Rowan Spazzoli

Strategist. Lecturer. Consultant

Being a cheerleader

Today I got excellent news from some of the people I have been a cheerleader to this year. Two students who struggled through their post grad in accounting messaged me to say they passed, and that they’d be applying for masters degrees next year.

And a student that I wrote a reference letter for and mentored got accepted into one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world. 

And one of the entrepreneurs I mentor was featured in a magazine and showed up all over social media.

I love hearing and seeing people flourish like this. I love celebrating their achievements. And I love standing on the sidelines and being the biggest cheerleader I can be.

Sometimes we’re all too concerned about our own successes and forget that we can be a function of someone else’s success. We can support people, cheer them on and celebrate when they cross the finish line.

So congratulations to the four incredible people that achieved great things today. I will continue to cheer for you and can’t wait for the epic things you’ll all do in your lives.

P.s I haven’t forgotten about the Role Models series…. in fact, tomorrow’s role model is who has shown me the value of cheerleading. Tune in to see who this person is 🙂


Image is of a butterfly I saw this morning that had just emerged from it’s cocoon. The symbolism to this blog post was too great to not upload the picture

Blog: 339/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Vanessa Carlton - A thousand miles

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Role Models: Professor Phakeng

The first time I saw Professor Phakeng was at an event on social cohesion, hosted by the Poverty and Inequality Initiative (PII). I knew little about her before the event, but after seeing her speak I knew that she was a game changer, and that she was a role model to me.

Throughout the event she spoke up and challenged ideas, bringing an intellectual rigor, relevance and confidence that I had never seen in a talk like that. Her insights were profound and I remember being left with so much to think about. 

Since then I’ve been following her on Twitter, and seen how engaged and connected she is with students and people from all over the country.

And when it was announced that she was in the running to be our new Vice-Chancellor, I was so so incredibly excited.

I was even more excited when it was confirmed.

So, briefly, let me tell you why Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (Kgethi) is one of my role models

Reason 1: Connected and on the ground

The thing that I probably admire most about Kgethi is that she is incredibly connected to students at UCT and around the country.  She engages with people both online (usually Twitter) and in person, where she’s always happy to stop and chat to someone that says hi.

This quality is so unique for a leader in her position, but there should be more leaders that do this. The reason is that being close to the ground helps a leader understand the people they are serving and make better decisions as a result.

By doing this, she is able to respond to the needs of students as well as inspire them, which is phenomenal.

Below are two recent tweets from her. Notice that she wasn’t tagged in the first one, but because she follows the students she is able to respond to them.

Tweet number 2:

Reason 2: Making Education Fashionable #BeltSwag

In December 2017, before she was VC, Kgethi started a hashtag that trended across South Africa and the continent. The hashtag was #BeltSwag, with the idea that students should post their graduation pictures to both recognise them and inspire others. And also, to make education fashionable.

The original tweet is embedded below, followed by a tweet by one of my former students, Glenda, at her graduation with her mom. Glenda’s tweet went viral 🙂

I’ve never seen anything like the #BeltSwag tag, where an academic started a nationwide trend. And it still gets used to this day. 

As a lecturer, this is exactly the type of inspiration I love to see for the students.

Reason 3: Communicating

Kgethi communicates to UCT students and staff to the best of her ability. She sends emails that contain detailed information to update us on the activities that are going on at the university. This includes a recent one where she acknowledged and apologised on the university’s behalf for skeletons that were obtained unethically by the university in the mid 1900s.

Beyond this, she constantly uses her platforms to promote scholarships and opportunities to a wide community. An example of this is the tweet below about funding that is available at UCT.

Her transparency and communication is exactly what a leader should have, and it’s just another reason that she is a phenomenal role model.

Reason 4: Fierce Resolve

Finally, I admire the fierce resolve and commitment that Kgethi shows to the causes she believes in. For example, she has pledged to donate 10% of her salary to fund UCT students, as she believes in making education accessible. And, in order to save money at the university, she cancelled the inauguration ceremony planned for her, which would have cost around R1million.


Kgethi is an incredible leader. She is connected to the students, continues to inspire them, communicates effectively and shows incredibly commitment in all that she does. 

She is one of my role models. And I hope that I can continue to learn from her leadership.


Image is from the PII event in 2016

Blog: 338/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Roald Velden & Sabien Bouw - Shadow

The Final Stretch of #365of25

In the last few weeks I’ve been slacking a little bit when it comes to posting blogs. It’s been a combination of being busy and being really tired. But also, I’ve been focusing on doing things gently and sustainably instead of forcing them. 

That said, I am so close to my goal of #365of25. I’ve written 337 blog posts, a number I would never have expected to achieve. And I only have 28 more to go.

There are also only 16 days before my birthday. And I fully intend on wrapping up the 365 blog posts while I’m still 25.

I’ve decided that I’m going to have two themes for the upcoming blog posts. 

The first will be on role models. I’m going to write 3 blogs on some of the most important role models in my life. These won’t include friends and family, as I’ve mentioned before in the blog how these are my day to day role models. Instead, I’m going to be talking about people that inspire my career path and help me set goals for who I want to become.

The second will be a set of 25 posts about 25 lessons I’ve learnt over the last year. They’ll follow a similar flow to the current blog posts, but with the objective of reflecting on the past year and passing on some of the knowledge I’ve acquired. I’ll likely post two of these a day.

With just over two weeks left of the journey, I am both excited and proud of myself. And to those that have followed this journey since day 1, thank you for being there and for all the encouragement.

It’s the final countdown… We’ve nearly made it to #365of25


Image is from the prom today, obviously 🙂

Blog: 337/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: The Lagoons - California

The Electronic Favourites

A little while ago I wrote about how the internet allows us to have completely different tastes, particularly around music. You can be a fan of genres, artists or songs that close friends and peers have never even heard of.

So on that note, I’ve decided I’m going to share some of my favourite electronic artists that my close friends might never have heard of. There are many, but the top ones include:

  • Seven Lions
  • Said the Sky
  • Illenium
  • Griffyn
  • Mitis
  • BT
  • Roald Velden
  • Alex H
  • Mango 
  • Axis
  • Talamanca
  • Tritonal
  • Tycho
  • Above and Beyond

If you’ve got any artists or songs that none of your peers or friends know, feel free to leave them in the comments 🙂


Image is from my first ever electronic music/trance party, with Tritonal, in 2012

Blog: 336/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Tritonal - Still with me (Seven Lions Remix)

Too many apps open

Ever had too many windows open on your computer or phone? Loads of tabs on the internet browser, music playing, documents open, background apps and folders everywhere?

If you have a powerful device it’ll probably be able to handle this. But most of the time your device will become overburdened and slow. 

It’ll become unresponsive. The battery will drain rapidly.

There are some days when I feel like I have too many things going on at the same time. And, just like the devices, I become unresponsive and my energy drains rapidly.

And I may have 10 things going but I manage to complete none of them.

So I’ve begun keeping a piece of paper next to me when I work. Whenever I want to open up a different bit of work I write down what it is. I then go back to focusing on what I was doing before. 

This way I keep one window, one app or one task going at a time. And open the other ones when it’s necessary.

It might feel like we can multitask. But often all we’re achieving is having all the tasks going but getting none of them done


Image is of our view in Gansbaai

Blog: 334/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Seven Lions, Slander & Dabin - First Time ft Dylan Matthews

A whale of a time

Work always seems to go better when you’re having fun. It’s both easier to do and flies by quicker. And this is all backed up by psychological research.

However, achieving this is not as easy as it seems. It’s not just about injecting positivity into your day or putting on a smile.

It’s about constantly improving your environment. Working on your mental health. Upgrading your skills. Getting organised. Finding meaningful work. And then, maintaining momentum.

All of this can be difficult, especially when facing mental health problems.

In spite of this, it is possible. 

It took a lot of effort

But now I’m back in flow


Image is of the whale we saw yesterday morning in Gansbaai

Blog: 333/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Watershed - Letters

We really do deserve this

“I don’t deserve this”

I remember my friend saying this as we came over the ridge and saw the Kommetjie sea below us. It was almost sunset and we had beautiful music playing in the car.

As we got into the beach house she said again 

“I really don’t deserve this”

Fast forward a year to today and I’m at her birthday party at a house by the sea. We’re deep in conversation about being able to do things for ourselves.

“Rowan, we really do deserve this”

I was talking to her about not letting myself enjoy experiences because there was either work or a worry about money. It’s why I often save as intensely as I can

“Rowan, we really do deserve this”

And the more she said it the more it began to stick. That I’m allowed to spend time and money on myself. That I don’t need to feel guilt.

It’s okay to splash out. It’s okay to use your resources to your advantage.

In fact, it’s more than okay…

We deserve it 


Image is of our sundowners spot yesterday 🙂

Blog: 332/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Akon - I'm so paid

Chasing dreams. Sparks flying.

Today I got to spend the whole day with sparks. 

The morning was spent with Rejane and David from the Bulungula Incubator. They spoke to the Strategic Thinking class and told us their journey from being in the same class in 1996 to leading one of the most phenomenal development organisations I’ve ever seen. I’m not joking when I say that I was so excited and inspired that I nearly passed out.

Lunch was spent with my colleagues/mentors Dale and Ali. We spoke about education and entrepreneurship and how we’re going to develop new ways to catalyze students into high impact careers. 

The afternoon was spent with my team from the course, and went through the top startup ideas in the class. Their theme was to focus on waste management businesses and in the end we settled on 6 phenomenal projects.

The evening was spent at the year end presentations of the Phaphama entrepreneurs with the students that had helped them throughout the year. I left the event beaming with pride, and overwhelmed with the incredible work that has been done.

Today was magic. 

And I cannot believe how fortunate I am to spend time with all these incredible sparks


Image is of students waiting to chat to Rejane and Dave after their guest lecture

Blog: 331/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Goodluck - Chasing Dreams