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Finance & Innovation

30 minutes of play, 3 hours of light: taking off-the-grid to a new level with soccer

Whenever I come home from work, my dog pounces on me. I then flick on a light switch and can see. I walk a little farther, flick on another light switch and see even better. I don't worry about the fuse causing a fire or developing asthma from the pollution (because there is none). And I don't consider the mechanics behind the light switch every time I turn one on or off. In a zombie apocalypse, my inability to rig a functioning light source would probably lead to me getting eaten.

1.2 billion people around the world can't just switch on a clean light at night. They don't have access to reliable, safe electricity. That means that the cozy leisures of nighttime that I take for granted--reading, watching tv, listening to music--are rarely possible. As Jessica Matthews, co-founder of Uncharted Play, says in the video above, "Once the sun goes down, that's really the end of your day."

Oftentimes, the electricity-deprived resort to diesel generators, kerosene lamps or wood or rubbish fires that can lead to serious health problems. 

Young boy reading by kerosene lampImage: Flickr: SolarAid Photos

Even though the hazards are known, infrastructure has to be put in place before everyone can get cleaner energy. A power grid needs to be built, and then each home and building needs to be connected to it--something that is hard for dysfunctional and poor countries to handle. 

But could off-the-grid be done in a cleaner, more sustainable way?

Many scientists are pioneering solutions such as simple solar panels, hand cranks and artificial photosynthesis devices to bring cheap, clean energy to developing nations. 

One of the coolest ideas I've seen is the "Soccket," a soccer ball by Uncharted Play that creates electricity as you play with it, literally harnessing the body's kinetic energy. 

Screenshot of Soccket parts

30 minutes of play can provide 3 hours of LED light. All kids have to do is have fun and they'll have a light source for the family.

The greatest part about Soccket, according to Matthews, is that it expands imaginations. It takes a familiar object and transforms it, causing kids to wonder how, exactly, the electricity is being made and what other objects could be cleverly adapted for other purposes. 

Working alongside non-profits in developing areas, the company avoids "impact dumps," delivering large volumes of products to communities without considering the impact.

They also provide STEM programs to children where Socckets are delivered. 

Nigerian kids playing with Soccket ball
Uncharted Play - Nigerian children playing with Soccket

The underlying philosophy of Uncharted Play is to foster and preserve creativty. Their website cites research claiming 95% of US 2nd graders consider themselves creative, compared to 5 percent of US 12th graders--meaning students are hollowed of their willingness to imagine and entertain alternatives as they pass through school. 

You could speculate all sorts of reasons for why this is: fear of being wrong, standardized testing, conformity of perspective, general insecurity, etc. etc. Whatever the reasons, I suspect that it's broadly true. And this abandonment of creativity is a tragedy that must be stopped.  

As the world approaches the daunting challenges of the 21st century, humanity will need all the creative minds it can get to dream up creative solutions.

And even if the world wasn't facing challenges, creavitiy is what adds color, joy and zest to life. Everyone should recognize and nourish their creativity. 

As the popular education reformer Ken Robinson said, “Creativity is now as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

Make sure all kids have a fair shot at learning and living in a sustainable, cleaner world by going to TAKE ACTION NOW.