Below is Julia Silverman's (co-founder of uncharted play that makes Soccket) response to my questions regarding Soccket (which I talked about last week). I appreciate her taking the time to address my questions. My questions are numbered and Julia's responses are indented below. I also received Julia's permission to publish her e-mail on my the blog. My take on Soccket is Julia says she is taking evaluation seriously, which is good. They seem to have clear goals in mind, again good. Their evaluations aren't available yet for the public. I think this is understandable given as Julia points out the company is a year old. On the other hand I think it is understandable if that makes me cautious about recommending donating to Soccket until we know more about its efficacy (that is can they show it works under ideal conditions with the best NGOs). It is also worth reading these critiques (Staying for Tea and Sunshine is Free blogs) of Soccket which come from field experts
Seth's Question 1. What outcomes do you expect Soccket to improve? (I would guess school learning and physically activity?)
We’re looking beyond the scope of just education and physical activity. Since more than 1 out of 5 people in the world have no access to electricity, the global energy crisis has far-reaching adverse environmental, health, and economic effects that we hope to mitigate as well.
The SOCCKET is distributed to resource-poor communities where the impact of climate change is most debilitating (OECD, 2008). The kerosene lamps used by most disadvantaged households to light their homes emit fumes that are harmful both to respiratory health and the environment. Just one night of exposure to the smoke from burning kerosene is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes (WHO, 2006). By replacing fossil fuel combustion with a renewable source of electricity for the home, each SOCCKET reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 0.2 tons annually.
Economically speaking, kerosene is costly as well; families spend 10-30% of their income on fuel to light their homes. The SOCCKET lamp is brighter and cheaper than kerosene; in less than a year, the ball more than pays for itself. Moreover, UN studies show that as electric access increases, household productivity and income increase as well (UN AGECC, 2010).
By replacing pollutant kerosene lamps and providing extra hours of light after the sun goes down, clean energy solutions like the SOCCKET can immediately and dramatically improve the lives of billions around the globe. By tracking suppressed demand for kerosene, we are gathering very persuasive evidence about the SOCCKET’s direct impact on households.
Additionally, as you alluded to above, we are also trying to keep track of metrics that tie into Uncharted Play’s “FUN and FUNction” vision. Increased hours of reading and play are certainly a part of this, but so information about increased belief in the power of imagination. The SOCCKET is implemented with an educational curriculum that illustrates the importance of things like teamwork, innovation, and sustainable energy. We hope that the unique implementation of energy generation in the package of a soccer ball will inspire kids and families to think creatively about addressing issues in their own lives and communities. Tracking this is of course challenge, but we are attempting to capture it qualitatively through surveys at this juncture.
Seth's Quetsion 2. How have you conducted your evaluation of Soccket's ability to improve these outcomes? Have you used an independent evaluation? Do you have quantitative evidence that sockett improves the outcomes you are looking at? How was the comparison group that didn't get soccket chosen?
Seth's Question 3. Why is spending $60 on a soccket a good investment compared to say giving to other charities?
This question is a bit unfair: I cannot tell people whether their money is better spent in one place or another. I could stand on my soapbox all day and recite all the statistics laid out above, but ultimately, the consumer decides the inherent value of their contribution, and no dataset can predict that.
That said, I can confirm that, rather than taking funding away from other causes (which is what I think you’re implying), the SOCCKET is actually attracting investment that would not otherwise come to the sustainable development space. Our corporate partners are wonderful, but they are not development institutions. When they were deciding to work with us, they were evaluating whether to put marketing dollars into SOCCKET sponsorship or into another campaign, not another charity.
Further, Uncharted Play is focused on FUN and letting kids be kids. If it were just about producing as much energy as efficiently as possible, we would be distributing a hand-crank. The big difference is that, unlike a hand-crank, a soccer ball is fun. We are working to distribute a product that emphasizes the joy in life, not another object that simply reminds users of what they lack. The whole point of SOCCKET is that it's supposed to be fun. We aim to remain firmly in the territory of the whimsical without degenerating into mere frivolity.
This stance - and the very simplicity of what we do - resonates with our partners and fans. Giving a SOCCKET is not just about creating change that numbers can track; it’s about letting magic exist in the life of a child.
Seth's Question 4. Is there a place that I can point people to about your evaluation?
Our studies are not publicly available at this time. If you have any suggestions about where we could get funding to help us launch an open online platform, please let my team know - we'd love to do it!
Thanks again for getting in touch. I hope I was able to assuage some of your concerns. Further, I hope my responses have helped to illustrate the delicate balance Uncharted Play has worked to achieve as a social enterprise that is both financially sustainable and socially responsible. I say this not as an excuse for any failings you might perceive, but as a call to action for other organizations to follow our example and place social impact as a central objective in their mission and, more critically, their operations.
Julia C. Silverman
Co-founder & Chief Social Officer