SA2020 Interim President Molly Cox poses for a photo. Photo by Scott Ball.
SA2020 Interim President Molly Cox poses for a photo. Photo by Scott Ball.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I joined an improv group. Joker’s Wild Improvisation Troupe (there was an “e” on the end ‘cause we were fancy) was a group of about 10 people – mostly dudes – who spent weekend nights performing at local bars and restaurants. Think “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” with less Drew Carey. It was the perfect extracurricular activity for a high school student with dreams of becoming a Broadway star. Obviously.

During the nearly two years I spent with these lovable riffraff, I learned a very important lesson: having an Elmo impersonation in the bag comes in super handy when your friends need you to call their kids and tell them, as Elmo, that they need to go to bed, or take a bath, or clean their room.

Improvising in the high school days. Photo courtesy of Molly Cox.
Improvising in the high school days. Photo courtesy of Molly Cox.

And I learned the phrase “Yes, and…”

The “Yes, And” Rule is real. I didn’t make it up. But, basically, this phrase learned through improv helped me be better at life.

“Uh-oh…here she goes with that “the more you know” stuff.”

It’s true. I’m gonna tie improv back to San Antonio’s progress on our collective vision known as SA2020. Go with me.

If, during a scene, I tell you that I’m standing on the bow of a ship and I believe I see a giant glacier off in the distance, and you say, “That’s ridiculous. You’re at a farmhouse in the summer,” you will have stopped the progress of what could have become a stellar reenactment of “Titanic” – “never let go, Jack.”

If, instead, you agree, “yes,” then add a little something extra, “and it must be a giant glacier if you can see it without your glasses,” we’ve just moved the scene along. Those in improv know that to say “no” to something is to stop progress. Further, those in improv know that adding a little something extra shows your desire to contribute a solution. And let’s be real; you always want to be the person who contributes, not the person who stops progress. In improv. And in life.

Between September 2010 and March 2011, nearly 6,000 people proclaimed: “We want San Antonio to be a world-class city.” Not just economic prosperity for some, or educational opportunity for a few, but a world-class San Antonio that would benefit all. Through 11 Causes that ranged from education to arts and culture, transportation to sustainability, we agreed to hold ourselves accountable to 59 measures of success.

SA2020, the nonprofit, works with our data partner, CI:Now, to track these indicators. We work with countless institutions and organizations to collect the most up-to-date information, so that we can use that information to help our city reach its true potential, aligning efforts and connecting people. You can see the progress we’re making on each of these indicators on our data dashboard.

SA2020 is both the moniker for the community vision we developed together in 2010 and the name of the nonprofit organization charged with holding our community accountable to that vision.

“Yes, And” is quintessential SA2020.

Just over five years into our 10-year vision, our high school graduation rates have increased (we’ve exceeded our goal for 2020, in fact); teen pregnancy rates not only exceeded the original 2020 goal in the first two years, we’ve also met the newer, more aggressive target; more people have access to healthcare (we’ve nearly reached our 2020 goal here); employment in our creative industries, after several years of relative stagnation, has seen a jump; attendance for arts and culture events continues to climb; we met and exceeded our goal for increasing renewable energy; we’ve seen a steady decline in unemployment; and inner-loop housing construction and population has increased exponentially. The list goes on. We truly have many things to celebrate.

There are challenges, too. While our high school graduation rates have been on a steady increase, our post-secondary education numbers have remained relatively flat. Professional certifications, college enrollment, and college attainment numbers are not moving at the rate we need them to in order to reach our goals. In fact, we’re only producing one person for every 10 IT jobs available, and only one person for every two healthcare jobs. You can read more in our Talent Pipeline Report. The economic disparities, as well as challenges with transportation, connectivity, and accessibility, are complex issues that will take years to dent. Our underemployment and poverty rates are increasing rather than decreasing. While we nearly doubled our voter turnout in 2015, we had such a low voter turnout to start with that we’re still only at 12.43%. San Antonio’s continued growth makes our desire for modern and efficient mass transit, improved infrastructure, accessible parks and open spaces, as well as smart growth patterns and walkability increasingly more difficult.

And while we believe that each of the 59 SA2020 indicators plays an important role in the future of our city, if looked at in isolation, they are merely points on a graph. Instead, we prefer to talk about community change in a cycle.

Image courtesy of SA2020.
Image courtesy of SA2020.

Community change – the kind we have envisioned for our San Antonio – is cyclical, composed of many parts that continually influence one another. These complex issues require multiple approaches and strategies. Because each piece directly or indirectly impacts other areas, focused efforts on any area pay immediate and future dividends.

For example, when we see an indicator like third grade reading continue to struggle, we know that early childhood development needs an intervention. Thus, nearly 60 organizations, under the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County’s leadership, and in partnership with SA2020, have combined efforts for a cross-sector, collaborative campaign entitled ReadyKid SA. The purpose is twofold: create a comprehensive early childhood system that promotes the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of children 0-8 and provide parents and caregivers with the tools and resources to better support their families. Organizations and institutions able to impact health, community safety, family well-being, and education understand that each of these areas play a role in child development, so they work together in a holistic approach to affect the whole child and the child’s family.

Basically, in this area – which is but one example of multiple areas where collaborative work is taking shape – we were able to say, “Yes, and.”

Yet, in San Antonio, we also get stuck in “either/or” conversations: either public safety or transportation choice; either downtown improvements or growth past 1604; either recruit new talent to our city or develop our homegrown workforce.

These kinds of conversations do not lend themselves to the “Yes, And” approach. And, in a community that created a vision for itself, we deserve more agreement, contribution, and solution and less argument and struggle for “rightness.”

DREAMWEEK 2016 INVITATION

On Wednesday, January 13, in celebration of DreamWeek San Antonio, SA2020 will host a discussion on how various community leaders and organizations have created thoughtful action to reach our shared dream, and how a shared vision helps drive those outcomes in our community. I hope you’ll join us at Pearl Stable for small bites, conversation, and a panel discussion focused on Realizing the Dream of a World-Class City: Driving Action in San Antonio. You’ll hear from several people who understand the importance of the “Yes, And,” philosophy and, hopefully, you’ll be inspired to find more opportunities to agree, and contribute, and solve.

In 2016, I ask that you volunteer more time with or donate more money to at least one organization that is working in the areas about which you are passionate. You can start with this handy dandy list of SA2020 partner organizations right on our website. Working together is how this whole thing got started. Let’s continue that trend into this new year.

*Top image: SA2020 Interim President Molly Cox poses for a photo.  Photo by Scott Ball.  

Related Stories:

PechaKucha & SA2020: ‘Don’t Judge Us At All’

Councilman Nirenberg: SA Tomorrow and the Road Ahead

Darryl Byrd: Time for New Leadership at SA2020

SA2020: Looking Back and Moving Forward

San Antonio Planning Big MLK DreamWeek

Molly Cox

After a decade with SA2020, Molly Cox founded Molly Cox Consulting in March 2021. She is in the current cohort of The University of Texas at Austin LBJ Women’s Campaign School.