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    Friday, June 21, 2019

    Meet the Man Who Knows What it's Like to Harness the Wind

    William Kamkwamba might be famous across the globe as The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, resultantly travelling across the globe to tell his story. But one thing he has not forgotten is his roots, his home village of Wimbe in Kasungu.
    The now celebrated iconic, who has put Malawi in a positive light for his innovative effort to bring water to his village using locally available materials, is set for new heights with his new found ventures.
    William is no longer 'just' a builder of windmills, he is passionate about supporting the next generation of African innovators
    Hailing from Malawi, William Kamkwamba is born inventor. At age 14 he built an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap working from rough plans he found in a library book and modifying them to fit his needs. 

    He graduated from Dartmouth College in 2014 and started his tenure at Ideo.org as a Global Fellow focusing on Human Centered Design which saw him working on projects around the world such as sanitation in India and gender-based violence prevention in Kenya. He is now working with WiderNet to develop an appropriate technology curriculm that will allow people to bridge the gap between 'knowing' and 'doing'. We caught up with him at the 2019 Red Bull Amaphiko Academy in Durban to find out how his journey and narrative has evolved since harnessing the wind.

    What are you working on now?
    Right now what I’m working on is to put up an innovation center in Malawi. The innovation center is going to allow people to come and work with me to develop their ideas. Because I know there are so many talented young people all over the world but sometimes lack of space to help them build their ideas, it’s lacking sometimes so I want to enable that, making sure that anyone who has an idea they can have a space where they can think and build and be connected to professionals in the field that they are working on. I can be able to connect young people who have an idea with professionals in that field to help them to go through everything they have to know, what they have to do, in order to achieve their goals.

    How was your transition from your first project to now, how have you changed your narrative?
    Early on in my project, I was more resistant to talking to people about it. The reason why I was doing that was when I started a lot of people were questioning what I was doing, they were laughing at me, thinking that I was going crazy. So I felt like even the people that could be interested to work with me I was very resistant. I think that’s the only thing I can say that I wish I didn’t have to think in that way, be a little more open, which I am now. 

    This is the way I’m working if you don’t like it if you have a question or concern to what I’m doing I’m very open to answer your questions, your concerns. Back then people didn’t believe or trust what I was doing. That’s I was battened down from people but it’s not like everybody who has the same resistance that other people had when I was doing it so now it’s more of I’m very open to criticize from people also being able to comments, supportive comments or a comment that I have to figure out the other way. I need to think about it, I’m very welcome to it now.

    How do you balance between achievements and where you’re from?
    I always try to get back to Malawi several times a year. I spend half of the year in Malawi and when I’m in Malawi I interact with the same people that I used to interact with even before I left. I love doing the same things I used to do. For me being in that environment is the same. I’m not trying to show people I’m better than them. I might have some training or skills that some others in the community don’t have, but I also appreciate that they have skills that I don’t have, that I can be able to learn from and incorporate that into my work.

    What can be done about the African brain drain and encourage people to return to the continent after leaving to study abroad?
    I think what needs to be done at an individual level is to understand how powerful your skills can be valued in your own community. For me, what I look at is what I can do. I think I can be more influential in Malawi to solve some of the problems than I could in the US. I think there is a lot we can do. 

    Making it easy, making it applicable to young people to make them think they are being valued in whatever they are doing. If we change the narrative that I’m part of the big dream for my community or my country in general, I should be able to go back. That is gonna really change and twist the mindset that young people have. It’s not just going home for the sake of being home, but going home for big purpose, bigger than me. I can do projects that I care about but also it’s going to solve these big challenges and problems are facing. I think that will help a lot of young people to be interested.

    How do you manage your success?
    For me, it’s trying to understand myself best. Use the knowledge and the ideas that I have and also not be satisfied that I have reached this point and I’m bigger than anyone else. But allowing myself to still learn from other people. I still try to understand things that I don’t know. 

    Appreciate other people that are smarter than I am and find out how do I learn from you? What are the skills that I need to have? Understanding that really helps me to be navigating these areas rather than me just saying, okay, I built a windmill, I have a book, I have a movie about me, I’m great! I don’t look myself like that but I do get inspired by other people from their ways, what they’re doing, they’re dreams, that’s motivating me. I don’t take everything for me, it’s not all about me, it’s about community in general.
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