African Leadership University

Smangaliso Mbili: Taking Up Space Unapologetically

Smangaliso Mbili- Taking Up Space Unapologetically. ALU Education Blog.

“Take up space. Do not minimize yourself for the convenience of others”, Tonya Ingram.

These words deeply resonate with ALU student, Smangaliso Mbili, who takes us through one of his boldest decisions so far: bringing TEDx to ALU Rwanda. 

Life in Soweto

Before delving into his exciting journey with TEDx, Smanga lets us into his life growing up in Soweto, near Johannesburg, in South Africa. He shares about some of the important people who influenced his journey, and the impact the Soweto community had on his upbringing. 

“I was born in the vibrant and historic township of Soweto, in South Africa. Growing up, I did not draw influence from one specific individual but my life was impacted by different people, and the ones who had the most influence were my mother, grandmother, and my Gog’ Sarah, my childminder”.

Without failing to mention his influences, his warmth towards the phenomenal women who played major roles in his upbringing shines through his words about them.

Owning your Space

One can never miss Smanga; quite literally. His presence alerts everyone in a space that he has arrived. We talk to him about the importance of showing up for what you are passionate about and taking up the space that belongs to you.

“This phrase has been the soundtrack of my conscious being. Personally, it means access to platforms and avenues that were not open for me before or where I was not welcomed; it means growing to a more complex and richer understanding of who I am and what I am capable of. It means, even as a kid from Soweto with all the stereotypes and limitations, you can conquer your goals and those dreams which were only wild dreams for your ancestors.”   

Bringing TEDx to ALU Rwanda

It was this mentality that drove Smanga to take a bold step and introduce the independently organized event. When asking him what his motivation was, it was no surprise that his passion for idea sharing and conversation among young people was a significant factor.

“I love conversation and asking questions as this unearths a lot of ideas which have the power to change realities, lives, and domains. Both staff and students have amazing stories and ideas to share, and I felt like the world needed access and exposure to that.”

He asserts passionately. Throughout recounting his journey, he did not forget to mention his rockstar team, with a lot of gratitude, that believed in his vision.

“What made it easy was the fact that there were amazing individuals all ready to commit and bring the project to life through hard work and determination.”

Conquering Challenges

Like most projects that are revolutionary, challenges are almost always inevitable, and this one was not spared either. From administrative blocks to team squabbles, putting together the event came with a bucket load of challenges. He begins by outlining the seemingly insurmountable issues.

“Our institution was undergoing some administrative changes, at the cost of time and planning; and things like speaker confirmations were all challenging in their own accords, which felt worse with our busy personal schedules.”

However, Smanga’s “do it, and do it big” mentality brought in an epic nuance to problem-solving with a simple yet effective solution to the challenges they faced.

“We constantly challenged ourselves to the highest standards and never lost sight of the goal we worked tirelessly to make it a reality.”

Have the courage to take up space

As we wrap up this inspiring story, Smanga drops a few gems for anyone wishing to take up revolutionary projects like the TEDx ALU Rwanda.

“The biggest challenge is starting, so I would say do everything possible to empower yourself to start strong. Remember that yes, one may be the one who brings the idea to the table, but it takes the commitment and determination of a whole team to implement it, so make sure that all the members of the team are on the same page because their contribution is essential to the success of the project. Last not least, have fun, enjoy it. CAMAGU!”

And with this final statement, we draw a crucial lesson, that certainly, taking up space and showing up for what you love is what one ought to do, but to do it, one must gather a tribe of people who believe in the same vision and are ready to bring it to life.