"Imagine a world where when the sun goes down, that's the end of your day as well. You can no longer see," says Jessica Matthews, the 25-year-old co-founder of Uncharted Play. "That is the reality for 1.3 billion people—practically one-fifth of the world—and one that we set out to solve."
The result is the Soccket, a soccer ball that harnesses kinetic energy with every kick to it and can power a lamp for three hours from just 30 minutes of play. It all started in 2008 when Matthews and Julia Silverman, juniors at Harvard University, were paired together in an engineering class for nonengineers. The professor challenged them to create something that combined art and science to ease a global problem.
"No one was paying attention to the importance of play. Amplifying existing enjoyment to make the world a better place," is how Matthews described their idea. But packing technology into an airless ball that looked and moved like a normal soccer ball was not easy. In fact, the engineers they approached at both MIT and Harvard at the time all said it was impossible. That just pushed the women even more.
First, they stuffed a shake-the-charge flashlight in a hamster ball and shook it—and sure enough the light was charged. Using this concept but in a soccer ball, they took their prototype out into the world to test it with the pros: 10-year-old kids playing in fields, at playgrounds and on slabs of concrete in Nigeria, South Africa, and Brazil, places where soccer is omnipresent but electricity is not.
Today, the Soccket is in its seventh iteration and is highly praised from both the developing world and engineers alike. Former President Bill Clinton even hailed Matthews at the Clinton Global Initiative. "If ever there was an innovator, she is it and she came up with an idea for clean energy that hardly anyone else has before!"
The ball is distributed in six countries through local nongovernmental organizations, who are making sure it gets to the communities that can benefit the most. Yahoo! followed the ball to the small village of Yohualichan in Puebla, Mexico. Besides having a shiny new ball to play with, the indigenous kids used it to do their homework. The women used it to cook and sew after sundown, helping them sustain their main source of income. From the kick of a ball, the reality for these families was flipped around and their lives were forever changed for the better.
"In the developing world, the ball becomes a symbol of empowerment," Matthews said. "It's about your happiness in the now [while playing], and a hope for a better tomorrow."
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Video produced by Gabriel Noble. Associate Produced by Meghan Moore. Production Supervised by Michael Manas. Cinematography by Robbie Stauder & Josh Simmons. Audio by Dave Scaringe & Dennis Haggerty. Edited by Tom Dangelo & Amina Megalli . Sound Mixed by J.J. Brown. Graphics by Todd Tanner. Executive Producers: Russ Torres and Charity Elder For Yahoo! Studios.