One of the greatest, most internationally loved games (just about anywhere but most of America) is soccer. No matter where you travel, from Africa to the streets of the Middle East, young kids can be found kicking a ball around and truly enjoying their playtime. Especially in developing countries, the love for the game is one of the rare escapes from everyday struggles– like not having enough food or having zero electrical power.
But what if one could positively affect the other? What if the unchartered joys of playing soccer could not only take young children’s minds off of their lack of resources, but actually do something about it, too. That is exactly the questions that Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman posed.
As Deepak Chopra would say, they didn’t just think outside the box. They got rid of it.
During their fall semester at Harvard, Matthews and Silverman took an engineering class (on a whim, as neither were engineers) that aimed to “make science more artistic and make art more scientific”. The duo wanted to do more with this class than develop an app. They desired a solution for end users anywhere, regardless of if those users owned an iPhone or not. So, they began thinking about a need and decided to address the limited access to electricity. They focused on disadvantaged communities to address legitimate, widespread needs.
Armed with nothing more than their laptop and a hardware store, Matthews and Silverman aimed to give light to the universal love for soccer, literally. They decided to create a soccer ball that acted as a portable power generator-the Soccket. As the ball gets kicked around, it harnesses kinetic energy, which then gets stored as electrical energy that can be used to power lamps and water sterilizers. They had little electrical engineering experience but were compelled to figure it out. And that they did.
It would have seemed nearly impossible to turn a soccer ball into a power generator, especially for two liberal arts students. But rather than living within their self-imposed intellectual limits, Matthews and Silverman pushed beyond those limits to find even more space for greatness. And thus, they are significantly affecting lives. Around the world, 1 in 4 people live without reliable electricity. So, families turn to kerosene lamps, which the children then spend their evening breathing in the harmful emissions for the sake of light-killing 1.6 million people each year.
By distributing the Soccket, kids who play with the ball for 30 minutes will have 3 hours worth of power. With both a social and environmental focus, the Soccket not only gives light, but gives life. Silverman and Matthews took the idea of Soccket and built the social enterprise, Unchartered Play, to show the world that “doing good and doing business need not be mutually exclusive.” Empowering countries one soccer ball at a time.
Imagine what would have happened (or not happened) had Matthews and Silverman never taken on a project that they literally had zero idea how to do. Because of their vision to push past limitations, they are impacting lives around the world. A precious reminder about what exists for us all when we throw away the box.