GES event to showcase innovator

Katie Park

What started out as just enough energy to power four light bulbs has now brought an innovator from Africa to Chicago.

Malawian author and inventor William Kamkwamba will speak at Northwestern as part of an event hosted by the Global Engagement Summit today.

At the event, which will take place at 4 p.m. in the McCormick Tribune Center, Kamkwamba and co-author Bryan Mealer will discuss their book “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.” A book sale and signing will follow.

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” tells the story of how Kamkwamba built makeshift windmills as a 14-year-old in Malawi. Working with scrap parts and following textbook diagrams, Kamkwamba was able to provide his family with electricity.

Now a 22-year-old student, Kamkwamba has had his inventions featured at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. He has also been recognized as a Fellow by the Technology, Entertainment, Design Global conference. Commonly known as TED, the famous “small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading,” whose activities include the annual TED conference and the TEDTalks video site.

“Connected to the root of what GES is all about is realizing that…if you identify a need, if you have passion and try to go out and use your resources, that change can happen,” said GES Co-director Megha Agrawal. “William is the epitome of this.”

GES, a conference for young global change leaders, does not take place until April. However, Agrawal said Friday’s event is a way to engage NU’s community outside of the summit.

“We realize there’s a big community (at NU), and there should be multiple avenues for them,” the SESP senior said. “They can’t always commit to being on staff.”

Co-director Allie Bream said Kamkwamba’s story resonates” with the summit’s mission by breaking stereotypes and promoting sustainable development.

“A big part of GES is that we’re all about building the capacity of our staff, but also about providing people with the ability to learn about people they wouldn’t have otherwise heard of,” the SESP senior said.

Bream said it is important for NU students to be exposed to stories like Kamkwamba’s.

“International development isn’t really emphasized in the classroom,” she said. “Here’s a case where it actually happened.”

Meixi Ng, a member of GES’s Community Development Team, said Kamkwamba’s story is encouraging because of his age.

“Someone so young can make such a difference,” the SESP junior said. “He’s really passionate about global change and how people can make change.”

Agrawal and Bream said they hope to attract not only NU undergraduate students but also faculty, graduate students and community members.

“I hope that they will gain an understanding of what GES is, what niche we fill on the Northwestern campus,” Bream said. “I hope it makes people question some assumptions they have about what development means and who can take the lead on development.”

Kamkwamba will also speak at Barbara’s Bookstore at the University of Illinois at Chicago today at 7 p.m.

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