If ever there was an example of creativity finding a way, it would be William Kamkwamba.
Born the second of seven children in a farming family in Malawi, he was forced to leave school at 14 when a devastating famine sucked the life out of his country’s soil and his parents could no longer afford the $80 annual school fee. But William wasn’t about to stop learning, turning to the local library for educational material without missing a beat.
Early on he’d shown talent with electronics, having started a radio repair business to make extra money for his family. Even so, when he built his first electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap at age 14 to power his family’s home—working only from plans he found in a library book—heads began to turn.
An international blogger heard about the young inventor, wrote about him, and the rest is history. TED Global Conference director Emeka Okafor tracked down William and invited him to speak at the next conference about his windmill and his dream to build larger windmills to help his village.
Not surprisingly, a generous outpouring of financial support followed his presentation.
And as a result, William was able to improve his original windmill by incorporating solar power—and then adding this system to the new windmills he built. He also developed a solar powered pump to help produce clean water, and a bio-gas digester that uses cow dung to generate gas for cooking. His innovations have lowered dependence on firewood and overall deforestation.
William was also able to re-start his formal education as well, first as a student at the African Leadership Academy, and then at Dartmouth College where he graduated in 2014.
Somehow, he also found time to put his story into book form, with the internationally acclaimed The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.
Named by Time magazine as one of the “30 People Under 30 Changing The World,” William remains committed to his country’s growth, and envisions building an innovation center in Malawi where other inventors can share their discoveries and their dreams.
William Kamkwamba is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.