How do you measure the impact of music?

Cambodia has a very high concentration of civil society organisations requiring funding. Worthy causes address issues ranging from basic health and livelihoods initiatives to combating human trafficking and establishing vocational training. In the face of such competition, arts charities can have a hard task meeting their funding needs. Organisations are increasingly challenged to measure their impact against specific outcomes – but how easy is it to measure the effect of music on a child’s life?

Khmer Cultural Develoment Institute (KCDI) is a small arts charity in Cambodia, which runs the Kampot Traditional Music School. While its work is mainly focused in the local area, the organization still manages to demonstrate how funding for the arts can have a positive impact on the lives of many.

How do you measure the impact of music?

Photo courtesy of KCDI

The school has a residential programme for up to 35 children from difficult backgrounds, providing music and dance training alongside their primary school education traditional schooling to complement their growth and development. The organisation also runs an extra-curricular programme for local children aiming to reduce their risk of becoming involved with child labour or delinquency. With initiatives such as free meals and healthcare support encouraging them to attend classes, the school is able to monitor the well-being of some of the most disadvantaged children in the area. Many of those who graduate from the school form groups to perform at weddings and festivals – a valuable source of additional income. Through its activities, KCDI is able to address many common funding objectives such as health, education, child rights and sustainable livelihoods initiatives – simply by using music and dance as a focal point.

Photo courtesy of KCDI

Photo courtesy of KCDI

Looking at the track record of former residential students, the impact of this musical training on their lives is difficult to dispute. Many have gone on to pursue careers as professional dancers and musicians, with some even receiving scholarships to perform overseas – an opportunity that would not have otherwise been open to them. A number have become teachers themselves, passing on their skills to a new generation of children while earning a good income. One girl’s skill in music notation even gained her a highly-regarded job at the Ministry of Culture, following which she went on to open her own business.

These far-reaching consequences occurred years after funding for the school started these students’ journeys. Their achievements will not be measured in terms of indicators and project outcomes; no donor will use their stories as evidence to extend a project. However, it seems very clear that their arts training has had a profound influence on their lives. 

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