Dear social entrepreneurs: Your consumers have to like your product

Dear social entrepreneurs: Your consumers have to like your product

The joys of soccer balls stretch across the globe <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/35488521@N03/4687667767/”> chronowizard (Flickr)</a>
The joys of soccer balls stretch across the globe chronowizard (Flickr)

It is easy to get excited about a soccer ball. Add to it the ability to create electricity and light, all for $60, and it seems to be a developing-world dream.

Development is not always that simple. Sometimes it may be, but it is important to take the time to evaluate it. New York University Professor Bill Easterly made an important request in his blog last month to the creators of sOccket, the hot invention by Uncharted Play that has drawn praise from Best Buy and Bill Clinton:

“Please give us a little more evidence of how well the sOccket works for those poor consumers and a bit less of rich people testifying how excited they are about this story.”

It's an important skepticism for us all to keep in mind when it comes to aid projects. It is easy to get distracted hype, but the end result impacts people’s lives, so it is important to ask all questions. For example, How much do people actually use the sOccket? What else could be done with that $60? Do kids who get the sOccket ball stop interacting in their local markets because they can get free stuff instead? Maybe they do, maybe not, but the questions need to be asked in order to determine its value in the developing world.

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