Meet the Ambassador leveraging architecture for social good

People who live in informal settlements are some of the most creative people in the world.” 

Our Ambassador of the Week is Wandile Mthiyane of South Africa, Founder of Ubuntu Design Group. Ubuntu was chosen as a top six Finalist in the SXSW Eco Place by Design Competition under the Speculative + Prototyping category, aimed at awarding those with transformative projects which create positive social and environmental impact. As a Finalist, Wandile will be heading to SXSW Eco to pitch his project to the PXD Jury from October 10-12, 2016.

Ubuntu seeks to maximise the creative energy and spirit of people living in South African communities by working with them to design sustainable housing that retains the community and culture that they share. Wandile, who grew up in an informal settlement in Durban, was a delegate at the 2015 One Young World Summit in Bangkok, Thailand where he presented his Ubuntu Design Community Half-House project. The project won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge and Wandile was given a Resolution Fellowship with $3,000 of initial funding for his project and access to counselling from business-people around the world.  

“Ubuntu is a Zulu concept that means ‘I am because you are,’” Wandile explains. “It alludes to community, brotherhood, and love, and this community-centred approach is reflected in Ubuntu Design Group’s Half-House project.” The concept of the Half-House project is to design a building that can grow; families can use their creativity and expand their homes by adding other rooms as resources become available and as their needs evolve. Since Ubuntu’s motto is “listen to build,” they will work closely with the residents of informal settlements to adapt their designs to the needs of the community. Ubuntu will not simply provide basic shelter for the settlements, but will actively seek to preserve the culture and shared values of the community.

“Ubuntu is excited to help our first family,” Wandile says. “I will be travelling to Durban to live, work, and learn to create a home for the Mtshalis family—a home that will not only be a new living space for the family, but a space for the benefit of their community.”

"Ubuntu is a Zulu concept that means ‘I am because you are'".

The Mtshalis are a resilient family. Their father, Nkosinathi, survived a tragic road accident and lost his home to a storm. His sole desire is for a roof over the heads of his loved ones as the loss of their home made it necessary for the family to split into different living spaces, with Nkosinathi and his wife separated from their 15-year old son. They allowed their son to live with another family because they didn’t want to fill his childhood with traumatic memories of their miserable living situation. 

The couple’s current shelter is cramped and unsafe. Although they receive a government disability grant, it does not sufficiently cover their living expenses. Fikisiwe cannot get a job because her husband requires constant care. Their financial challenges have made their dream of a safe and happy home feel far from their reach.

However, Ubuntu plans to turn the Mtshalis family’s dream into a reality. This current Half-House project aims to create a home that will meet their needs and also allow them to eventually run a day-care from their house. Thus, they will be able to create a sustainable living situation and simultaneously give back to their community.

If you would like to find out more about Ubuntu Design Group and the Half-House Project and how you can be involved, please visit, or go directly to their fundraising page at and search for Ubuntu Design Group Half-House Project.

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