William Kamkwamba is the co-author with Bryan Mealer of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope (William Morrow), the story of how he achieved his dream of bringing electricity, light, and the promise of a better life to his family and his Malawi village. The book was a New York Times best-seller, and Kamkwamba's story was featured early in the Wall Street Journal. Since then, he has appeared on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, ABC's Good Morning America, CSPAN Book-TV, and NPR. A 2007 TED Global Fellow, he was a student in the inaugural class of the Pan-African Leadership Academy in South Africa. He and Mealer also co-authored The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition. An accomplished speaker, Kamkwamba has addressed audiences at the 2008 World Economic Forum, multiple times at TED, and at schools and universities across the globe.
A remarkable success story about the power of human ingenuity in the face of crippling odds, Kamkwamba's talks will inspire anyone who doubts the power of one individual to change the world. Like most boys in his village, Kamkwamba grew up believing that magic ruled the world and hardship dominated life. As the only boy of seven children, he dutifully helped his father with the family's farming, while also tending to his studies. Like most Malawians, he routinely went to bed right after dark because kerosene to light lamps was very expensive. The year he turned 13, Kamkwamba also went to bed hungry. In 2000, a drought struck Malawi and devastated the country's maize crops, resulting in the worst famine in 50 years. The following year, he had to drop out of school because his parents could no longer afford the $80-a-year tuition. While seeking a distraction from boredom and starvation at the community library, he discovered something that dramatically changed the course of his future: the miracles of science.
The story of how he achieved his dream of bringing electricity, light, and the promise of a better life to his family and his village started with a bicycle dynamo - basically, a pedal-powered wheel that generates light. This taste of electricity (a luxury enjoyed by just two percent of Malawians) filled Kamkwamba with a desire to create his own. Before long, his scientific curiosity sent him on a quest to build a windmill. Besides dealing with financial obstacles and technical difficulties, Kamkwamba had to teach himself physics, overcome local superstitions, and withstand being mocked for his "crazy" ideas. William's story is like a fable, but its applications are practical and far reaching. His device parallels the new technologies that many are optimistic will solve the world's energy/environmental crisis.
Beyond the inspirational story of one determined, courageous, and ingenious teenager, Kamkwamba's story calls attention to the plight of Malawi, a country caught in the grip of AIDS and poverty. He shares his vision for "a new kind of Africa, a place of leaders instead of victims, a home of innovation rather than charity." By accomplishing a remarkable feat against formidable odds, Kamkwamba serves as a leading light and beacon of hope for the young, poor, and disadvantaged in every continent. "All things are made possible," he attests, "when your dreams are powered by your heart."
After graduation from Dartmouth College in 2014, Kamkwamba was awarded a fellowship at IDEO the global design firm based in San Francisco. IDEO.org, human-centered and innovative design to improve people’s lives in communities around the world – including the Kibera and Mathare slums in Nairobi, where Kamkwamba’s team made several trips. With IDEO, he worked on several life changing projects. One project was a partnership with a local girls’ school, Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), where his team designed an anonymous abuse reporting system that was easily accessible in public spaces by both genders and will be maintained by SHOFCO. Another project involved building low-cost sensors for farmers that reads moisture and pH levels in soil to increase crop yields and maximize farmers efforts. The team's prototype, built in San Francisco, used cheaper materials to make it more affordable and will test-run with farmers in Myanmar. Kamkwamba also worked on a project that redesigned the “eToilet,” an electronic toilet currently used in India. It is a self-cleaning and coin operated machine that improves sanitation in urban areas. Kamkwamba and his team re-designed the device with simple, illustrated instructions using colored LED lights to show whether the toilet was in use, and improved the door mechanization without additional production cost.
Each summer and whenever possible, Kamkwamba returns home to Malawi to enjoy his mother’s cooking and work on community projects through his non-profit Moving Windmills Project where the organization helps rebuild schools in the community. Moving Windmills and buildOn have constructed four new school blocks and Wimbe with classrooms that have enough space for over two hundred students to have his or her own desk. All of the materials were locally sourced, and each building is rigged with LED lights, solar panels, and deep-cycle batteries to lights encourage reading after dark. Thanks to the Pearson Foundation, Kamkwamba added ten thousand new titles to the library where he first learned about the science to build his windmill.
Kamkwamba also solar powered the entire compound at Kachokolo, the school that once kicked him out. He installed computers connected to an eGranary, which delivers the wonders of the Internet in places without a network connection. This “Internet in a box” allows free access to thousands of websites, fifty thousand books, and over a hundred educational and computer software programs. Now anyone with a smartphone – student or not – can access the entire catalog for free.
The film adaptation of Kamkwamba’s memoir was released in 2019 on Netflix and was directed by and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor in his feature directorial debut.
After finishing at IDEO.org, Kamkwamba joined the Widernet project, where he helps make and distribute digital libraries. He is currently designing modules and instruction manuals that can be used by anyone to create low-cost, high impact projects in communities around the world. Kamkwamba is working to bridge the gap between knowledge and doing with easy to follow instruction modules that range from sustainable energy production to household water sanitation.
Currently, Kamkwamba has a number of ongoing projects in Malawi, most focused on agriculture, water access, and education. He is designing a simple kit that includes one solar panel and a small DC pump that will allow farmers and their families to cultivate bigger vegetable gardens. Kamkwamba is also tweaking a design for an easy-to-assemble drill for water wells, plus a similar kit that involves a small battery system and windmill for generating electricity.
Praise for William Kamkwamba:
"William Kamkwamba was the dream presenter for us during Pellissippi State's 6th Annual President's Convocation - Common Book Kickoff on Sept. 2, 2011. During his time with us, he met hundreds of students, signed hundreds and hundreds of books, and managed to make every single student feel as if he had all the time in the world to speak with them. William has inspired a number of our students to become much more involved in their communities, working at the grass roots level to create more "green" power devices. In fact, the Engineering Department here at Pellissippi State is using William's windmill design to create our own school windmill! He is an awe inspiring young man."
-- Janet Hardin, Pellissippi State Community College
"In all the years I've been doing this, William was by far the best author I've ever worked with. He was incredible yesterday! I picked him up at 8 am and dropped him back off at 9 pm. His lecture ... was the most down-to-earth, humble, motivating, inspiring, and 'real' of all our author lectures. He smiled the entire time as he signed books for an hour and a half. Anyway, I could go on and on. He was fantastic! And, I will be sure to pass along our positive experience over the listservs as other schools consider his book for their common reading program."
-- Jared Tippetts, Purdue University
"William Kamkwamba is easily the most compelling, inspiring, and genuine speaker that I've ever heard or worked with. His talk will move people to imagine a better and brighter future for themselves and others. "
-- John Cary, University of Minnesota College of Design
"William Kamkwamba's event was terrific in every way, from the dinner beforehand with local middle and high school students to the book signing (and picture taking with fans!) at the end. He had a huge impact on our Library's diverse and enthusiastic audience, which spanned the ages from young students to seniors. They focused intently on his talk and posed many questions afterwards. I can't recall another author receiving a standing ovation, and such a heartfelt one, at that. I think we all were awestruck by William's resourcefulness, wisdom, modesty, humor, kindness, and worldview."
- Lisa Bankman, Howard County Library
"Having William speak at Indian Springs helped bring The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind to life for our students. It was a fitting kick-off to our theme for the year, Energy and the Environment."
-- Gareth Vaughan, Indian Springs School
"William has such an amazing story. His presentations, especially the photos, perfectly complement his captivating narrative."
-- Joe Wilferth, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
“William Kamkwamba is the most inspiring human being I have ever met. A calm and bright demeanor mask an almost unfathomable drive to achieve goals that others would write off as impossible. After hearing him talk, it is hard to see any obstacle as insurmountable.”
--Dave Callahan, Global CRM Manager, Sonos
Praise for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind:
"The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the inspiring story of a young man in Africa who used the only resources available to him to build a windmill and elevate the lives and spirits of those in his community. William Kamkwamba's achievements with wind energy should serve as a model of what one person, with an inspired idea, can do to tackle the crisis we face. His book tells a moving and exciting story."
-- Al Gore, former Vice President and Nobel Laureate
"This is an amazing, inspiring and heartwarming story! It's about harnessing the power not just of the wind, but of imagination and ingenuity. Those are the most important forces we have for saving our planet. William Kamkwamba is a hero for our age."
-- Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein and Benjamin Franklin
"This book is inspirational. What William did took nothing more than initiative and a little learning, yet he changed his village and his life. There's never been a better time to Do It Yourself, and I love how much we can learn from those who often have no other choice."
-- Chris Anderson, author of Free and The Long Tail
"William Kamkwamba is an alchemist who turned misfortune into opportunity, opportunity beyond his own. The book is about learning by inventing. William's genius was to be ingenious."
-- Nicholas Negroponte, founder, MIT Media Lab, founder and chairman, One Laptop per Child
"A moving, touching, important story. One more reminder of how small the world is and how powerful the human spirit can be."
-- Seth Godin, author of Tribes
"An inspiring tale of an African Cheetah - the new generation of young Africans who won't sit and wait for corrupt and incompetent governments - or vampire states - to come and do things for them. Here is one who harnessed the wind to generate electricity for his village - on his own."
-- Professor George Ayittey, Distinguished Economist, American University
"William will challenge everything you have thought about Africa, about young people, and about the power of one person to transform a community. This beautifully written book will open your heart and mind. I was moved by William and his story and believe you all will. Essential, powerful and compelling."
-- Chris Abani, author of Graceland
"Villagers would surround him to snicker and point, Kamkwamba said. Ignoring them, he would quietly bolt pieces using a screwdriver made of a heated nail attached to a corncob. The heat - from both the crowd and the melted, flattened pipes he used as blades - did not deter him... His story has turned him into a globetrotter. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, an avid advocate of green living, has applauded his work. Kamkwamba is invited to events worldwide to share his experience with entrepreneurs. During a recent trip to Palm Springs, California, he saw a real windmill for the first time - lofty and majestic - a far cry from the wobbly, wooden structures that spin in his backyard."
-- CNN Online
"The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind [is] an autobiography so moving that it is almost impossible to read without tears. In understated and simple prose, Kamkwamba and Mealer offer readers a tour through one Malawian boy's inspiring life.... The telling of his story is surprisingly levelheaded... As you read this book (I'd suggest keeping a box of tissues handy) you can be sure that William Kamkwamba's future is bright. If this tale is any indication, we'll be hearing his name again in the years ahead."
-- Christian Science Monitor
-- New Orleans Times-Picayune
"The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a stunning narrative, a description of persistence and accomplishment told matter-of-factly... of greater worth is the humbling and inspiring example of intuition, inventiveness and determination that fuel Kamkwamba's journey."
-- Denver Post
"This is an uplifting story, showing that big change can start small."
-- New York Post
"I first met William on stage at TED. At the time, his English was faltering and he was understandably nervous. It didn't matter. His story, told in just a couple of minutes, was both astonishing and exhilarating. This book proves what those few minutes hinted at: a remarkable individual capable of inspiring many to take their future into their own hands."
-- Chris Anderson, TED Curator
"This book traveled with me from Copenhagen to San Francisco to the South Fork of the Flathead and tells the story of how the battle for saving our planet and meeting the needs of humanity will be won by individuals like William Kamkwamba. His determination to improve his corner of the world is a testament to the power of a dream and the freedom that comes from accomplishing a sustainable way of life. Read this book, act on its message and pass it on."
-- Carter Roberts, President & CEO, WWF
"We seldom post about books at Gizmodo, but if this story of a self-taught Malawian boy using junkyard parts to build windmills and bring life-changing electricity to his village doesn't make you misty-eyed, then you must be one cold-hearted bastard."
"This remarkable memoir shows Africans have the wherewithal to solve their own problems and improve their lives... Kamkwamba's memoir is an inspirational story of the triumph of ingenuity and imagination over poverty and despair."
-- Winnipeg Free Press
"This exquisite tale strips life down to its barest essentials, and once there finds reason for hopes and dreams, and is especially resonant for Americans given the economy and increasingly heated debates over health care and energy policy."
-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A powerful read. This book takes you on a journey to discover pure innovation and the unfolding story of a natural genius. A true vision of struggle and tenacity to make a bold idea become a reality. This should be required reading for anyone who dares to dream."
-- Cameron Sinclair, Eternal Optimist, Architecture for Humanity
"Wonderful! I challenge you to read this story of one young man changing his corner of the world with nothing but intelligence and perseverance and not come away more hopeful about the prospects for a brighter, greener future."
-- Alex Steffen, editor, Worldchanging.com
"Beyond opening the door to a nascent genre of African Innovation literature, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind makes excuses about why Africans can't change their fates untenable. This potent, powerful, and uplifting message is the heart of William Kamkwamba's courageous story."
-- Emeka Okafor, internationally acclaimed author of blogs Timbuktu Chronicles and Africa Unchained
"In this book, the spirit, resilience and resourcefulness that are Africa's greatest strengths shine through. My heart was gripped by the tale of how William's family pulled through the famine, and it was lifted up by the tale of how his determination brought light to his home and hope to his village. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a remarkable story about a remarkable young man and his inquisitive and inventive mind."
-- Amy Smith, founder, D-Lab, MIT
"I loved this enchanting story of a humble young hero from an impoverished African village who accomplished a miracle with scrap materials and unstoppable enthusiasm. One of the best books I've ever read. What an inspiration!"
-- Mark Frauenfelder, founder of boingboing.net, editor in chief of MAKE
"I was moved first to laughter, and then to tears by William's explanation of how he turned some PVC pipe, a broken bicycle and some long wooden poles into a machine capable of generating sufficient current to power lights and a radio in his parents' house: 'I try, and I made it.'"
-- Ethan Zuckerman, cofounder, Global Voices
"A rare and inspiring story of hope in rural Africa, a true story of youth challenging and winning against all of the adversity that life throws at it. William represents a new generation of Africans, using ingenuity and invention to overcome life's challenges. Where so many tilt at windmills, William builds them!"
-- Erik Hersman, AfriGadget.com
"Much more than a memoir, this is a snapshot of life as a precocious teenager in contemporary Africa, and an affirmation of the notion that talent, beauty, and brilliance are distributed in equal measure around the world, even if opportunity is not. This is a story that hums with excitement of an individual who, like the continent where he was raised, is poised for greatness."
-- Nathaniel Whittemore, Change.org