table, and since 2018 has made two substantial investments into Rewired, a robotics-focused venture studio with a humanitarian bent. Companies within the Rewired portfolio are working on a technological solution to substantially increase the proportion of plastics that are viable for recycling; the early detection of cancer using olfactory sensors, the development of affordable prosthetics and also portable ‘smart’ machines designed to improve manufacturing processes.
NB: These are commercial investments that are not connected to the Tej Kohli Foundation.
Tej Kohli believes in the promise of biotech solutions to solve some of the world’s greatest public health challenges, and that joining the technological frontiers of AI and biotech can substantially improve human life. Biotechnology is currently undergoing exponential technological progression and improving by a factor of 10 every year in terms cost-benefit. However, the development of new biotechnologies requires a very high-risk appetite and lots of patience.
Tej Kohli is the lead backer of Detraxi, a US-based company that plans to save millions of lives worldwide by developing its proprietary biotechnology solution for a range of global health challenges. Detraxi is working in collaboration with some of the worlds most talented and respected scientists across fluid replacement, diagnostics, transplantation and regenerative medicine. The Detraxi biotechnology has already undergone several clinical studies. It is currently undergoing pre-clinical trials at Johns Hopkins University.
NB: Detraxi is a commercial investment that is not connected to the Tej Kohli Foundation.
Tej Kohli is the Founder and sole benefactor of the eponymous Tej Kohli Foundation alongside his wife Wendy. Between 1999 and 2006 Tej Kohli built and then sold a high-growth technology business in Costa Rica and India that specialised in building online payment gateways and fraud protection technologies. Since 2006 Tej Kohli has built a substantial global real estate portfolio which today provides the reliable and visible income stream that supports the ambitious worldwide activities of the Tej Kohli Foundation.
As the Founder of the Tej Kohli Foundation, Tej Kohli works closely alongside his wife Wendy to make sure that the Foundation is delivering on its values and objectives. With major active projects in the United Kingdom, USA, Canada and India plus a longstanding ambition to eliminate poverty driven blindness from poor communities worldwide by 2035, Tej draws from his extensive experience building high-growth companies in the commercial sector to target the resources of the Tej Kohli Foundation to achieve maximum impact.
Tej Kohli was born in 1958 in Delhi, India and in 1980 graduated in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur. In the mid 1980’s he moved to California in the United States where he enjoyed early success as a real estate investor. He later moved to Costa Rica after meeting his wife Wendy, and in 1999 he launched a company in Costa Rica and India that would eventually enable Tej to dedicate himself to achieving his ambitions to help to ‘rebuild’ people and communities as a philanthropist.
Tej Kohli regularly entertains guests at his London headquarters, but with philanthropic projects spread across the world, including many ‘impact investment’ projects developing new and novel technologies to improve human life, he also travels very frequently.
Tej Kohli’s background is as an engineer and a technologist with a flair for problem solving that led to his successes as an entrepreneur and investor. Tej Kohli firmly believes that the solution to seemingly intractable human problems lie in the chain reaction of rapid technological and scientific progression that is enabling brand new and novel solutions. Under the direction of Tej Kohli the Tej Kohli Foundation has become a global hub for interdisciplinary innovation across a variety of disciplines and expertise.
Tej Kohli is best known for his worldwide mission to eliminate corneal blindness by 2035. 39 million people worldwide are blind and even more have severe visual impairment. 90% of sufferers of blindness and severe visual impairment live in the poorest countries in the world where up to 80% of all blindness is preventable or curable. Corneal blindness is the fourth leading cause of blindness globally. It is also one of the most difficult forms of blindness to cure, with treatments reliant on invasive surgery using sutures which is simply not accessible or affordable to the vast majority of sufferers who are in poor countries. Tej Kohli’s mission is to develop a non-surgical solution to corneal blindness that is accessible, affordable and scalable in the world’s poorest communities, whilst simultaneously making direct interventions to prevent, alleviate and cure corneal blindness using current methods.
In 2005 Wendy and Tej Kohli opened their first ‘FundaKohli’ canteens in Costa Rica to provide daily meals to local children before and after school. The network of FundaKohli canteens remains the most longstanding project of the Tej Kohli Foundation and embodies the preferences of Wendy and Tej Kohli to be making direct interventions that help to improve the prospects of younger people.
The 2020 Coronavirus crisis meant that plans by Tej Kohli to launch a new initiative to combat ‘holiday hunger’ in the United Kingdom had to be brought forward to provide immediate emergency alleviation of child hunger arising from the crisis. Today the Foundation’s ‘Food Support’ initiatives encompass three programmes in the UK which are dedicated to empowering local groups and volunteers to combat holiday hunger within their own local communities backed by the support of the Tej Kohli Foundation.
Tej Kohli’s first ever philanthropic endeavour was to support a group of children in Costa Rica who have a range of severe disabilities. This first project established the precepts of making direct interventions into the lives of children to improve their prospects. By 2019 Tej Kohl had helped tens of thousands of children all over the world across a range of projects, culminating in the launch of the ‘Future Bionics’ program to provide 3D-printed bionic arms to children in the United Kingdom who have limb difference.
As a matter of longstanding policy Tej Kohli does not disclose his net worth and therefore does not disclose the combined magnitude of total the wealth that he has allocated into the projects of the Tej Kohli Foundation since its first project in 2005. Tej Kohli plays an active role in the decision-making process of the Tej Kohli Foundation whose long-term strategic commitments are also frequently supplemented by supporting ad hoc tactical projects.