Born on August 5, 1987 in Kasungu, Malawi, William Kamkwamba is an inventor, entrepreneur and author. Kamkwamba is best known for building an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and locally-available materials at his family home in Malawi when he was 14. His journey is detailed in the autobiography and film “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.”
Kamkwamba was born into a family of subsistence maize farmers, as the second child and only son of Trywell and Agnes Kamwamba’s seven children. In 2001, Malawi experienced flooding that devastated the harvest and resulted in a famine. As an agricultural family, the Kamkwambas were left without their main income source and in need of growing food outside of the normal planting season. As a result, Kamkwamba stopped attending school, but he remained committed to his studies and frequented the local library in anticipation of the end of the famine. He had always had an interest in science from a young age. In his reading, he found a high school textbook called “Using Energy” which had a section on windmills and this sparked his interest as a potential solution to the energy needs of his family and community.
Linking the uses of wind energy to his current circumstances, Kamkwamba used the textbook to guide him in building his own windmill. He adapted the design in the book and began construction of his windmill using a bicycle frame, a tractor fan belt, plastic pipe and a bicycle dynamo. His prototype initially produced enough electricity to power one light at his family home, then eventually four lights with switches and a circuit breaker, which he had modelled from an electric bell.
Kamkwamba’s windmill attracted attention from neighbours and local journalists, which led to an article in the Daily Times in November 2006. This article led to attention from outside of Malawi and in 2007 and 2009, Kamkwamba was invited to speak at TEDGlobal. In 2009, Kamkwamba’s ingenuity was celebrated at the first Maker Faire Africa in Ghana, as a representation of African innovation and invention geared towards sustainability and green technology.
Kamkwamba returned to school and finished his studies at the African Leadership Academy in Roodepoort, South Africa. He went on to attend Dartmouth College in New Hampshire USA, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies in 2014 and was elected to the Sphinx Senior Honor Society. After this, Kamkwamba joined the design firm IDEO.org as a Global Fellow. He has also worked with the WiderNet Project to develop action-oriented curriculums for appropriate technology for youth in Malawi and across the world. He has also been involved in projects on clean water and malaria prevention, and gender-based violence prevention across the world.His achievements have been documented in his memoir "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope,” co-authored with Bryan Mealer. His memoir was adapted into a feature film for Netflix, directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor. The film was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
Kamkwamba continues his work with the non-profit organisation, Moving Windmills Project, which he co-founded in 2008. Through this project, Kamkwamba has built solar-powered pumps to supply clean water in his community, a drip irrigation system, renovated facilities in local schools, and fostered development programs in many communities. Kamkwamba continues to advocate for agricultural development in Malawi and is currently building and developing an innovation centre in his hometown Kasungu, which will be a space where young Malawians can create solutions for everyday challenges, connect with mentors and access tools.