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About William Kamkwamba


William was born in Dowa, Malawi to a family of farmers including this mother, father and six sisters. When he was 14, Malawi suffered a severe famine. His family could no longer pay his school fees, and William was forced to drop out of high school. While staying home, William remained curious and inventive and worked with the village librarian to stay engaged with knowledge, especially science.. Working from just one photo in a U.S. junior high school textbook book called “Using Energy,” he reasoned out how to build an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap, despite having no instructions. William’s story is told in the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope.

William first told his story at a TED conference in Tanzania, which eventually led him to an opportunity to study in the U.S. After graduating from the prestigious pan-African Prep School, the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, he was recruited to then graduated from Dartmouth College in 2014 with a degree in environmental studies. William has been recognized as a TED Fellow and a Global Fellow at ideo.org, the non-profit wing of the renowned design firm IDEO, and spoke at the World Economic Forum. Most recently, he has worked for the WiderNet Project in Chapel Hill, NC to develop technologies and curricula that help young people bridge the gap between knowing and doing in Malawi, and across Africa. He currently splits his time between the U.S. and Malawi.


Extended Background

William Kamkwamba was born August 5, 1987, in Malawi, Africa, a country plagued by drought and poverty. Like most people in his village, his family of nine subsisted on the meager crops they could grow, living without the luxuries—considered necessities in the West—of electricity or running water. Already living on the edge, the situation became dire when, in 2002, Malawi experienced the worst famine in 50 years. Struggling to survive, 14-year-old William was forced to drop out of school because his family could not afford the $80-a-year tuition.

Windmill

Though he was not in a classroom, William continued to think, learn—and dream. Armed with curiosity, determination and a library book he discovered in a nearby library, he embarked on a daring plan—to build a windmill that could bring his family the electricity only two percent of Malawians could afford.

Discovered

The windmill project drew visitors from many kilometers away, including Dr. Hartford Mchazime, Ph.D., the deputy director of MTTA, the Malawian Non-Government Organization (NGO) responsible for community libraries.
Mchazime brought press, including: The Malawi Daily Times, bloggers/engineers Soyapi Mumba and Mike McKay from the Baoabab Health Project in Malawi, and Emeka Okafor, program director for TEDGlobal, a prestigious gathering of thinkers and innovators.
Okafor diligently searched for William and invited him to participate as a TED Conference fellow. William’s presentation led him to mentors and donors willing to support William’s education and village projects.

Education

Fundraising by Dr. Mchazime allowed William to re-enroll in high school at Madisi Secondary School. After one trimester, William transferred to African Bible College Christian Academy, a private prep school in the capital city of Lilongwe.

In September, 2008, William became one of 97 inaugural students at the African Leadership Academy, a pan-African prep school based near Johannesburg, South Africa. The school aims to provide rigorous academics, ethical leadership training, entrepreneurship and design education. He graduated in 2010.

Finally, William attended Dartmouth College in the U.S. and graduated with degree in environmental studies with an academic department award.

Book

William’s autobiography, with co-author Bryan Mealer, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, debuted worldwide September 29, 2009 from HarperCollins. Penguin published two more editions, a young readers edition and a children’s picture book edition The book was translated into more than 15 languages.

Media

Profiles of William include: Page One of The Wall Street Journal, The Malawi Daily Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, La Republica, Banker Magazine (Financial Times, U.K.), and a special Africa issue of L’Uomo Vogue.

Television appearances include The Daily Show with John Stewart and Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer.

Email: [email protected]