Skip to Content
Alumni profile

Tomasz Sudra, PhD ’72

Global citizen improves housing in the developing world.

When Tomasz Sudra was a PhD student at MIT, he was barred from his homeland. Since then, he has spent nearly four decades working to help the world’s urban poor improve living conditions in theirs.

Sudra grew up in Warsaw, Poland, in the Stalinist era. His career in urban planning and architecture was hampered by his refusal to join Communist organizations, so he came to MIT to broaden his opportunities. In 1971 the Polish government demanded his return. When he refused, Poland nullified Sudra’s passport and citizenship, despite pleas from MIT professors. “I remained in the U.S. as a stateless person,” he says.

Sudra traveled—on temporary papers—to Mexico City on a fellowship with slum improvement pioneer John F.C. Turner, then an MIT lecturer. “That started my involvement with developing countries and housing for the poorest people,” he recalls. “It became my thing for the rest of my life.”

While writing his dissertation on improving slums, Sudra bought a dilapidated house in Medford, fixed it up, and married Ines Kenka, a Swiss graduate of Lesley University.

Sudra then worked on an array of projects, including water supply and sewer planning in Brazil and Panama and slum improvement in Egypt. In Guadalajara, he ran the Mexican federal housing office in the state of Jalisco. During the 1970s, he also served as a lecturer at universities including Ibero-American University in Mexico City, Harvard, and MIT. In 1979, he became a U.S. citizen.

In 1984 the Sudras relocated to Nairobi, Kenya, with their young son and stayed. For 20 years Sudra ran training for UN–Habitat, the United Nations’ sustainable-­development agency. He retired in 2003 and now consults for the U.N. on urban mobility, advising on bicycle paths in countries from Ethiopia to Colombia.

In 2011 the Sudras founded Watu Kwa Watu Charitable Trust, which upgrades schools in Nairobi slums. “We stop the rain pouring inside, deal with the latrines and the water supply, and help the orphans and extremely poor families with education,” he says. “It’s a small activity, but maybe it can motivate some people.”

The Sudras have two sons and a daughter, each living on a different continent. “We have a little hut on the shores of Lake Victoria. I love to go there for the most beautiful sunset in the world,” Sudra says. To help MIT students on their own life journeys, each year he donates to MIT’s Lloyd and Nadine Rodwin Fellowship Fund, which supports international travel fellowships.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.