Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Windmills and We20

The picture is the book cover of a book by William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer. The book has gotten rave reviews--I particularly enjoyed Ethan Zuckerman's review and like to link to Zuckerman's blog just because it's always so smart. If you're thinking of buying the book, buy it at Amazon from this link so your purchase will help to fund the Moving Windmills Project for community initiatives in Malawi.

I'll get back to William Kamkwamba in a moment, but first a detour. The G20 Pittsburgh Summit begins tomorrow morning. In the lead up to it I remembered a Web site set up in advance of the G20 Meeting in London called we20. We20 is a great idea, it's a platform for small groups of people in communities all over the world to share locals plans relevant to their economies. I began talking up having meetings with my friends. As it turns organizing isn't my forte. Still over the last month or so when I've gotten together with friends the subject has come up.

The idea of making plans and sharing them online is really the important part of we20. But looking back over the "meetings" over the last month or so, I realize now that planning is a stage that comes after quite a lot of discussion. Something else I've come to understand is when you get together in small groups to talk about the economy, the talk gets quite personal. The conversations turn to our relationships, and most of that seems the last thing in the world to put on a public Web page. Nevertheless, plans are specific must relate to our real personal lives.

Last night I attended a meeting. Some of the conversation revolved around protests and the city's response. Some of the meeting was around global monetary issues like proposals for instituting a Tobin Tax in the context of Oxfam's proposal How to find $280bn for poor countries this weekend. We were able to sustain conversation about global monetary issues and global issues in general like climate change and commodity prices for a while. But in a small group of friends it's hard to sustain such talk for very long without the dire reality of our own situation coming to fore. The relevant question, and what we20 is all about is: "What are we going to do?" And there are no ready answers to that question.

Last night and in a previous meeting we touched on the issue of whether we face problems to be solved or a predicament. That way of framing comes from John Michael Greer by way of Sharon Astyk's The Pedagogy of Collapse. Astyk has a brilliant post today that sums up the hard dilemma we were facing last night that there's no easy change possible. In her post Dreaming a Life she notes that baby steps are all well and good, but babies quickly learn to walk, and faster than we'd like, to run! Our lament is being stuck in baby steps.

I bet that most we20 groups coming together have to start with these sorts of discussions. How to move them forward towards making actual plans, is something we've yet to discover. But I hope that even as the G20 Meeting is over and gone, discussion will continue and we find some way of making plans.

At William Kamkwamba's blog today there's a post annoucing that his TED Talk in Oxford earlier this year is up. The talk is about six minutes long, but had me cheering loudly. A couple of years ago William spoke briefly at TED Global in Tanzania. At the time Mike McKay a blogger who was working with Baobab Health in Malawi and had helped to get the story of William's remarkable windmill out expressed concern that people take care with all the attention to William. Things seem to have worked out well, perhaps because William has been too busy at school to pay too much attention to the hype.

William was only 14 when he built his first windmill. He was 19 when he spoke in Tanzania and he's 22 now. At his blog William says he's proud of his recent talk. And I felt so proud of him too listening to it. The old saw about genius is that it's "10% inspiration and 90% perspiration." In the last couple of years William has put in hours of hard work. I was so moved by his presentation and exhortation to other to try and make. He directed his words to poor people, but the rest of us should listen too.

The problem that I face along with my friends and our informal meetings is we're quite invested in living in ways we know are ultimately unsustainable. The conundrum is how to find a path towards a more sustainable way of life. We've figured out little parts of the puzzle, but are still far from making a comprehensive plan, or even a modest plan in the right direction. That's quite a different sort of situation that William was facing which led to his building a windmill, nevertheless he provides an inspiration that much can be done even when faced with very difficult situations.


DaisyDeadhead said...

This article is your kind of thing!

phil jones said...

This is great! At the end of the day, We20 is about getting those meetings happening.

The plans *are* important. But so's the conversation; and the community weaving, *and* the voting (so don't forget, that everyone who comes along to the meets should go to the site and use their 20 votes.)

I'm looking forward to seeing what you all come up with.