Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

ACT 1: WILLIAM KAMKWAMBA - THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND

This should come as no surprise to many after reading my first blog post, that I have chosen William Kamkwamba, whom I also refer to as W.K as my personal hero to shadow. I find that I have long been shadowing him in ways suggested in this mission such as being a facebook fan, following him on Twitter and subscribing to his blog posts. However inspired by act1, I would definitely be taking that bold step of sending him an email and telling him all about EVOKE and this particular mission, in the hope that he would write back soon and/or get involved.

William Kamkwamba, born August 5 1987, is from Masitala village in the Kasungu district of Malawi. The famine-stricken landlocked nation in Southern Africa is bothered by Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia; a country smaller than Pennsylvania, with few natural resources, is known as a land of farmers. He states in one of his talks that before he discovered the wonders of science, he was just a simple farmer in a country of farmers and like everyone else he and his family grew Nsima (maize), depending on subsistence farming as their only source of livelihood. A dreadful famine in 2001, which left many Malawians (including his family) without food or water began the journey of this young inventor and entrepreneur.

Due to severe famine, young William, age 14 at the time, was forced to drop out of his first year in high school because his family could not afford to pay $80 annual tuition fees. Several months into the famine, with little hope of ever returning to school, W.K taking a good look at his helpless father and another quick glance at the dried fields made a promise to self that he wasn't going to accept what he saw as his future and was determined more than ever to change things for his family, his village and his nation. In 2002, he embarked on the route of self-education and began to borrow books from a small community library in his village. He soon came across an American Fifth Grade textbook called Using Energy, which showed a picture of a windmill, he was able to grasp the concept of the windmill of being able to pump water and generate electricity and this meant irrigation, a defense against hunger which the people of Malawi were faced with due to famine. At this point, William decided to build a windmill for his family out of whatever scraps he could find and successfully built his first windmill the same year out of harvested blue gumtrees, which served as limbs, cooling fan from a tractor, a shock absorber, a bicycle dynamo, the rear half of a bike, PVC pipes, wire, rusty nails and old headlight bulbs.


No one outside William's village knew about the windmill until 2006, when officials from the Malawi Teaching Training activity, on an inspection visit to his village discovered the windmill. Press coverage followed, bloggers picked up the story and he was soon invited to the TED Conference in Tazania as a featured TED fellow in 2007, where he met a large number of TED conference attendees who supported his return back to school. and was invited a second time at the TED conference in Oxford, UK in 2009 .He is presently enrolled as a full time student at the African Leadership Academy School in Johannesburg, South Africa, where students from thirty seven other African countries are accepted based on merit and educated to become ethical leaders for Africa. W.K is also the co-founder of Moving Windmill Project, a non-profit organization that supports Malawian-run rural economic development and education projects in Malawi, with the goals of community economic independence and self-sustainability; food, water and health security; and educational success. William's non-profit organization recently partnered with buildon.org, another NGO based in Stamford, CT and Kasungu Malawi, which builds primary schools in the developing world, coincindentally including his home province and are currenty working on rebuilding Wimbe Public Primary School, where W.K attended through standard 8 (US 8th Grade).

William's future plans involve starting a renewable energy company. He is already developing a steam engine powered by a solar oven, which he says would help people in Africa save trees because many areas in Africa are destroyed by deforestation caused by people cutting trees for firewood. He believes that the problem of deforestation can be solved if we work together to come up with non-wood alternatives for cooking fuel. To serve as a good example, he says his family now cooks by burning corn cobs instead of wood. Ultimately he wants to find cooking solutions that are one-hundred percent emissions-free. William's goal is to provide everyday people with the means to improve their own lives without having to wait for government or outside help; to use what is at hand to succeed in living a rich life.

William is scheduled to attend a college in the US this Fall and words on the street has it that he may be attending Harvey Mudd College, the Engineering arm of The Claremont Colleges (which also happens to be my Alma Mater). I am ever so excited to be shadowing this young, inspiring hero, who has come such a long way from where he started. I am also looking forward to reading his memoir: "The Boy who Harnessed the Wind", which has spent several weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, chosen as Amazon.com top 10 books of 2009, year's best by Publisher Weekly and the Christian Science Monitor. I can hardly wait to recommend it to every one as a great read as soon as I am done.


"For me, I feel like living a rich life is to have food, to have a chance to access clean water, have access to medicine, and have access to education. The thing that makes me happy is when I'm seeing people everywhere living in a happy life, having enough to eat, kids are going to school. When I'm seeing people are happy, it also makes me happy." - William Kamkwamba

Views: 672

Comment by Gene Becker on March 1, 2010 at 9:05pm
It is really interesting to see how William's vision has expanded to encompass a broad range of concerns at a global scale, seemingly as a result of his involvement with the TED programs. That's obviously a unique opportunity, but it makes me wonder how we might scale his experience and enable thousands of Williams to follow a similar path.
Comment by Yemisi Ajumobi on March 1, 2010 at 11:31pm
I know right, that's the great part with social innovation as it encompa**** a broader scale of global development issues and just like you said recognition and opportunity is key to success in this field. I'm so thrilled about the idea behind EVOKE and its ability to actually recognize those Williams out there and eventually providing them with the opportunity be seen and heard. As the weeks unfold with the EVOKE adventure, I am certain we would be hearing alot of great ideas from people like William who are ready to take on the challenge of social innovation and positively making a difference in the world.
Comment by Mita Williams on March 2, 2010 at 8:06pm
I love the infectious nature of this story and how it seems that every time W.K.s story gets re-told, the effects of his work gets stronger and drives more change. Just like a windmill!

+1 for the courage to commit to sending WK an email and a +1 for taking the time to tell more about where WK is from and the context of his work.
Comment by Yemisi Ajumobi on March 3, 2010 at 1:33am
Thanks for the comment and Power vote Mita. His story is indeed infectious. Also love your analogy with the windmill,nice one!
Comment by ninmah on March 4, 2010 at 1:31am
What a beautiful retelling of William's story. Well done! If I could give you +2 or +3 for knowledge share, I would!
Comment by Yemisi Ajumobi on March 4, 2010 at 6:45am
Thanks alot ninmah, I'm always happy telling his story and I'm glad EVOKE provided the opportunity to share what I know about him. Thanks for the power vote :D
Comment by Monica Toth on March 4, 2010 at 7:45am
I heard of W.K. through TED, but never knew his full story. How amazing! Thank you for your gorgeous writing. I hoped EVOKE would be able to connect me with people like you.
Comment by Yemisi Ajumobi on March 4, 2010 at 8:03am
Thanks for your comment Monica and Luis :) Glad to be connected with you guys on the network as well and I'm looking forward to reading all your entries and other evidence.
Comment by David Dreshfield on March 4, 2010 at 11:53am
Great summary of W.K.'s story. If he actually does make it to HMC before I graduate next year, I'll definitely keep an eye out for him.

I gave you +1 for Knowledge Share, because you have clearly taken W.K.'s story and experiences to heart. (If I could give you +1 for Courage and +1 for Spark, too, I would!) Let us know if he responds to your e-mail!
Comment by Samuel Lee on March 4, 2010 at 3:10pm
William's storying is inspiring. Even with all the barriers that exist for him, it only inspired him to become more inventive, and his grand vision of creating emission-less fuel is so lofty that you would hardly guess his humble origins. It goes to show our common humanity extends beyond blood and bones and that innovation, resourcefulness, and courage aren't specifically restricted to the developed world. People like William are the last nail in the coffin for arguments against local involvement in interventions. Its obvious that, given what he had, William did just as well, if not far better than any foreign intervention to improve his and his family's lives. Great pick Yemisi

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