Young KwaMashu Social Entrepreneur (and Young Architect Conference Keynote speaker) becomes an Obama Leader

Young KwaMashu Social Entrepreneur (and Young Architect Conference Keynote speaker) becomes an Obama Leader

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A born-free, 25-year-old social entrepreneur from KwaMashu, Durban, has been selected to be part of the prestigious Obama Foundation cohort that will be convening in Johannesburg this July for the Obama Leaders: Africa Program.

The Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa Program supports emerging leaders from across the continent through a one-year leadership development and civic engagement program. The program convenes, trains, and connects 200 young leaders in government, civil society, and the private sector who have already demonstrated extraordinary potential for impact, a clear commitment to integrity, and a capacity to advance the common good within their spheres of influence.

Mthiyane is one of the 20 South Africans selected from 21000 applications from around the world.

Wandile believes that true changes come from the community and this is best evident in the pilot home he built for a family living in a dilapidated shack in Umbumbulu.

After having extensive meetings with community leaders, the community at large, he worked with Andrews University in Michigan and the Mtshali family to construct a home with a commercial space to help the family sustain themselves after the intervention. This project, in collaboration with his alma mater, ended up winning the best student-led urban design project through Congress for New Urbanism Grand Prize. Due to the impact this project had on Andrews student and professors, the school ended up changing their whole curriculum to focus on socially impactful design. 


Wandile Mthiyane grew up moving around a lot, by the age of 13 he’d already lived in 9 different townships and informal settlements across Durban. Inspired by the creativity of his community and determined to improve the safety and quality of life in low-income communities across South Africa, he founded Ubuntu Design Group. UDG is an architectural design and micro-mortgage organization based on the premise that everyone deserves a dignified place to call home. The organization lives up to its mission by providing entrepreneurial low-income families within the gap housing market (families earning between R3.5k-22k) that currently do not qualify for an RDP or a bank mortgage/bond with a dignified work-live home below prime – a lower interest rate than your typical bank. 

“Building a person a home does not take them out of poverty but building them a home with a commercial space enables the family to end the cycle of poverty, accumulate generational wealth, self sustain, maintain their home whilst also impacting their community,” says Wandile as he passionately talks about the importance of architectural and financial inclusion in the sustainability of a community.  

This is the second year of the Obama Foundation’s Leaders: Africa program. The program was launched in 2018 and kicked off with a five-day impact convention in Johannesburg, South Africa, featuring President Obama and more than 50 speakers from across Africa. This year, the program will take place between the 10th-15th of July in Johannesburg. These Africa Leaders are part of our larger global network of changemakers, connected and engaged, with a focus on action and an ongoing commitment to their communities. 

 If you’re a family that falls within the gap housing market looking for a home or a potential impact investor that would like to learn more about Wandile’s work, please visit Ubuntu Design Group’s website at or email him at [email protected]



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