William Kamkwamba

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William Kamkwamba
William Kamkwamba at TED in 2007.jpg
Kamkwamba at TED in 2007
Born (1987-08-05) 5 August 1987 (age 33)
Kasungu, Malawi
EducationBachelor of Arts
Alma materDartmouth College, New Hampshire
Known forConstructing a wind turbine from scavenged parts
The first wind turbine

William Kamkwamba (born August 5, 1987) is a Malawian inventor and author. He gained fame in his country in 2001 when he built a wind turbine to power multiple electrical appliances in his family's house in Wimbe, 32 km (20 mi) east of Kasungu, using blue gum trees, bicycle parts, and materials collected in a local scrapyard. Since then, he has built a solar-powered water pump[1] that supplies the first drinking water in his village and two other wind turbines, the tallest standing at 12 meters (39 ft), and is planning two more, including one in Lilongwe, the political capital of Malawi.

Life and career[edit]

Kamkwamba was born in a family of relative poverty and relied primarily on farming to survive. He enjoyed playing with his friends, Gilbert and Geoffrey, using recycled materials.[2] A crippling famine forced Kamkwamba to drop out of school, and he was not able to return to school because his family was unable to afford the tuition fee. In a desperate attempt to retain his education, Kamkwamba began to frequently visit the local school library. It was there that Kamkwamba discovered his true love for electronics. Before, he had once set up a small business repairing his village's radios, but this work did not earn him much money.

William Kamkwamba's new windmill

Kamkwamba, after reading a book called Using Energy, decided to create a makeshift wind turbine. He experimented with a small model using a cheap dynamo and eventually made a functioning wind turbine that powered some electrical appliances in his family's house. Local farmers and journalists investigated the spinning device and Kamkwamba's fame in international news skyrocketed. A blog about his accomplishments was written on Hacktivate and Kamkwamba took part in the first event celebrating his particular type of ingenuity called Maker Faire Africa in Ghana in August 2009.[3]


Kamkwamba at a book signing

When The Daily Times in Blantyre, the commercial capital, wrote a story on Kamkwamba's wind turbine in November 2006,[4] the story circulated through the blogosphere,[5] and TED conference director Emeka Okafor invited Kamkwamba to talk at TEDGlobal 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania as a guest.[6] His speech moved the audience, and several venture capitalists at the conference pledged to help finance his secondary education. His story was covered by Sarah Childress for The Wall Street Journal.[7] He became a student at African Bible College Christian Academy in Lilongwe. He then went on to receive a scholarship to the African Leadership Academy and in 2014 graduated from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.[8]

Among other appearances, Kamkwamba was interviewed on The Daily Show on 7 October 2009 (during which he was playfully compared to the fictional hero Angus MacGyver for his impressive scientific ingenuity).[9] In addition, he was invited to and attended the 2011 Google Science Fair introductory meeting, where he was a guest speaker.[10]

Kamkwamba's book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, was selected as the 2013 "1 Book, 1 Community" title for Loudoun County, Virginia's Public Library system. "1book 1community is a countywide reading program that promotes community dialog and understanding through the shared experience of reading and discussing the same book." Copies of the book were purchased from the A.V. Symington and Irwin Uran Gift Funds.[11][12]

Kamkwamba is the subject of the documentary film William and the Windmill, which won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature[13] at the 2013 South By Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas.[14]

In 2010, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind was selected as the University of Florida and Boise State University common book, required for all incoming students to read.[15] In 2014, it was selected as the common book at Auburn University and University of Michigan College of Engineering, as well. William made an appearance at each university to discuss his book and life.

In 2013 TIME magazine named Kamkwamba one of the "30 People Under 30 Changing The World".[16]

Kamkwamba is featured in the book Extraordinary People by Michael Hearst and is also the subject of a song from the companion album Songs For Extraordinary People. [17][18]

In 2014, Kamkwamba received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire[19] where he was elected to the Sphinx Senior Honor Society.

In 2019, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind was adapted into a film, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, who also wrote and directed.[19]


  1. ^ "TED Speaker: William Kamkwamba — Inventor". TED. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  2. ^ The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind ISBN 0061730335, ISBN 978-0061730337
  3. ^ "Technology & Culture Forum - The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind". MIT TechTV. Retrieved 21 December 2009. Kamkwamba is one of four recipients of the 2010 GO Ingenuity Award, a prize awarded by the Santa Monica–based nonprofit GO Campaign to inventors, artists, and makers to promote the sharing of their innovations and skills with marginalized youth in developing nations. With the grant, Kamkwamba will hold workshops for youth in his home village, teaching them how to make wind turbines and repair water pumps, both of which proved to be transformative skills for this young African leader. In 2007 Kamkwamba entered an intensive two-year academic program combining the Cambridge University A-levels curriculum with leadership, entrepreneurship, and African studies at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. He then went on to study at Dartmouth College, Class of 2014.Kamkwamba adapts to College life
  4. ^ Mwafulirwa, Sangwani (20 November 2006). "School dropout with a streak genius". The Daily Times. Blantyre, Malawi: BNL Limited. Archived from the original on 28 November 2006. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  5. ^ "Malawian windmill". Hacktivate. Vdomck.org. 23 November 2006. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
  6. ^ "TED Talks: William Kamkwamba on building a windmill". Ted.com. July 2007. Archived from the original on 21 August 2007. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
  7. ^ Childress, Sarah (12 December 2007). "A Young Tinkerer Builds a Windmill, Electrifying a Nation". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  8. ^ O'Keefe, Christy (20 October 2009). "'Boy who harnessed the wind' comes to College". TheDartmouth.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  9. ^ Stewart, Jon (7 October 2009). "William Kamkwamba". The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Comedy Partners. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  10. ^ Matson, John (11 January 2011). "Google's global, online science fair kicks off today". Scientific American. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  11. ^ "Irwin Uran Gift Fund". Loudoun County Public Library System. Archived from the original on 24 September 2012. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  12. ^ "2013 1 Book, 1 Community". Loudoun County Public Library System. Archived from the original on 25 August 2013. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  13. ^ May, Kate Torgovnick (13 March 2013). "William And The Windmill". TED. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  14. ^ Debruge, Peter (17 March 2013). "SXSW Review: 'William and the Windmill'". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  15. ^ "Harn, UF Common Reading Program, sponsor contest for students' art". University of Florida. 25 January 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  16. ^ Rhodan, Maya (17 December 2013). "These Are the 30 People Under 30 Changing the World". TIME. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  17. ^ |url=https://books.google.com/books?id=0v5hBQAAQBAJ&pg=PA6&lpg=PA6&dq=hearst+extraordinary+People+kamkwamba&source=bl&ots=Znl_Jb3K7c&sig=ACfU3U2nPKroCxy5si4Bs-kV1A1qnXJoug&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi96uuey5TlAhXvUt8KHQXECYE4ChDoATADegQICRAC#v=onepage&q=hearst%20extraordinary%20People%20kamkwamba&f=false |title=Extraordinary People |last=Hearst |first=Michael |2015 |publisher=Chronicle
  18. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qf3IQfZFiKY
  19. ^ a b Meiners, Cristy (25 January 2019). "Meet the man whose inspirational life story is about to open Sundance in Salt Lake". Deseret News. Deseret News Publishing Company. Retrieved 1 March 2019.

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