A Story of Millions

Derick Lee
Jan 31 · 4 min read

What does your hometown mean to you? Typically not much until you’ve realized there’s something to be proud about. When you get an opportunity to build it toward a potential future you never saw in it, you see it in a different perspective. A perspective worth aspiring to, and a feeling worth investing your time into. It’s almost an irrational emotion you undertake because it’s your hometown. It’s where you rode your bike and fell down on this intersection in front of everyone, its where you caused trouble alongside your friends down the street where you lived from, its where your uncles and aunts lived, its where pockets of the city you have friends you went to school with — its where you were raised, in some cases, where you were born.

There’s an emotional investment you have in your hometown unmatched by any visitor, guest or business owner that moved there for specific purposes. Most likely, because your mom lives down the street and you salivate to the food she could make for you instead of worrying what the next business move you could make with local business partners. It’s a different kind of trigger. When tapped into, it hits a level of instinct, and care, that others are unwilling to persevere through, besides you. Whether its an issue of transport, public safety, healthcare, education, energy or at its most extreme, disaster — the community immediately around you is what matters most. You want it to be better, you want it to be good for you, your family, your friends and the people you grew up with. They get you. You get them. You share the same microcosm of culture. But sometimes, that culture isn’t all that it could be yet.

The culture of innovation in San Leandro, California — the hometown of PilotCity’s founder was just that, a blank and rather bland canvas. It tops as the fifth most diverse city in the United States just after Oakland. Friendly people, relatively safe, and silently uninteresting. Until 2013, when the largest tech company in the city needed faster internet one day and proposed to install an 11-mile gigabit fiber-optic broadband loop in a public-private partnership with the municipal government. This spawned an opportunity for the Mayor and City Council to take initiative and leverage this asset to spark an economic development initiative to transform itself into a city of innovation anchored by the hiring of a municipal Chief Innovation Officer. The problem was, our citizens weren’t from San Francisco or New York. We were just San Leandrans trying to make a living and doing the best we can in a family town. Regularly described as boring and uninteresting by its own generations of young people. Much like the 98% of other United States cities and towns that are small to medium in size. We don’t have a university, we don’t have a community college, just a K-12 education system. Much like the 98% of other United States cities and towns. So how in the heck does a city with relatively smaller populations, with relatively limited resources, with relatively moderate talent levels (with exceptions of course), build itself into a city of innovation by creating a thriving culture of entrepreneurialism in our schools, companies, and governments — wait for it… with the citizens of the community?

Hometown heroes are what we need. Young people from the city inspired to build its city and region toward the future they want to see and to be able to drive their talents onwards for the betterment of what our global society requires today. The story of millions includes every young person in a school nearby housed in a city of potential transformation towards the future. They’re untapped, uninspired and disengaged — and the opportunity is, they come in millions. Millions of people who care most about the community around them that we could mobilize to change the direction of our communities by connecting our sectors together to enable their futures.

The story of millions is the story of how our students can represent the core citizen of focus in our communities to be the spark of the cultural transformation of our teachers, employers, school district administrators, government staff, elected officials and all the additional citizens of a local area that power the engine of a city, county, and region. The story of millions could represent tens and hundreds of millions as we build smarter cities and regions through the empowered and connected citizen.

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