That might be a stretch. A few thousand soccer balls, critics can argue, is hardly a replacement for a reliable electricity grid. Others will have visions of broken and unwanted Socckets littering roadsides. There are those who will question whether the "buy one, give one" approach is being driven too much by what people in the developed world think will help, and not by what people in the developing world really need or want.
Matthews would be the first to admit that these are difficult questions, but she seems prepared to meet them head-on. In May of last year, she and Julia Silverman, one of the other original creators, decided to take the project to the next level.
They founded a company called Uncharted Play, and began hiring engineers to not only improve the Soccket, but to also begin work on turning other sporting products into useful tools. For example, if you can make a soccer ball that does this, why not a basketball?
The company has greatly expanded the reach of the Soccket. According to Matthews, the ball is currently being used in South Africa and Tanzania. In Latin America, kids are kicking Socckets in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica.
Matthews recently returned from Nigeria, and says her company is "very close" to working out a deal with the government, which would see Socckets distributed to schools throughout the country. The kids, Matthews says, continue to be the "feedback gurus", continually offering up useful ideas for improving the product.
Earlier this week at TedX Rio+20 in Brazil, which fittingly has the theme Human Power, Matthews unveiled the latest Soccket design. Most of the improvements address durability and playability. It's still a few ounces heavier than a regular soccer ball, she told me, but it plays more like the real thing. It's also made from 95% recyclable parts. "If it falls apart, you can almost make a whole new ball out of it," she says.
The internal mechanism has changed again. Matthews said this one uses a design more like a pendulum than a gyroscope. "It's kind of like a self-winding watch," she says. And the energy efficiency? "We've got the ball up to where it can power anything that takes four AA batteries or less," Matthews says, adding that "and it provides a really fun way to produce that power." She says that "30 minutes of normal play with children will be able to power a one-bulb LED lamp for several hours." Charging a cell phone, she says, would require some two hours of play.
Currently, the ball delivers power through a headphone style jack. Matthews says the company's engineers are also working in a version that has a USB connection, which would allow a wider array of electronics to be connected to the ball.
Uncharted Play is also changing the business model. The company is now working with corporate sponsors such as Western Union, which has a stake in many of the places Socckets are being trialled, or might be trialled.
By the autumn, Uncharted Play hopes to have the ball available for retail sale in North America and Europe, replacing the "buy one, give one" model with something Matthews dubs "buy one, give fun”. In other words, if you spend US$60 (47 euros) on a Soccket, you won't just be giving a ball to someone else, but will also be providing funding for educational and sports programming to go with it.
Matthews even foresees the money being used to fund micro-financing efforts. The sales in the developed world, Matthews says, can give others the chance to "buy their own Soccket, instead of having it given to them, and they can have the pride and power in being able to do that.”
Currently, the Soccket is being made in the US, but Uncharted Play wants to eventually move production to local markets. Not only would that keep shipping costs down, but it would also help create local jobs.
Through it all, Matthews says, she wants the company to stay focused on quality, not price.
"You can't just give a Soccket to someone and have it fall apart in a day. I'm not a fan of designing for cheapness for the developing world just because it's the developing world. That's a misnomer. People in Nigeria, for example, place value and pride on the products they use, so it needs to be something worthwhile."
And what could be more worthwhile, the thinking goes, than using the ball you scored the winning goal with to light your room and study for tomorrow's exam?