Premiere: William Kamkwamba on building a windmill

Posted by: Emily McManus

When he was just 14 years old, Malawian inventor William Kamkwamba built his family an electricity-generating windmill from spare parts, working from rough plans he found in a library book. In conversation with TED Curator Chris Anderson, Kamkwamba, now 19, tells a moving story of ingenuity and adaptation, and shares his dreams: To build a larger windmill to help with irrigation for his entire village, and to find the funds to go back to school. This talk inspired outpourings of support from the TED community and in the blogosphere. (Recorded June 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania. Duration: 04:23.)

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William Kamkwamba: How I built my family a windmill

Chris Anderson: William, hi. Good to see you.

William Kamkwamba: Thanks.

CA: So, we’ve got a picture I think?

(photo of hut on a grassland)

Where is this?

WK: This is my home. This is where I live.

CA: Where? What country?

WK: In Malawi, Kasungu. In Kasungu.

CA: Yeah. Mala. OK. Now, you’re 19 now?

WK: Yeah. I’m 19 years now.

CA: Five years ago you had an idea. What was that?

WK: I want to made a windmill.

CA: A windmill?

WK: Ya.

CA: And- so- what- to power- for lighting and stuff?

WK: Ya.

CA: So what did you do? How did you realize that?

WK: After I drop out from school, I went to library and I read a book that would- Using Energy, and I get information about doing the mill. And I try and I made it.

CA: So- (applause) So you copied- you exactly copied the design in the book.

WK: Ah, no. I just-

CA: What happened?

WK: In fact, a design of the windmill that it was in the book, it have got four -ah- three blades, and mine have got four blades.

CA: The book had three, yours had four.

WK: Ya.

CA: And you made it out of what?

WK: I made four blades just because I want to increase power.


WK: Ya.

CA: You tested three, and found that four worked better?

WK: Ya. I just-

CA: And what did you make the windmill out of? What did- materials did you use?

WK: I use a bicycle frame, and a pulley, and plastic pipe, what then pulls-

CA: Do we have a picture of that? Can we have the next slide?

(picture of windmill, close up of it rotating)

WK: Ya. The windmill.

CA: And so, and that windmill, what- it worked?

WD: When the wind blows it rotates and generates.

CA: How much electricity?

WK: 12 watts.

CA: And so, that lit a light for the house? How many lights?

WK: Four bulbs and two radios.

CA: Wow.

(two photos of the hut being wired for electricity)

WK: Ya.

CA: And so- (applause) next slide- so who’s that?

(slide of his parents holding radio)

WK: This is my parents, boughting the radio.

CA: So what do they make of- that you were 14, 15 at the time, what do they make of this? They were impressed?

WK: Ya.

CA: And so what’s your- what’re you going to do with this?

WK: Um-

CA: What do you- I mean- do you want to build another one?

WK: Ya, I want to build another one- to pump water and irrigate- irrigation for crops.

CA: So this one would have to be bigger?

WK: Ya.

CA: How big?

WK: I think it will produce more than 20 the watts.

CA: So that would produce irrigation for the entire village?

WK: Ya.

CA: Wow. And so you’re talking to people here at Ted to get people who might be able to help in some way to- to realize this dream?

(slide of Kamkwamba on top of a windmill).

WK: Ya if they can help me- if my, ya.

CA: And as you think of your life going forward, you’re 19 now, do you- do you picture continuing with this dream, working in energy?

WK: Ya. I’m still thinking to work on energy.

CA: Wow. William, it’s a real honor to have you at the Ted conference. Thank you so much for coming.

WK: Thank you.

Comments (3)

  • Ilango Ramasamy commented on Dec 11 2009

    This young man is a proof that when you have quality, and originality and made a genuine effort the world will appreciate you no matter whether you can communicate well or not. I believe content is more important than the language skills. people spend a lot of time on improving their communication skills to become effective but the sad thing is that many of them forget to improve their quality, skills and knowledge. This is because in many organizations around the world those who can effectively communicate walk away with high rewards and the others who can not communicate just lament. what i say to them is do something really unique like this young man called William Kamkwamba and you will be recognized.

  • Ante Lauc commented on Jun 25 2008

    God is talking through creative people. Why through them? Because they are HONEST. Is it true?

  • Kitty Antonik Wakfer commented on Aug 10 2007

    Although I can’t watch the video stream – husband Paul & I are on a slow dial-up in rural Ontario at this time – the written information about William Kamkwamba was good to read. Here is a young man who had the initiative to find out about wind power production in a book and the drive to work with the supplies available to him – scrap pieces – to assemble a working unit to provide power sufficient to run 4 lights and 2 radios in his family home. This is really nice to find in an era when so many people won’t put themselves out beyond trying to get some government grant or subsidy – all via taxes, money taken from others.

    With the Internet, millions of people can learn about William Kamkwamba in Malawai and those who find his efforts worthy can offer him encouragement in words, and even money. This is the way I and Paul would like to see the world work – positive social preferencing in cases like William. Negative social preferencing – not associating with an individual – is the appropriate manner of responding to a situation where a person’s actions and/or ideas are judged by an individual to be counter to his/her own values. The evaluation of each individual of each other individual s/he knows or learns about is what is important, not the determination of some government agency. The Internet can make this possible, but only if people are identifiable; there is far more to be gained on the Internet by self-identification than those who seek anonymity realize..