In 1975, Venezuelan economist and amateur musician José Antonio Abreu founded El Sistema, a government-funded music-education program. Abreu believed that an orchestra is a key component of an ideal society, and that all children should be nurtured in music.
As this April 13, 2008 Sixty Minutes feature on Dudamel explains:
[Dudamel] was in a music program which is a Venezuelan innovation. It is called El Sistema, “the system,” and it takes children, a quarter of a million children, almost all from poor neighborhoods, and teaches them how to play instruments. This has led to hundreds of youth orchestras sprouting up all over the country. But El Sistema is less a music program than a profound social movement that takes kids off the streets, takes them away from crime and drugs and despair.