Next in our series on young innovators is Sierra Leonean inventor, Kelvin Doe. His story is inspiring because it shows that resources are no barrier and local communities mean just as much as global ones. All you need to get started is curiosity, ambition and creativity.
Born in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, in October 1996, Kelvin Doe started collecting scrap metal, discarded devices and rubbish aged ten, seeking to remedy his neighbourhood’s intermittent electricity supply and rolling blackouts.
By the age of 13 and completely self-taught, Kelvin had made a battery capable of powering the surrounding homes and his own continuing work. He also built a radio transmitter, sound amplifier, three-channel mixer and microphone receiver from which he broadcast his own community radio station. Known as DJ Focus for his renowned dedication and drive, Kelvin has credited this unwavering diligence as the source of his inventions.
creativity is universal and can be found in places where one does not expect to find it
Kelvin Doe, inventor
He was catapulted to the world’s attention in a 2012 video for educational YouTube channel THNKR, which took his story viral. But it was being noticed by then MIT graduate David Sengeh that gave Kelvin the platform to cement his place as one of the best-known African entrepreneurs of recent times.
Kelvin and his team won the top prize at Innovate Salone, the summer camp that Sengeh runs in their shared native country. This took Kelvin, by then just 16 years old, to Massachusetts, where he became the youngest person ever to participate in the ‘Visiting Practitioner’s Program’, a scheme to help innovators take their inventions beyond ideas. He also appeared on a ‘Meet the Young Makers’ panel at World Maker Faire 2012 in New York on the same trip.
It’s an opportunity for him to create the future that he wants to live in
David Sengeh, TED Senior Fellow
“It’s an opportunity for him to create the future that he wants to live in”, said Sengeh, now Chief Innovation Officer for the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation in Sierra Leone and a TED Senior Fellow. And it’s an opportunity Kelvin certainly embraced, going on to give a TEDxTeen talk, a Harvard lecture and sign to a $100,000 project with a Canadian WiFi company to develop and test solar solutions in 2013.
He’s kept up this momentum since then – in 2016 becoming an honorary board member of Emergency USA (a global non-profit that provides free medical care for those affected by war and poverty) and founding his startup, KDoe-Tech and the Kelvin Doe Foundation in the same year.
Now 22, Kelvin lives and studies in Canada, focusing on his education. With an impressive array of engineering projects, businesses and causes already behind him, it’s the underlying spirit he’s championed since his days taking apart old electronics that endures. In his words, “creativity is universal and can be found in places where one does not expect to find it. Perseverance and passion are essential to nurturing that creative ability”.