The Organisation Workshop (OW) is a well tested method for large group capacitation in economic and social development. This holistic organisational training approach was developed in Latin America in the 1960s and adapted to southern African over the last 20 years. It is a real, practical exercise to facilitate the development of organisational consciousness in a social group that needs to act as an enterprise i.e. in an organised manner. In March 2007 the Soul City pilot in Munsieville incorporated social challenges in the workshop design; for the first time there was simultaneous attention to economic and social issues affecting the community.

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The workshop design is based upon locally identified problems that cannot be tackled by an individual. When a community is prepared to contribute with labour to the solution of some of their most pressing problems, the Organization Workshop provides a framework that enables learning about organization while participants engage in productive work.

Two separate and interacting organizations are required for an OW: the Facilitators’ Enterprise (FE, also called “the Crew”) and the Participants’ Enterprise (PE, also called “the Team”). The FE or Crew“is the organizational framework set up for all organizational and training activities before, during and after the Workshop… It is created before the design of the workshop and remains in place after the workshop.” The first task given the participants in any workshop is to set up an Enterprise of the Participants (the PE) with which the Crew will interact. Work is organized by the enterprise of the participants after negotiation of a contract with the Facilitators’ Enterprise, and is paid at market rates for the relevant job.

Since food is only provided for the first four days, the sustenance of the group thereafter depends on the work they do – i.e. the money they earn from negotiated contracts, charged at market rates. Organisation is not "taught", nor is it "given" to a social group by an external agent. The group achieves organisation as a result of the possession of the means of production under conditions of full freedom of organisation within the law.

In addition to the eight-hour working day, participants are obliged to attend daily learning sessions on the Theory of Organization. These take place over a period of some two weeks, and are designed to enable participants to gain a perspective on their social context and patterns/models of organization as well as individual behaviour, stimulate changes within the enterprise of the participants and provide tools for enterprise self-management. The OW creates the environment for skills development in several areas: practical enterprise organization skills – including labour and money records and control, tendering and quoting for work, work planning – vocational skills (such as building and welding), literacy and numeracy development as well as non-production related skills in areas as diverse as catering, early childhood development and cultural activities. The months following the Soul City OW pilot of March 2007 brought individual behaviour change as groups of participants committed themselves to reducing domestic and public violence, and stopping new HIV infections.

With all the activities of the Participants Enterprise, there is a continuing search for the means by which they can become sustainable enterprises after the OW has ended. This means that in the last weeks of the workshop, participants may organize coaching, or talks on a particular topic, or a meeting with key officials.

Three aspects of the workshop design ensure that there is a drive for participants to organise themselves. First, since the organisers only provide food for the first four days, there is an imperative for participants to earn money, buy food and cook it; this is a primal organising imperative. (Later when catering is an easy aspect of enterprise organization, the possibility of earning money to take home becomes an incentive.) Second, the organisers deliver lectures and facilitate learning for one and a half hours every day on the Theory of Organization, which provides the insights and tools necessary for improving the current state of the enterprise. A third factor, is the careful choice made with regard to the “social composition” of the group: there is every effort made to ensure that the composition of participants is a microcosm of the broader society, and most importantly that some of those in the workshop have experience of socially divided labour process or other forms of large organization. This ensures that the participants enact the kinds of debates and struggles that characterize real-life experience.

As a result of the OW a group typically achieves:

  • Infrastructure needed to embark on sustainable development projects (housing, production infrastructure, roads, bridges, dams).
  • Innovations in organisation, and changes in individual behaviour, to tackle challenges such as domestic and public violence, care of children and the AIDS pandemic
  • The organisational consciousness that it requires for sustained activity after the workshop.
  • Vocational skills and knowledge from the lectures on Theory of Organisation
  • Management skills developed during the workshop.

Each group that engages in the OW can thus achieve very practical results that benefit the community, and start the formation process for individuals committed to ongoing social development.