William Kamkwamba and the Case for Make-Do Entrepreneurship

At the age of 14, amidst poverty and famine, a Malawian boy by the name of William Kamkwamba built a windmill from scrap to power his family's home. Living on one meal per day, William had been forced to drop out of school because his family could no longer afford the school fees. But determined to pursue his inherent curiosity, William had found a local library and buried himself in physics books, learning English along the way while poring over the diagrams and illustrations. Armed with some technical understanding and a lot of entrepreneurial restlessness, he scoured his village for spare hardware and junk, eventually building a windmill that pumped water for irrigation and produced electricity.


Eight years later, he shared his story with the world in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope.

In 2008, TED's Tom Reilly directed Moving Windmills: The William Kamkwamba Story, a documentary that went on to sweep the festival award circuit last year.

Kamkwamba's story matters now more than ever, not merely as a powerful case study of human entrepreneurship, but also because it offers the sort of credibility and inspiration that can empower a new generation of make-do entrepreneurs. Fittingly, "making do" seems to be the implicit theme of this year's Maker Faire, Africa's premiere festival of art, craft, science and technology. (For more on the event, see The Atlantic's excellent coverage.)

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of miscellaneous interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine and Huffington Post, and spends a shameful amount of time on Twitter.

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
Videos
  • Prejudice is typically perpetrated against 'the other', i.e. a group outside our own.
  • But ageism is prejudice against ourselves — at least, the people we will (hopefully!) become.
  • Different generations needs to cooperate now more than ever to solve global problems.


Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

(MsMaria/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Image source: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
  • The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
  • The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
Keep reading Show less