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William Kamkwamba in the Wall Street Journal

Posted by: Tedstaff

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William Kamkwamba, a young Malawi man who designed and built a windmill for his family when he was 14 — and who spoke so memorably at TEDGlobal Africa this June — is profiled on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal in a story headined “A Young Tinkerer Builds a Windmill, Electrifying a Nation.” Writer Sarah Childress adds detail to the story that Kamkwamba told onstage in Tanzania:

Mr. Kamkwamba’s wind obsession started six years ago. He wasn’t going to school anymore because his family couldn’t afford the $80-a-year tuition.

When he wasn’t helping his family farm groundnuts and soybeans, he was reading. He stumbled onto a photograph of a windmill in a text donated to the local library and started to build one himself.

There’s also a great 2-minute video that shows the updates Kamkwamba has made to his family’s home power system, and talks about what’s next for him:

Video: Writer Sarah Childress from the Wall Street Journal talks to William Kamkwamba, a 20-year-old Malawian who built a windmill to power his family’s home.
Image courtesy Wall Street Journal

Comments (3)

  • Tom Rielly commented on Dec 13 2007

    Dear Walt, as one of the individuals helping William, perhaps I can help you understand what’s really happening.

    William is 20 and has been out of school for five years. Our group of private individuals is following his wishes as outlined in his presentation. His first priority is to finish his secondary school education. We are helping him do that. His second priority is to build a larger windmill to pump water to irrigate his farm so that his family can grow more food. We are helping him do that, too.

    The WSJ slightly mischaracterized things in that we did not rewire his home; he and his helpers did that, showing the very entrepreneurial spirit you think is a good idea. We have indeed provided low cost components to upgrade his windmill, such as a treadmill motor which allowed him to quadruple the power output of his windmill. We didn’t “shower him with gadgets” as much as provide tools for him to achieve his entrepreneurial goals for himself and his family.

    A mobile phone and a computer are essential tools to build skills he needs to succeed in life. They also permit him to attend school away from his parents and still stay in close touch with his family. Also, his windmill and solar power generate 100% clean energy, so it doesn’t really matter that the devices consume energy, as he is making it without causing any pollution.

    Finally, Willam’s stated goal after school and college is to start a company to bring power to other rural Malawians. Rest assured, a more entrepreneurial spirit we have seldom encountered.

  • Chris Anderson commented on Dec 13 2007

    Walt, perhaps there’s a misunderstanding about what TED is. We hold conferences and allow inspiring individuals and great ideas to be more widely known. It’s then up to individuals inspired by what they see and hear (whether live or online) to take action, if they wish.. The assistance given to William was not from TED — that’s not our role. it was from a group of individuals who were inspired by him. If you think the steps you suggest are a better response, go ahead and play your part! It’s easy to snipe; it’s much harder to actually go out there and make a difference.

  • Walt Korzeniowski commented on Dec 12 2007

    Read the article in the WSJ with great interest. I was really dismayed at the TED response to the opportunity that was presented in them by Mr. Kamkwamba. TED put him on stage, gave him energy consuming items, and then put him in school.

    I would have expected some of the following actions from TED:
    1- Find and provide low cost components for additional wind and solar installations in the region.
    2 – Microfinance training, purchase, and management of local energy as a business.
    3 – Look for opportunities expand the model to other regions.

    Where is the entrepreneurial initiative at TED?