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From 100 to 1000: Enabling Leadership in Cambodia

Battambang Province in Cambodia holds a special place in our hearts—it’s where our journey began outside India, a significant step towards our grand mission of reaching one million children by 2030. Enabling Leadership Play was first introduced as a pilot in a few schools  in select villages in Battambang. The region, situated 300 km from Phnom Penh, has witnessed rapid urban development in the past decade alongside its ‘rice-bowl of Cambodia’ agricultural status.

This juxtaposition hints at a future where rural children may encounter evolving job landscapes, necessitating crucial 21st-century skills for their success. With almost 30% of Cambodia’s population aged between 0-14, we recognized an opportunity to equip kids aged 9-15 from underprivileged backgrounds with essential leadership skills.

December 2023 will mark four years since the initiation of our programs. With time, our impact has grown significantly, owing to the invaluable support of our implementation partner, Children’s Future International (CFI)—a  non-profit with over two decades of dedicated service in the region. From engaging 100 children in March 2021, we now impact the lives of over 1000 children.

The recent conclusion of the second Regional Enabling Leadership Play league, following a hiatus caused by the pandemic (2020 and 2021), offered us some insights into our program’s journey.

Children here enjoy it so much that they often choose to play, even on the hottest of days. I also think football is wonderful because it’s so accessible that kids from any background can practice on their own, but I think having the league and the Enabling Leadership’s program structure, the students also have something to aim for and something to recognize their achievements” says Patrice Davison, Executive Director for CFI.

As envisaged, the league has brought about substantial changes in the children’s behaviour at school. Teachers often tell our coaches they see a big change in the children. In contrast, the league also teaches them to stay strong when things get tough – skills that will be super helpful as they grow.

Our goal with the league is to impart essential skills through real-life experiences that will prepare them to navigate life situations successfully. Chamrourn Tornteany, the winning captain, expressed how the league enhances their love for sports, keeps them physically active, and boosts their confidence when playing as a team.

For many young children, particularly girls, playing a tournament that involves more than 100 games where they are given the responsibility to lead a team is definitely a positive experience that traditional educational approaches cannot fulfil. This exposure to leadership aligns with a UN report on Cambodia, highlighting significant disparities in women’s engagement in the national labour market, particularly their limited presence in leadership roles. Early exposure to leadership experiences like these can potentially contribute to addressing these limitations and readiness in young girls to assume important roles as they progress.

Building on this, this year, we took a big step by adding mixed-gender games to the league. Right from the start, we ensured an equitable representation of girls and boys in teams and integrated this approach into our teaching methods. This step aims to create a nurturing space where both genders recognise each other’s strengths and understand that boys and girls can achieve equally.

Muth Sinat, one of our Play Program Coaches says “when we started mixed gender matches in the league, it helped them see that everyone’s got their strengths, no matter if they’re a boy or a girl”.  As a coach she sees football as this positive way for children to learn discipline, leadership, how to solve problems, and be fair to the other team. It’s like they’re all about skill and playing well rather than showing aggression.

The experiences shared by Coach Muth Sinat resonate with our commitment . Looking ahead, we will continue fostering such spaces, empowering children to learn, grow, and enjoy the beautiful game while developing  crucial 21st Century Leadership skills.

Hopefully, our program has changed the narrative of football in Battambang Province, where it isn’t merely seen as a game but rather as a sport where children learn discipline, leadership, and teamwork, just as Coach Muth Sinat aptly highlights. We will continue fostering spaces where children not only play but also develop crucial 21st-century skills, empowering them to grow, learn, and thrive.

By Ritwick Charles (Communications Team)