OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Our Workshop: a Living Lab

Growing a new model for an NPO by doing it together: bridging contemporary, historically created divides in Cape Town

Photo of Our Workshop

Written by

What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

We work together in Cape Town, more specifically in Langa - the oldest township in the country. Langa is, according to the 2011 census, home to 25875 people (now the population is much larger, though difficult to measure). Many of the original dwellers were forcibly removed from kwa-Ndabeni, near Maitland, following the removal of people of colour from now 'central' Cape Town in the 1920s - 1950's) This forced removal and legalised brutality by the apartheid government was also spatially compounded by the design of the city, and Langa itself; one entrance/exit that could be easily militarised for total control of the relocated people of colour. Control was maintained by a pass system; pass laws were designed to control the movement of black Africans under apartheid. These laws evolved from regulations imposed by the Dutch and British in the 18th and 19th-century slave economy of the Cape Colony. Beginning in 1923, pass regulations were constantly tightened and amended. Resistance to the Pass Law led to many thousands of arrests across South Africa from the 1920's onwards. We work with a very small demographic of the population in Langa: creatives, or people who want to learn creatively. This however is a pilot to test how to integrate within a township, and we hope to be able to take what we're actively learning here and start similar spaces (a network) in other townships around Cape Town in the future. This is for 2 reasons: 1 - township schools do not offer creative education 2 - the lack of access to the broader creative industries in Cape Town for Langa residents (and more broadly black people across the city) means that there's no entry point allowing for the industry to equalise or grow more fairly Our solution to this enormous inequity in the city is to simply allow people of different racial and cultural backgrounds to be together in a shared, non-hierarchical space and to learn from one another - using upcycling as our methodology

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We operate from a cultural centre called Guga S'thebe in Langa, the oldest township in Cape Town. We have a regular membership of around 20 people. Why here? There was an opportunity for Our Workshop to move from the city centre as a test in late 2017, so we did. Being in this location has organically created the entire body of our shared organisation. We've been battling out together how best we can all contribute positively to each others' lives through being together, sharing time.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

We build bridges between people who were raised in an oppressive racist regime; and people who are currently being raised by people who lived under that system. That history is defined by people on the move. We were physically moved, and either upward or downward social movement was predestined for people of different colours and cultures.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Hope. Connection. Belonging. ... through solving very basic needs like hunger, economic ruin and a total lack of access to opportunities. We co-wrote the following mission: Our Workshop is a self-sustaining, free and supportive, collaborative workspace that provides economic and financial stability through learning, skills development and honesty. We have a weekly meeting each Thursday which has led to a feeling of security and routine in the group. We even went to AfrikaBurn together this year as a team (South African Burning Man offshoot). This was the most enormously successful thing - we bonded so much running a theme camp to fix and mend ripped clothes etc. This sadly also led to a rift forming; those who chose to attend and those that didn't... We are now in a series of mediation sessions with a conflict resolution specialist to find the fracture. Again this is the power of our methodology - literally figuring out how to solve emergent problems as they occur organicaly

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

We are already implementing this idea and it is having a solid, positive impact in the local community. Therefore it's not what will be different, but what is already happening at Our Workshop... Firstly what is happening is that there are more white people (from Cape Town) working in Langa, building links to the local community and also bringing their views and personalities in to the township. Most white Capetonians are scared to go into townships... Luvuyo - a natural designer - says: "people know where to go now. Where they can go and empower their craft, and also get access to materials. The magic that they find at OW is that the materials offered are just rubbish. We're also learning to solve problems better." Athenkosi, a recent graphic design graduate says, "My life has changed because I get new experiences of working with new materials and working with a team. It gives me a chance to earn money so I can buy any material and fix my computer with the money I make."

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The inspiration behind the idea comes from work that Heath has done over the past few years in Zambia - working with local craftspeople, making things from waste together. There was no instruction given, just the opportunity and time for a group of people to spend a month together under trees, making things. People's perception of waste changed in the course of this project. The crazy thing was that because of the racial insanity in Cape Town, Heath had never considered doing this same work in his home town... Also, Heath the Our Workshop founder grew up in Pinelands, the neighbouring suburb to Langa (the 2 neighbourhoods are shown in census comparisons in the beginning of this proposal), but he never came here till he was in his 30's. The whole point of the work is that its not prescriptive, but is allowing people to co-create in a non-judgemental and open environment. We don't want to inculcate emerging black talent, but rather to foster new objects and real relationships.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

The dynamics of the community in Langa, and more specifically at the cultural centre we operate from are extremely complex and difficult to navigate - especially as a white man, obviously. OW member Ivy Nhlapo wasn't born here and she states: "this community is very difficult to work in - politics, jealousy. We don't want to encourage each other to grow - no unity at all. Stagnant for these reasons." Luvuyo Mpoza, another of our members says: "being a member of OW is good and bad at the same time. Good - mind gets opened to new things (we go to exhibitions etc with other community members). Disadvantage part is its hard for the community to understand art. They only understand theatre and African dancing and singing." We have access to a group of 15 - 20 committed members to gather more information like this, and really get deep and accurate information from (I've looked at the community research guide) but I haven't been able to get the feedback in time for this evaluation round.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Our Workshop (our idea - already in action) leverages the strength of Xhosa culture as a uniting force. Xhosa culture is rooted in the idea of ubuntu (the capacity in African culture to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, harmony and humanity in the interests of building and maintaining community with justice and mutual caring.) This is the definition of a bonding network created within a homogenous group. Due to the historical situation of forced removal and exclusion in Cape Town, history and very effective propaganda and urban planning has led to a great divide between black and white people with each group being very homogenous. Our Workshop is creating opportunities for all it's members (black and white) to grow, by creating a bridging network which brings people from different groups together. Research suggests that such networks can reduce crime and unemployment and, by enhancing community voices, improve the quality of government.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

1 The most important key partners are the 'beneficiaries' - in this I include myself, the founder. 2 The cultural centre where we're based - Guga S'thebe. 3 Oasis (an organisation working with people with intellectual disabilities) where we buy our 'waste'. 4 Social impact airbnb experiences we host, which have helped sustain us all while finding other ways to collectively generate income for ourselves. 5 AfrikaBurn has been a very welcoming a partner. Our vision working with them is to help make their annual festival even more inclusive. We all look forward to next year! 6 We've started a Pty(Ltd) called Our Workshop Projects, where members can earn while they learn. Using this new company, we have begun to make large scale interior features and sculptural objects for public space using plastic waste. We are currently working on enormous xmas decor for the V&A Waterfront for example. This new for-profit company will be the backbone of the NPO Our Workshop.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Other

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Our Workshop 182-070 NPO + Our Workshop Projects Pty(Ltd)

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

I’m Heath Nash (a white man) and my whole life I’ve had access because of my whiteness - access to creative spaces and to endless encouragement to be creative. This is not the case for most people in Cape Town, for example in Langa. This is why I started Our Workshop and Our Workshop Projects, sister companies that exist to sustain each other. At Our Workshop Projects Pty(Ltd) we work as a team using post-consumer plastic ‘waste’ to construct large scale interior and sculptural work. This in turn creates wealth to support the social and environmental work we do at the nonprofit Our Workshop - a physical space focused on supporting and training emerging black designers using the design thinking process and “other people’s rubbish”. We are using the design thinking process to teach product design while simultaneously using product design to share the design thinking process. Heath is using a systems thinking approach: disconnection to interconnectedness; silos to emergence.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

South Africa

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Cape Town
View more

Attachments (2)

OUR GOAL V2-6.pdf

Our first membership agreement. It has turned out not to have enough teeth - i.e. consequences and penalties, so we're now busy co-writing a new agreement as a group in order to ensure fairness and add more accountability.


Member feedback forms from our first attempt at starting to do some M&E - we clearly need assistance to learn how to do this better!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Sultan Hussein

South Africa has now been facing xenophobia,I hope this idea can be improved to help to change the perception of the south Africans towards their fellow Africans and stop the current violence that's taking place recently.

Photo of Our Workshop

Hello Sultan
Last week in SA was horrific.
And yes, this has already helped to change peoples' perceptions towards immigrants. We have one member from Zimbabwe who has really helped integrally in the growth of the organisation. His presence has allowed others in the group to change their perceptions of foreigners...
Sadly, due to the climate in many townships, however we haven't yet attracted more members from other African countries.

Photo of Ella Petousis

Sounds awesome guys

Photo of Our Workshop

thanks Ella

I've added you to Our Team!!

Photo of Julie Donald

This is a great explanation of what you are doing. Very interesting read.

Photo of Our Workshop

Thanks Julie

Photo of George

Love your idea!
Is your organization willing to collaborate with other social organizations using new technology in order to make the most positive impact possible around the world with our combined innovations?

Photo of Our Workshop

Thanks George!
YES, we would love that!! One of the most key sticking points in our community is a lack of access to tech and data. out of 25 people working together there are 2 laptops, and no-one has the opportunity to learn how to use them properly (for example). We also only have 2 members with cars...

Photo of George

It's a pleasure to meet you Our Workshop. I'm looking forward to speaking with you soon.

Please send me your email address for additional information? Thank you!

Photo of Our Workshop

Photo of Isaac Jumba

Hello Our Workshop  Thanks for submitting your idea.

The challenge's idea phase closes on 17th August, might it be possible for the team to update your idea so as to get perspective from the community?

Refer to the challenge brief: and the evaluation criteria: as a guide.

We look forward to reading your idea cc Bremley Lyngdoh 

Photo of Our Workshop

Hello Isaac Jumba I'm trying to update our idea but I'm having concerns about how well we fit into the challenge... I sent an email to a number of openideo email addresses last week without a response...

Could I forward the same email to you for an answer to my questions?

Photo of Our Workshop

Hey there OpenIDEO team

I’m not sure who is best to write to…  but please can someone tell me what is meant by 3-15% of the target population?? — in the definition of ‘pilot’ in the attached screenshot….

Also, reading through the Community-Research Guide, I’ve noticed a little issue in the case of Our Workshop and how it is evolving.

The problem is that I, as the founder, director of the NPO am also a beneficiary - as well as the people I’ve been working with in Langa. For nearly 2 years, we have been finding out through practice (i.e. just doing it together) what we should be and how it best works for all of us.

The Guide, however frames the exercise as if there’s an outside party (some ‘team') working to solve a problem external to itself - which I suppose is kind of what IDEO does as a service provider… But in the case of what we are doing together in Cape Town, its literally been me as a white man finding a space in a cultural centre in Langa township (a traditionally black part of Cape Town); then attracting a group of people to the space (i.e. allowing the space to be the contact point we all value and share) —— and we’ve been making benefits and opportunities for mutual growth as an integrated group…. and becoming friends and support for each other.

We’ve been doing this as suggested in the guide:

Through deep listening and observation, we gain an understanding of what’s important to the different personas that your solution touches, and can inspire creative methods to solve challenges or add value.

…among other techniques for community creation…

So my question is: do you think I need to get an outside person to conduct these interviews with myself and the rest of the team?? etc.
Or how do you suggest this methodology is best shared on the OpenIDEO platform?