William Kamkwamba

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Will Kamkwamba
William Kamkwamba at TED in 2007.jpg
Kamkwamba at TED in 2007
Born (1987-08-05) 5 August 1987 (age 31)
Kasungu, Malawi
EducationDartmouth College
The first wind turbine

William Kamkwamba (born August 5, 1987) is a Malawian innovator, engineer and author. He gained fame in his country in 2007 when he built a wind turbine to power a few electrical appliances in his family's house in Wimbe (32 kilometres (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 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]

William 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. According to his autobiography, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, his father had been a rough fighting man who changed after becoming a Christian.[1] 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 village 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 his work with the radios had not earned 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.[2]


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,[3] the story circulated through the blogosphere,[4] and TED conference director Emeka Okafor invited Kamkwamba to talk at TEDGlobal 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania as a guest.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

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).[8] In addition, he was invited to and attended the 2011 Google Science Fair introductory meeting, where he was a guest speaker.[9]

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.[10][11]

Kamkwamba is the subject of the documentary film William and the Windmill, which won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature[12] at the 2013 South By Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas.[13]

In 2013 TIME magazine named Kamkwamba one of the "30 People Under 30 Changing The World.[14]"

In 2010, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind was selected as the University of Florida 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 2014, Kamkwamba received his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire where he was a student and elected to the Sphinx Senior Honor Society.


  1. ^ The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind ISBN 0061730335, ISBN 978-0061730337
  2. ^ "Technology & Culture Forum - The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind". MIT TechTV. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 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 turbine 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
  3. ^ Mwafulirwa, Sangwani (20 November 2006). "School dropout with a streak genius". The Daily Times. Blantyre, Malawi. Archived from the original on 28 November 2006. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  4. ^ "Malawian windmill". Hacktivate. Vdomck.org. 23 November 2006. Retrieved 2009-10-30.
  5. ^ "TED Talks: William Kamkwamba on building a windmill". Ted.com. Retrieved 2009-10-30.
  6. ^ "A Young Tinkerer Builds a Windmill, Electrifying a Nation", by Sarah Childress, The Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2007.
  7. ^ "'Boy who harnessed the wind' comes to College". TheDartmouth.com. 2009-10-20. Retrieved 2015-01-03.
  8. ^ "William Kamkwamba". The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. October 7, 2009. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  9. ^ Matson, John (11 January 2011). "Google's global, online science fair kicks off today". Observations. Scientific American. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  10. ^ Irwin Uran Gift Fund
  11. ^ 2013 1 Book, 1 Community Loudoun County Public Library System.
  12. ^ "William And The Windmill". TED. March 13, 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  13. ^ Debruge, Peter. SXSW Review: ‘William and the Windmill’, Variety, March 17, 2013.
  14. ^ Rhodan, Maya (17 December 2013). "These Are the 30 People Under 30 Changing the World". TIME. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  15. ^ "Harn, UF Common Reading Program, sponsor contest for students' art". University of Florida. 25 January 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2015.

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