I’ve been to a lot of technology networking events, so I thought I knew what to expect when I went to the Innovate North State Challenge on June 27th: “Company A has a good idea but not the right team, Company B fails to differentiate itself in a crowded space, but Company C is disrupting a massive market, has defensible IP, and is poised for growth!”

I could go that route, but I think I’d be doing you a disservice not to tell you instead about what happened later at the Sierra Nevada bar when, while enjoying an Ovila Abbey Saison (or three), I met a man who challenged my worldview in a profoundly depressing way.

I told him why I was there, and how the numerous technical glitches with the AV equipment drove me to drink, but that there was one company [CropMobster] that resonated with me. When I told him it was a company that paired surplus farm produce (which ordinarily would be composted) with hungry individuals and hunger-relief agencies, he said, “Well it’s not really wasted; it goes into the soil, right? And besides, nobody in America is really hungry. There are tons of social welfare programs, and the poor people in this country are fat—not going hungry. Anybody who’s hungry in America wants to be hungry.”

I’ll let that sit with you for a second. While I have seen the propaganda that might lead someone to say something like that, it demonstrates a certain myopic ignorance and failure of social intelligence for a wealthy local physician to claim that the working poor are not going hungry in this country. The facts show that over 50 million Americans, including almost 17 million children, do not have access to enough food.

While I could blame this one individual for his ignorance of the facts, these comments are merely the perfection of the capitalist libertarian ethic that has ascended in recent years. It is a view that holds that poverty is an indication of inferiority; that anyone who is poor is either unintelligent or lazy, or both; that the poor are undeserving; that if they really wanted to improve their condition, there are plenty of opportunities and there are no obstacles to social mobility. The ruthless application of this logic leads us to believe that the rich are simply smarter, faster, and better, and the poor are losers who are best served by a spotty patchwork of charity services, if served at all.

For those of you who are not shocked and disgusted by this point of view, I have an alternative for you to consider. Perhaps your ego is inflated. Perhaps you are unaware of your privilege. Perhaps the only difference between you and the kid in Mississippi (or Chico, for that matter) who doesn’t have enough to eat is a supportive family that told you over and over again that if you just work hard enough, one day you could be President—instead of telling you that you’ll never amount to anything, and dragged you down when you tried to break away.

I have an Innovation Challenge for you. Challenge yourself to break free from preconceived notions about your fellow humans. Ask more. Repeat less. The innovation we so deeply need in this country is within our own hearts.

[editor’s note: CropMobster was the Innovate Challenge top innovative product.]

Matt Olson is a systems thinker, hacker, and social entrepreneur proud to call Chico home. He's a software engineer with a particular interest in using social business to address seemingly intractable problems. When it's time to relax, you'll find him on the roads and trails of the North State on his Homer Hilsen, playing bocce, or building robots with his boys.