William Kamkwamba was fourteen and living in drought-stricken Malawi when he stumbled on a library book called Using Energy, and saw a picture of a windmill. He thought that if he could make one, he could provide electricity for his family, pump water and irrigate crops, and power light for reading at night, as well as a radio. So William set about to make his windmill out of spare parts and scrap he found: wood, a bicycle frame, a pulley, a piece of plastic pipe, some wire.

He figured out how to make his windmill from the picture  (he couldn’t read English and had had to drop out of school because his parents couldn’t afford the fees); he took the basic idea and made it his own. William’s first windmill generated enough power to light four bulbs and a radio.


After local press reported William’s astonishing achievement, Hactivate picked up the story. TED did an interview with William who was so shy, he gave the shortest of answers, against a backdrop of projected photos. Four years later, in a new TED talk and elsewhere, William forthrightly tells his story, exhorting people that they can “do whatever they want to do if they believe in themselves…All you have to do is try.” He’s like a beam of light.

A newly-published book about William called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope is getting rave reviews.


The first TED talk brought an outpouring of support for Williams projects, and to help pay for his education. According to TED, subsequent projects have included clean water, malaria prevention, solar power and lighting for the six homes in his family compound; a deep-water well with a solar-powered pump for clean water; and a drip irrigation system. (It’s yet another story of the internet connecting unlikely people up, and supporting something really good.)

“…all you have to do is try!” is a simple, really potent principle.

You’ll find detailed descriptions of how William devised his windmill on his blog.

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