Uncovering Your ‘Why’ and Your Inner Mission with Wandile

Ubuntu Design Group CEO & Co-Founder, Ambassador to One Young World, and Fellow for The Resolution ProjectWandile Mthiyane, has a goal to help his Durban, South African community be able to live in better, sustainable housing. As he talks to Young Architect host, Michael Riscica, about how he got to where he is today, you will learn all about his incredible journey of how he was able to receive the funding and support to study at the School of Architecture, Art & Design at Andrews University in the USA, make his Andrews University AIAS chapter one of the most admired in the nation, and how he overcame various struggles and obstacles in order to make his goal a reality.  

In this episode, you will discover how you can find your own ‘why,’ what it means to belong and help your community, and how you can utilize architecture as a vehicle to create incredible results.  

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Wandile Mthiyane | Ubuntu Design Group CEO & Co-Founder  

Growing up and moving around various shanty towns in Durban, South Africa, Wandile always lived in a very small home that was too small to ever play ‘house’ indoors with his siblings. So, they decided to build their own little houses out of various materials in order to be able to play the game. While in high school in Zimbabwe and thinking about that childhood memory, he had an idea that he could help his home community harness their creativity to build improved and more sustainable homes. At that moment, he had discovered his ‘why’ and purpose in life – to use architecture as a way to help people live better lives in a comfortable home setting.  

Even though he was accepted to Durban University of Technology with a full scholarship, his real dream was to study architecture in the US in order to gain a new perspective that he could bring back to South Africa with him. After facing different obstacles in order to raise enough funding to study in the US, he was able to study at the faith-based Andrews University in Michigan. However, he only had enough money to study there for one year, but after winning the Best Design Award for Freshman Studio, he was awarded the Dare to Dream Scholarship and became a student ambassador for Andrews University. 

Since he began his college career at Andrews University, Wandile has been able to present his ideas and designs to various platforms including One Young World and United Nations. Recently, he graduated from Andrews University with his Master of Architecture (M.Arch) and so from here, he’s working on expanding Ubuntu Design Group as they’re coming to the end of finishing their first sustainable home in Durban. Besides Durban, he hopes to expand UDG to other parts of the world that need help such as Puerto Rico.  

What You’ll Hear on This Episode  

  • What his childhood in Durban, South Africa was like and how that inspired him to discover his ‘why’ in architecture. 
  • The process of becoming accepted at the Durban University of Technology with a full scholarship.  
  • Why he wanted to study architecture in the USA in order to gain a new perspective that he could bring back home with him.  
  • The challenges he faced during his mission to raise funding to be able to studying architecture at faith-based Andrews University in the USA.  
  • The various mission projects offered to students at Andrews University including helping to build orphanages in Bolivia. 
  • How winning The Best Design Award for Freshmen Studio led him to be awarded with the Dare to Dream Scholarship and becoming an ambassador for Andrews University.  
  • What going to architecture school at Andrews University was like for him and the greatest lesson he learned. 
  • Why he created the Ubuntu Design Group to help build homes for people in poor living conditions and how Andrews University was able to help fund the organization.   
  • How he was able to help his AIAS chapter grow significantly and why he loves the student organization so much.  
  • The concept of the South African word, ubuntu,” and how it relates to community.  
  • How he was able to participate in the One Young World organization, compete, and win a business social venture challenge.    
  • The first projects that Ubuntu Design Group participated in and how they were able to present their designs to the United Nations 
  • What it was like to return to South Africa and raise money in order to build these sustainable homes they had designed through Ubuntu Design Group. 
  • How people from all over form AIAS and United Nations helped him with his campaign to raise money for the sustainable homes.  
  • All the different platforms he reached out to in order to help raise money and how they finally made a breakthrough via a radio interview.  
  • Various ups and downs he faced and lessons learned while building the sustainable house with donors and contractors 
  • His next plans now that he has graduated with his M.Arch and the first sustainable home is nearly complete.  
  • How he wants to grow Ubuntu Design Group to help different areas around the world such as Puerto Rico. 
  • The importance of discovering and understanding your ‘why.’

Top 3 Takeaways from This Episode 

  1. Each and every single one of us has our own ‘why’ and purpose for doing what we do. Ask yourself today, what is your ‘why’ and what made you decide to pursue architecture? That will help your passion grow and motivate you each day to keep working hard and do your best job.
  2. What can you do to make your community a better place? How can architecture and design help? Not only do we have the ability to create structures but we can also improve people’s lives by make their homes safer, more sustainable, and an overall better place for everyone.
  3. It’s okay if you don’t know what your next step in life is. Just take each day at a time and have faith that the answer will come to you. Also, be sure to give yourself credit when you deserve it and don’t be too hard on yourself if something falls through. We all face difficult moments from time to time and life won’t always go as we planned it to be. If you’re mentally ready for changes that may arise that will force you to adapt to different situations, you’ll be ready for anything. 

Wandile Mthiyane’s Advice for Aspiring Architects 

“Don’t compete with other students. Pave your own path, find your own ‘why,’ and there’s nothing more relieving than understanding your own purpose in architecture and why you’re doing what you’re doing.” 

“It’s okay to not know. You don’t know what you don’t know. In the past, I’d be so worried about my next step or what I would do tomorrow or in a month and what job I’d take on. Just take life day by day. Hustle it out day by day and in my case, just have faith that there’s a bigger plan. So, take it one step at a time, put in 100% of your work effort, and give yourself credit. Even in difficult times, giving yourself credit is very important because we can be hard on ourselves because things aren’t going the way we have planned them to be. Be flexible and know that things aren’t always going to go according to your plan, but also be ready for the uncertainty, changes, and adaptations.” 

Favorite Quotes 

“There’s been a lot of growth on my end where architecture has just become this vehicle to me in order to create certain results. There’s a reason behind why each person decides to go into architecture. So, being able to discover my ‘why’ through my education at Andrews University has been inspiring. One of the most important things that I’ve appreciated from the school is that it has actually listened to all of my ideas on how the school could be better for students and fully backed me on the development of the Ubuntu Design Group. It’s like being part of a family.” – Wandile Mthiyane on discovering his ‘why’ and how Andrews University fully supported his ideas and mission.  

“I felt like our AIAS chapter was really disconnected from what the organization actually is and no one was going to any of the events that AIAS puts on. So, I started doing my own research and realized just how big AIAS is and how many opportunities and resources we weren’t getting out of it. We basically had reduced AIAS to this social club within the school of architecture. After talking to Joel Pominville at Grass Roots, I went back, changed everything about our chapter, and started heavily recruiting people to join. We became this powerful force that allowed students to connect with alumni to not only help them find work but to connect with each other and the professors on campus by hosting different forums and community events. It was really inspiring to see us move from a non-existent chapter to one that other AIAS chapters from around the country looked up to.” – Wandile Mthiyane on how he was able to help his AIAS chapter grow and thrive.  

“The word ‘ubuntu’ comes from the idea of community, interdependence, and the sense that ‘I am because you are and you are because we are’ and that’s what ‘ubuntu’ is at its very core. During my time at Andrews University, I was searching for what architecture meant to me and I felt that it was really only serving the top 1% and the rest of the 99% of the world was not getting the same benefits from it. While we were going to places like Bolivia to do service work, I questioned why our projects weren’t more focused on affordable housing and low-income community development. I started Ubuntu Design Group because having grown up in a shanty town in Durban, South Africa, I realized that people who live in informal settlements are some of the most creative individuals in the world and I wanted to use architecture as a vehicle to harness that creativity and bring about sustainable structure, fire safety, and enhance the already vibrant community that exists.” – Wandile Mthiyane on what ‘ubuntu’ means and why he started the Ubuntu Design Group. 

“Ubuntu isn’t just about building a box where a low-income community can live but building a house that also enables opportunities. Could a house also be a place where a person can work to sustain themselves? Understanding that the house does not feed the family or send the children to school; could we create something that can both sustain a family and function as something like a daycare? True architecture reflects the people’s culture, context, and values where we do not have the design but the design comes from within the community.” – Wandile Mthiyane on the deeper purpose of Ubuntu Design Group and on the concept of their first design that they submitted to a competition at an AIAS conference. 

“I asked myself, ‘Why do I care so much about people having a dignified shelter to call home? Why can’t I care the same way about health or education? Then I realized that I never really had a place to call ‘home’ when I was a child because we moved around from one shanty town to the next. I know what it’s like to have a father who doesn’t have a job just because he doesn’t have an address or doesn’t have an address at all. I know what it’s like to not do well at school because you do not have a dignified home to come back and do homework at. I know what it’s like to have a sibling who’s sick because the moisture inside the building is getting worse and it’s not a good environment to live in. All these situations that I’ve been through in life have accumulated to this point where I’ve realized that I’m the best person to care about this problem because I know what it means to be in that situation but now I also have the knowledge and understanding of how we can potentially improve that situation for others.” – Wandile Mthiyane on how he realized that architecture was his true calling.  


Resources Mentioned in the Show  



Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

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