development economics sustainability technology websites

Appropriate Technology

Riding high ... William Kamkwamba atop his windmill, which uses a bicycle to increase efficiencyWhen I lived in Madagascar I met a security guard who had built his own intercom out of old radio parts. He had no formal education, he just worked it out by intuition. I was reminded of him when I read about William Kamkwamba, a Malawian teenager who has built a windmill to provide his village with electricity.

Made from old bicycle parts and standing 12 metres tall, William’s windmill now powers an irrigation system for his family’s fields, as well as lighting. It’s also attracted a lot of attention, making William into something of an internet celebrity. You can read about it on his blog.

I mention it because it’s this kind of innovation that Africa needs, low-cost, small scale technology that makes a big difference – appropriate technology, as E F Schmacher called it.  Schumacher founded a group called Practical Action to work on poverty alleviation through simple technology. In fact a Maasai woman called Sharon Looremeta, who works for Practical Action in Kenya, spoke at Live Earth on saturday. Her two minute speech was the most worthwhile thing I heard from the stage all day.

I also recommend Afrigadget, a celebration of African ingenuity, and Design for the other 90%, who I may well mention again.


  1. A website I have really enjoyed exploring is If you read the section how to build a solar cooker, you realise you can make one out of almost anything. Instructions are given in a range of languages, including Malagasy. If only we had a bit more sun…

  2. Thanks for your kind comments re Sharon at LiveEarth. I was with her in the days leading up to it helping her prepare – I have worked with her a few times now and she truly is an inspiration. We were truly disappointed the BBC didn’t broadcast the only person who could speak first hand about issue and give the day any credibility! Instead we had a discussion on the beeb about why Dr Who is big in Brazil.

    If you are interested, her speech and bogs can be found at

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