Next Tuesday, October 20th, Olin will welcome William Kamkwamba to speak to the community in the auditorium at 5 pm.
Three years ago, William had never been away from his
village in Malawi, had never used a computer, had never seen "an Internet."
Today, the 22 year old has been featured on the cover of the Wall Street
Journal, has spoken at TEDGlobal 2007 and 2009, has been a guest on the Daily
Show, and has co-authored a book about the "simple machine that changed [his]
life." This simple machine was a wind turbine he created out of scrap parts, a
picture in a library book, and the determination to secure a brighter future
for himself and his family. He built his first windmill at the age of 14, after
suffering through a famine and dropping out of school because he was unable to
pay the $80 fee. Slowly, his story trickled into a Malawian newspaper, then
onto African blogs, then onto the screen at the 2007 TEDGlobal Conference in
Tanzania... Since then, praise and support has steadily poured in from around the
Bryan Mealer, a
writer for Harper's and correspondent for the Associated Press who spent many
years covering "Africa's cycle of misery and horror", caught wind of William's
story and ultimately ended up co-authoring a book with him. In a recent essay,
"Spending a year with William and writing this book helped remind me of why I fell in love with the continent in the first place. The Boy Who Harnessed the
Wind is the kind of against-all-odds tale that resonates with every
human being, the kind of story that we all need to hear now and again to remind
us of our own potential. We love these stories because within them, we look for
ourselves. I'm proud to have finally found that story in Africa."
Despite his rapid
rise to world fame, William remains extremely humble and wants to return home
after his education to continue innovating for a better future. He is currently
a senior at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, and
hopes to attend college in the United States.
On a more
personal note, I met this remarkable young man this past summer at Maker Faire
Africa in Ghana, and like many others I was incredibly moved by
his story. It was wonderful to see the respect he garnered from his African and
international peer innovators, tinkerers, and inventors.
If you are in the
Boston area next Tuesday evening, I strongly encourage you to come meet William
and hear his talk. In many ways William's story embodies Olin's approach to
engineering as described by our mission statement:
"Olin College prepares students to become exemplary engineering
innovators who recognize needs, design solutions, and engage in creative
enterprises for the good of the world."